Q. My Chihuahua mix, Rico, needs his teeth cleaned, but he has a heart murmur and I’m afraid to risk putting him under anesthesia. He has had his teeth cleaned before and did OK under the anesthesia, but he is getting older (he’s 11 now) and I’m afraid his heart murmur may be worse. His teeth do need to be cleaned, but he does not have any symptoms such as bad breath, infected gums or missing teeth. Is it worth risking the anesthesia to get his teeth cleaned and are there any precautions I can take to protect him if I do put him under anesthesia?
A. The decision to have your dog put under anesthesia for a dental cleaning can be difficult; let me make it easier for you. There are significant differences between different veterinary hospitals, and how they perform anesthesia. There may also be significant cost differences, but it usually is worth the added cost to minimize the risks. Is it dangerous to anesthetize an 11-year-old dog with a heart murmur? Not if it is done correctly, and the benefits of a thorough dental cleaning may add years of comfort to his life.
Here are five key questions to ask your veterinarian:
- Will there be an IV catheter placed? This allows and drugs, medications and fluids to be easily and quickly administered.
- Will intravenous fluids be administered with a fluid pump? It is important that IV fluids be given to maintain blood pressure, but they must be given precisely to avoid overloading the heart.
- Will there be continuous monitoring of vital signs including blood pressure? Periods of low blood pressure can lead to kidney failure and make any heart condition worse.
- Will pre-anesthetic blood work be performed? It is important to be aware of liver and kidney problems prior to administering anesthesia.
- Will pain management be provided before, during and after the procedure? Uncontrolled pain can create variations in blood pressure, anesthetic depth and heart function.
The answer to all of these questions needs to be yes to safely anesthetize an older dog with a heart murmur. Most veterinary clinics are quite capable of providing these services, but it is important to confirm that they will be provided. I would not hesitate to anesthetize your dog for a dental cleaning if all of these guidelines are followed.