“They are too old for surgery!”

“My other vet said they can’t undergo anesthesia because they are over 10.”

“I’m afraid she won’t survive because she is so old.”

“He is just old – I don’t think he needs pain medication.”

I hear these words almost daily and every time I have to give owners my speech regarding this misconception. Age isn’t a disease and we need to stop treating it like one. I get it – surgery and older age diseases can be scary and complicated, but not pursuing treatment can truly be cutting your furry friends life short. This doesn’t mean that every animal should undergo surgical procedures without knowing the risks or making sure they are healthy enough to endure anesthesia or long-term medications. There are many animals that have major diseases where the risk may be higher but the benefits outweigh those risks as long as we take proper precautions.

Many veterinarians advocate for spay/neuter early in life because the risk of surgical death is significantly lower, but for one reason or another some people do not get their animals fixed at this period in their life. This tends to create a situation where I see a 12-year-old female dog with multiple mammary masses because she is intact. Now if we do not remove those masses and spay her she is likely to succumb to a pyometra (uterine infection) or those mammary masses will continue to grow, get infected, or become so large the patient cannot walk properly. This is the time I bring up surgery and many people tell me they are just too old for it or they just want to wait and see how they do. Typically this situation ends badly because they push off the surgery for so long that now the dog is a year older with necrotic masses and potentially developed other forms of disease. Now they are an anesthetic risk because they used “old age” to put off surgical intervention.

As many veterinarians will tell you, dental procedures can extend a dogs life. While I see some young dogs and cats needing dental procedures typically my patients are seniors or geriatric. The older the animal gets the more likely they will have dental disease. So many people use old age as an excuse for their pet to not undergo a dental procedure. Unfortunately dental disease can cut your pets life short and make other diseases worse. Some dogs with diabetes may have a hard time regulating if they have chronic inflammation from gingivitis.  Some cats with kidney disease can succumb to the same inflammatory response with gingivitis and resorpive lesions, which can cause significant elevations in kidney values. Not taking care of rot mouth immediately can truly make your little friends life harder and shorter.

For some reason a lot of people use old age to avoid senior diagnostics and medications as well. We see a lot of animals “slowing down” and instead of investigating the problem a lot of owners will just tell me, its just old age.  Even so that old age can be improved upon in a lot of cases. When humans get older and arthritic usually we start on anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDS) and additional joint supplements to help us get around. So why would we not allow our older pets to relish in the advances of geriatric medicine? I hate seeing patients struggle to get up in exam rooms when they could be medicated and happy. Don’t use “they are just old” as an excuse to not treat your pets’ diseases.

Sure there are risks to anything we do when your pet gets older but that is why we take certain measures to make sure we do not cause harm when trying to help. Senior pets should have yearly blood work and urine checked to make sure they are not showing signs of kidney or liver disease. Cats tend to become hyperthyroid with age and if caught quickly they can live a much happier life.  Dogs that are arthritic and need chronic NSAIDs should have lab work tested every 6 months to make sure that the pain medication isn’t causing significant changes to internal organs. Safer alternative drugs can be arranged if we can catch diseases in the early stages. Before anesthetic procedures that same lab work can help us create a safer anesthetic protocol to lessen the risks for your pet. Our senior pets need the most care and unfortunately do not receive it because of the excuse “they are just getting old.” Be a good advocate for your pet and listen to your vets’ suggestions to make sure they age gracefully and have a good quality of life.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.

Dr. Nicole Palumbo is a 2012 graduate from University of Illinois. She is originally from the south side of Chicago but chose to move to Northwest Pennsylvania for her first job out of veterinary school. She works with small animals, exotics, and also volunteers her time at the local wildlife rescue, typically performing surgeries and exams on the many raptors that are admitted to the facility. Recently she has taken a job with an emergency/general practice closer to Pittsburgh. With time she hopes to focus more time on wildlife medicine and also obtain specialization in feline medicine.