Dear Doctor: Anesthesia for an Old Cat


Q. Surgery has been recommended to remove a benign but nonetheless harmful tumor from my cat’s abdomen. The thing is, he is 16, and I’m worried about him being “put under.” Is anesthesia safe for a cat that age?

Lucinda Arnold
Andover, Massachusetts

Dear Ms. Arnold,

A. “This is a concern we hear all the time,” says Tufts veterinary surgeon John Berg, DVM. “As a general rule, it’s very safe to anesthetize old cats,” Dr. Berg counsels. “It’s probably true that it’s slightly less safe to anesthetize an old cat than a healthy young cat,” he says. “But many of the cats who are sick and need surgery are old cats. We anesthetize them all the time.”

He points out that there are different anesthesia drugs for cats with different underlying conditions. For instance, he says, there are anesthesia drugs that have minimal effects on the heart and others that affect the heart more. “So for a cat with cardiac disease, we’ll probably go with an anesthetic agent that doesn’t impact the heart so much. There are similar considerations for the kidney and liver. The heart, kidney, and liver are in fact the three organs for which we’ll sometimes choose an anesthesia protocol that’s different from what we might have otherwise chosen in order to protect the organ at special risk.”

It also holds true for blood pressure, Dr. Berg adds. “Sometimes, for a patient who has really poor blood pressure, we’ll pick drugs that will minimally affect that in a negative way.”

In other words, as Dr. Berg puts it, “It’s extremely rare that we have to say to an owner, ‘we can’t anesthetize your cat because it’s just too unsafe.’”


  1. My Siamese is about fourteen years old, a rescue, so we aren’t exact about his age.

    He developed a troubling action last December at the same time I had Covid – we’ve been to three vets and none of them know if his condition is Covid related and they have no idea what’s going on. He (Simon) has about six episodes a day where he twists his neck, stretches his neck forward, and gulps then seems to cough. All of this happens in about ten seconds, but it upsets him as well as me. He has been on Methimazole for thyroid issues for about four years. At MSPCA in Boston it’s been suggested that he undergo a CT scan as well as a scope all at once, about an hour under anesthesia. I’m worried that that’s a long time – what do you think? I receive your brochure monthly.


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