Kitty teeth
March 30, 2009 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Cat filter: Do I really need to get her teeth cleaned?

I just got back from my yearly vet check-up, and they recommended a teeth cleaning for my cat, stating that she has some gum disease. They showed me what indeed looked a little nasty, and then told me that a cleaning would cost from $250-350. I am very broke, getting ready to finish grad school, look for employment, and move to a large city. I cannot feasibly afford this, and probably won't be able to for quite some time.

I spoke with my mother shortly thereafter, and she said that I didn't need to get a cleaning, with her rationale being "they are animals. Their teeth get dirty. The cleaning is a vet racket". Now, I tend to be one of those cat-mamas that leans toward over-care and protection of my dear feline.

My questions are these: Have you, Mr. or Ms. Cat owner, gotten this recommendation from a vet and not gone ahead with the cleaning? Did you have negative consequences because of your decision? Is this neglect if I don't do it? Should I just bite the bullet and put this expense on my credit card?

Any and all experiences are welcome.

posted by greta simone to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's necessary and worth it, in my opinion. I adopted a cat from someone who had ignored the vet's advice regarding dental cleaning, and the poor sweet cat ended having to have multiple teeth removed not long after I took him in (twelve teeth, IIRC) because they had gotten so bad they were causing him pain.

For many, many years, I have always had dental cleanings done for my cats when my vet recommended them (I have a vet I trust), but the experience, and the expense, with this one cat really reinforced my commitment to good dental care for my animals.

Once the teeth are cleaned, you can do home brushing and feed prescription T/D or Science Diet Oral Care food as part of the diet to possibly safely go a bit longer between cleanings.
posted by vers at 7:52 AM on March 30, 2009

One thing you can do is to start working toward being able to brush your cat's teeth. Get her used to the taste of cat toothpaste, then your finger near her mouth, then touching the mouth, then rubbing the gums a little bit - the slower you take it, the less difficult it should be.

Here's one approach (not read thoroughly, but looks promising).
posted by amtho at 7:56 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Animals don't have magical teeth that are impervious to things like gum disease, cavities and pain. If you don't feel that your vet is being honest with you, go to another vet for a second opinion. But your mother is very wrong on this one, so please disregard her advice.
posted by crankylex at 8:05 AM on March 30, 2009

Best answer: It's necessary. Dental issues affect the whole body (liver, kidney and heart function are all affected), affect quality and quantity of life, and are part of basic health care for your pet. Brushing at home is great and helpful, but it cannot prevent things like FORLs, to which cats are very prone. That said, if your vet offers dentistries without full anesthesia and x-rays, take your money elsewhere, it IS a racket to do that (and you are wasting your money), it is only worth paying for a dentistry if you get x-rays and a proper anesthesia to allow for good x-rays and a proper scaling, polishing and oral exam including gum probing.
posted by biscotti at 8:06 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, the negative consequences of waiting on the cleaning are the same as you waiting on a cleaning. If you put it off long enough, eventually you're going to end up with cavities at the very least, probably a root canal or two. The cat will need to have those teeth pulled, which I can promise is more expensive than the cleaning.
posted by crankylex at 8:08 AM on March 30, 2009

Please do it. I ignored my vet's suggestion of tooth cleaning several years ago, and ended up paying far more several years later to have teeth pulled.
posted by Gortuk at 8:08 AM on March 30, 2009

Yeah, get them cleaned--I think it's okay to wait a little while, but do it. Maybe talk to your vet or another vet about how long it's okay to put it off?

I had a cat that was unable to eat very well at the end of her life, because we had never cleaned her teeth (this was years ago, before it was commonly recommended). By the time it was causing her problems, she was too elderly to risk the anaesthesia they would have needed to use in order to really clean her teeth and so we ended up just having to give her really soft food supplemented with kitten milk replacer. She did live to the ripe old age of 21, but I think her teeth bothered her for the last couple years of her life.
posted by min at 8:09 AM on March 30, 2009

If you decide to go ahead with it, ask your vet about a repayment plan. Explain your financial situation, and see if the vet will work with you. They may not, but it's worth it to ask.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:20 AM on March 30, 2009

I had a cat that lived the last 5 or so years of her life without one upper canine (no pun intended). This was due to lack of cleaning and every time I looked at her I was reminded of what a negligent pet owner I was.

