Should Elderly Dogs Undergo Anesthetic Dental Work?

My beloved dog is a senior- she's a 60 lb dog and she is 15 years old. She's had her teeth cleaned by the vet...
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My beloved dog is a senior- she’s a 60 lb dog and she is 15 years old. She’s had her teeth cleaned by the vet every 1-2 years. It’s been 18 months since her last cleaning and she definitely needs to have her teeth cleaned again. She is fairly healthy for an elderly dog but I am very concerned about anesthesia, because of her age and because of the recent anesthesia recalls.

I’m going to discuss it with her vet but I’d like to hear your opinion, too. Is it worth the risk to put an elderly dog under anesthesia for a dental or is it a great risk to not have her teeth cleaned?

Thanks,

Molly
Mesa, AZ

Veterinary anesthesia has become much safer over the last 20 years. Newer and better anesthetic drugs, advanced monitoring techniques, and widespread adoption of pre-anesthesia blood testing and IV fluids during anesthesia have reduced the rate of anesthetic complications in pets dramatically.

In my experience complications during anesthetic procedures are rare. I have anesthetized patients almost every work day for the last ten years. During that time only one of my patients has suffered a major complication–a cat suffered cardiopulmonary arrest, but he was successfully resuscitated and he fully recovered.

Although modern practice has reduced anesthetic complication rates dramatically, the rates have not dropped (and may never drop) to zero. Certain factors are known to increase the risks to an animal undergoing anesthesia. Heart disease, lung disease, liver disease, kidney disease, and old age are the most well known.

I therefore prefer not to anesthetize animals with any of the above factors if possible. That said, I have performed anesthetic procedures without incident on animals in all of the above categories more times than I can count (the cat who suffered from cardiopulmonary arrest was 8 months old and in perfect health–anesthetic complications can be very random and unpredictable).

Molly, it would be best if your dog could enjoy good oral health without having her teeth professionally cleaned. Very mild dental disease without infection in the gums often can be halted with daily tooth brushing. Ask your vet whether this might work for your dog.

However, if your dog has significant gum disease then your best bet may be to have her go through dental work sooner rather than later. If you wait, then your dog’s dental disease will progress. Dental disease is painful and it can adversely affect many other systems in the body. Also, if you wait, then you run the risk that she will develop a dental abscess or other serious problem that requires emergency attention. These crises require longer (and therefore more dangerous) periods of anesthesia. And, the longer you wait, the older your dog will be.

If your dog needs dental work then it’s probably best to get it over with now. After the procedure I recommend that you brush her teeth daily. Hopefully that will make this procedure the last one that she needs.

Be sure to talk to your vet about the recent recalls of anesthetic drugs. The recalled drugs come from specific lots and are easily identifiable. Your vet should be able to assure you that the agents used on your dog have not been recalled.

Photo: Angel says: a toothbrushing each day keeps anesthetic dental work away.

5 thoughts on “Should Elderly Dogs Undergo Anesthetic Dental Work?”

  1. My dog died several days after dental extractions, due to acute kidney injury caused by the anesthesia. I don’t think the anesthesia “death rates” include deaths that occur 4, 5, 6 days later. I think that if your dog has any risk factors you should not get a dental unless it is absolutely needed (as it was in my dog’s case). Certainly I would not take an elderly dog in just to get a “cleaning.”

  2. The past few years we have taken our dog to a new vet and they have recommended annual dental cleanings. She is now a 14 year old poodle. Over 4 dental cleanings each averaging $800, she has had no cavities, no gum disease, no tooth extractions, just plaque build up. Are they just trying to string us for money, or is it necessary to keep doing this to a poodle already 2 years over her life expectancy?

  3. my Boxer is 9 years and three months old. He has had his teeth cleaned every year since he was 3. He never acted unusual. On March 2 he went in for his cleaning. When we picked him up he was off he wasn’t himself and I understand what he just went through. Once home he seemed lost. Lethargic if you will. 2 -3 hours later he would not drink water. I used a syringe to give him water the next day Tuesday the same water with a syringe. I tried feeding him rice even boiled chicken he didn’t want anything. That evening it began diarrhea. Wow my heart broke for him. He finally ate a hand full of white rice. THATS IT! I continued the syringe with water through the night. Wednesday morning I started getting worried and fed him water with my hand until he drank from his bowl. Then back out for diarrhea this time I noticed blood in his diarrhea. Now he did eat white rice and boiled chicken. Still diarrhea this morning I called the vet they gave me medicine to control the diarrhea. I asked them about the blood and if they wanted a sample they said it’s not necessary and the blood is probably from straining. Why would after so many years going through this procedure and never has he had such a bad reaction?

    1. How long did this last for your dog? My dog has been acting like this for 6 days now after her dental cleaning. How did it all turn out with your dog? What did you do? How long did it Tiaja to get her to normal? Is she normal now?

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