Surgery for an Older Dog

What to ask your veterinarian before planning surgery for your senior dog.

Q. I own a 13-year-old spayed Yorkshire Terrier who was diagnosed with breast cancer. The vet suggested removing the tumors and sending them to a lab to determine if they are malignant. My dog is healthy but I am concerned that at her old age if she could survive the surgery. I would like some advice.

A. Older age in a pet is never a reason to postpone surgery that could be life-saving, but certain precautions should be taken to minimize risks.

In your dog’s case, removal of a mammary tumor that might be malignant may add years to her life. However, you should discuss the following issues with your veterinarian, and ask the following questions:

  1. Has a full blood panel been done to determine normal kidney and liver function? This also will provide information about blood glucose, protein levels and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.
  2. Has her heart been evaluated with a chest X-ray or echocardiography if there is a murmur? This is important to avoid overloading the lungs with fluids.
  3. Will intravenous (IV) fluids be used throughout the surgery? This is important to maintain blood pressure.
  4. Will blood pressure, EKG and other vital signs be monitored during surgery? This will prevent possible kidney or brain damage.
  5. Is there a pain management plan that includes pain meds before, during and after surgery? This will decrease recovery time.
  6. Will body temperature be closely monitored during surgery? Small-breed dogs can get very cold.
  7. Will continuous overnight care be provided at an emergency facility the night after surgery? This is very important in an older patient that may have more difficulty recovering.

When done correctly, the benefits of surgery to remove a tumor in an older patient far outweigh the risks. If your veterinarian is unable to assure you that these guidelines will be followed, consider getting a second opinion.

Good luck!

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