So, yeah.
posted by Danf at 8:25 AM on March 30, 2009

Yes. If you do not clean the cat's teeth, esp if it is showing signs of gum disease, then you will have a cat with nasty breath and nastier teeth, possibly a bad tooth that prevents her from eating well, and possibly even a vet bill from a possible abscess. We let our five year old girl's teeth get away from us, and she had to have five extractions and antibiotics. That's not even to mention our male cat, who has digestive problems and overproduces saliva, and his tooth care bills.

Those are BOTH more expensive than $350.

Clean her teeth. Sorry.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:27 AM on March 30, 2009

NCSU has a vet school. They have a great teaching hospital - not sure how appointments work but it would be worth a call to inquire. Here's the link for small-animal dentistry. If they can't do it, I bet they'll know who might have low-income vet assistance. SAFE haven for cats (a no-kill cat shelter) also does low-income spaying -- I bet they'd have some leads for you too.
posted by barnone at 8:29 AM on March 30, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers everyone. I know I should do it, and I'll start working on a plan to afford it. I never listen to my mother, don't know why I thought to start now.
posted by greta simone at 8:37 AM on March 30, 2009

When my cat had gum disease, she did not clean herself as thoroughly (I guess it was too painful on her mouth). She had to have some of her teeth removed. My vet also recommended this cheese powder type-stuff to sprinkle on her food, to help with dental cleaning.
posted by hooray at 8:39 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

I spent around $400 to have some of my cat's teeth pulled a couple of months ago. My vet had never recommended that I needed to have her teeth cleaned, and they didn't *look" that bad, but apparently it catches up with the kitty eventually. My cat is 13.

It's not one of those things that needs to be done immediately, but you should probably start saving for it.
posted by Ostara at 8:42 AM on March 30, 2009

My cat seems susceptible to bad teeth. The vet didn't suggest cleaning but tarter control food. I'm so glad I decided it was worth the expense, because his teeth now look very clean and his gums less inflamed. If you are deciding not to do this, or need to save up. I definitely suggest special food.
posted by Gor-ella at 8:44 AM on March 30, 2009

Beyond the health of their mouth and ability to obtain nutrition without pain or struggle, the stress and pain of bad teeth can exacerbate heart issues or even cause new health problems.

Before we obtained the improved understanding of how important teeth cleaning was to a healthy and comfortable life for our charges, few people took this responsibility seriously. Now that we know how easy it is to prevent the myriad medical problems caused by not caring for their teeth, it's one of the responsibilities we have to accept as caring guardians.

As you can see from the included links, it's not just about their teeth. It's about their whole system remaining healthy.

It's probably also clear by now that you'll need to save up the money somehow and get it done. It's a requirement of care.
posted by batmonkey at 8:57 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've never had my cats' teeth cleaned, and the vet has never recommended it to me. Instead he just told me to feed them hard kibble food instead of soft-wet food.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 9:23 AM on March 30, 2009

There's also a water additive you can get at the vet to help with teeth problems -- biotene enzymatic brushless oral solution. We've been using it for our dog and our "brush teeth? HA, he won't even let you pick him up!" cat.
posted by at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Definitely see if you can find somewhere cheaper. A vet school or a low-cost clinic should be able to do it for a better price. Or try to negotiate it down with your vet, or work out a payment plan.
posted by radioamy at 10:43 AM on March 30, 2009

wocka, the trouble with feeding hard kibble instead of soft food is that this can apparently be a factor in the development of kidney disease; the hard food doesn't give cats the extra moisture content that they need and that they apparently don't get from just drinking water. And dry cat food also makes the kidneys work harder. This is really important as so many older kitties are prone to renal failure.

It's my understanding that hard kibble is okay as long as wet food is also given. So says my vet, anyway.

