Contrary to popular belief, old age is not a disease. Unfortunately, age related influences on the body do take place and the incidence of health issues does become more common as we proceed into senior years. However, in the case of pets it is common for veterinarians to be apprehensive and refuse specific care solely related to age.
One of the more common apprehensions is related to cardiac issues. The development of different types of heart changes do occur in as many as 70% of our senior pets. The most common physical finding is the development of a heart murmur. A murmur is essentially a different sound that becomes apparent when listening to the heart. It generally indicates the integrity of a heart valve has become compromised and a small volume of blood, following the closure of the valve, escapes back into a heart chamber and generates a sound. In the early stages of this development the efficiency of the heart (pump) is unlikely to be affected. Over time, inefficiencies may develop and the need for supportive management and medications arise. However, in most cases, even in fairly advanced cardiac disease, anesthesia is not taboo. With a full understanding of the degree of heart problem and an evaluation of the patient combined with thorough and experienced monitoring, and an experienced surgical team, prolonged anesthesia is not contraindicated.
For instance, a very high percentage of pets develop serious dental disease and gum infection, significantly impacting quality of life. It is common to deny such patients dental care because of age and/or a detectable heart murmur. This reluctance is in most cases unwarranted, given the criteria listed above. More serious disease such as lung disease, including lung cancer, liver disease, etc. could be treated much more effectively if, for instance, biopsies were obtained, but, sadly in many cases pets do not get their needs addressed.
It is not uncommon for us to attend the surgical needs of pets of advanced years, 17-19 years of age, many with differing levels of cardiac disease and expecting a normal, uneventful recovery and improved quality of life.