And yeah, teeth cleaning is important. My cat has very bad teeth problems now and there's nothing I can do about it for reasons that are the same as min's... putting her under to clean them would probably kill her.
posted by OolooKitty at 11:02 AM on March 30, 2009

Slight derail - but the oral solution that recommended says its for dogs - is it OK for cats too? I can't find any references on using it for cats with a quick google.

FWIW I have two cats, age 8, who had never had their teeth cleaned. One of them recently needed major surgery for bladder issues, so I got the vets to clean his teeth when they did the surgery, since he was already under. I need to get his sister's teeth cleaned too, but I don't relish the price or the idea of putting kitty under for such a seemingly simple procedure. I think its good to get it done every few years though. Second the idea of asking about a payment plan, or asking how long you can hold off for.
posted by Joh at 11:56 AM on March 30, 2009

My mum's cat chews on cardboard boxes?
Just to clarify, they are her boxes and she happens to like to chomp on the flaps. Not eat them. She just bites and leaves like masses of punctures along the edges. (To the extent that bits of it will become shredded cardboard crumbs on the floor.)

Anyway according to the vet she has "remarkably good teeth." They've never required cleaning which is interesting because she's pretty much just a spoilt rotten indoor cat. So this quirk of hers really works well for everybody... Except for mum who has to vacuum.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 12:27 PM on March 30, 2009

We do it for our cat. It's actually covered under the PetSmart preventative medical plan. The plan costs us about $29/month, but covers 2 cleanings a year as well as the usual checkups and shots. We feel we've got our money's worth out of it.
We also do the home cleanings, which he bitches about for the first 10 secs then accepts quite calmly (swaddling him in a towel works well for us).
Oral solution works for cats as well, not convinced it works as well as the home cleaning though.
posted by arcticseal at 12:51 PM on March 30, 2009

Joh, I have two cats with gum disease, and my vet gives me an oral solution to be added to their water. I don't think it's that specific brand (don't have the bottle handy here), but the ingredients look similar.

For whatever additional opinions are worth to the OP, it's just miserable having a cat with a chronic gum disease who growls and hisses at her own food dish because she's starving but it hurts to eat, who winds up getting skeleton-thin and living on baby food and kitten milk replacement for months. After having most of her teeth removed my girl is doing much better - she's now plump and happy and eats like a champ - but I wish we had been able to spare her that awful year. And the week after the mass tooth-pulling, which was not fun for anyone. I don't know if more regular tooth cleanings could have helped, but they at least would have alerted us to the problem sooner, I think.
posted by Stacey at 2:24 PM on March 30, 2009

Open barn door, I know, but our family dog who thinks he's a cat has gotten weekly brushing for the last sixteen years. Good teeth, good gums, good heart. Not something one would have thought of but for a good vet early in our ownership. Ounce of prevention and all that.

Best of luck. ALways nasty to see an animal suffer.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:25 PM on March 30, 2009

Slight derail - but the oral solution that recommended says its for dogs - is it OK for cats too? I can't find any references on using it for cats with a quick google.

A similar product, PlaqueOff, is for dogs and cats.
posted by jgirl at 5:47 PM on March 30, 2009

I and a number of my friends have been using Petzlife Oral Care Gel on our dogs (it's meant for both dogs and cats) and we have seen absolutely amazing results in just a couple of weeks. I just had my dog at the vet's today and he was very impressed with her teeth and wrote down the name of the product so he could investigate further.
posted by HotToddy at 8:03 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

This varies from pet to pet. The vet says one of my cats should probably get his teeth cleaned "next year" every year that he goes in. I've never had a cat that has had his or her teeth cleaned.

But one (of three) of my dogs has bad teeth, and by ignoring my vet's recommendation to have her teeth cleaned it ended up costing me $1000 (instead of only the $300 that the cleaning cost) to treat subsequent infections, etc.

You might just want a second opinion at this point.
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:19 AM on April 2, 2009

OolooKitty - I buy Purina UR since one of my cats did in fact get kidney stones. This kibble is formulated with whatever, and in turn makes the cats drink more water, thus ruling out the threat of future kidney stones. I buy it at my vet's.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 1:38 PM on April 3, 2009

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