What's it like for cats having teeth extracted?
June 24, 2010 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Vet says cat's tooth extraction surgery will be difficult and painful. Is it worth it?

My friend says:

I'm worried about our cat. He's becoming a recluse and not eating well lately. Vet says he needs to have a couple of teeth pulled, but it's a brutal surgery. Cat teeth shatter when pulled so it's x-ray, dig for shards, x-ray, dig, etc. and a painful recovery. Have any of you ever had to do this? Would you put a cat through this? I could use some advice or more likely my cat needs me to get advice.

The cat is 10 years old.
posted by not that girl to Pets & Animals (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My sister had a bunch of her cat's teeth removed and said it was OMG totally worth it. The cat's healing time was actually pretty minimal [seriously, like a few days] and even though she is now pretty much toothless -- she had some weird problem where she was allergic to her own plaque and had a mouth full of sore and painful teeth -- she's happier and friendlier and doesn't miss her teeth at all. I did not hear the "brutal surgery" part of the whole thing, mostly just that there's always a risk with anaesthetic that you should be aware of.
posted by jessamyn at 10:06 AM on June 24, 2010

My cat had four teeth removed (he's only 3) and the surgery was neither brutal nor painful. He went in, they sedated him and he slept during the whole procedure. They put a pain patch on his tail (they take off about an inch of fur all around) which stays on for two weeks, providing pain medication and I had some pills to give him if he seemed distressed. He was eating again the next day.

It was a slightly expensive endeavor though - for four teeth I paid about $800.
posted by valoius at 10:09 AM on June 24, 2010

I have a friend who has a cat with the same "allergic to their own teeth" problem that jessamyn mentions. The cat had several surgeries over the years to remove a few teeth at a time, and is now happy and toothless. He can only eat wet food, but that's the only impact it's had on his quality of life.
posted by MsMolly at 10:11 AM on June 24, 2010

Yep, my cat was allergic to her teeth. My vet is very upfront about everything and never said anything about the procedure being brutal. My kitty recovered very quickly, didn't seem to be in excruciating pain, and eats pretty much anything she wants now (unlike MsMolly's friend's cat, she is not restricted to wet food and has gained back all the weight she lost); she even had most of them extracted at the same time.

New vet, maybe? One more skilled at tooth extraction?
posted by cooker girl at 10:18 AM on June 24, 2010

When we took Al, the Best Cat Ever, to the vet last month, she told us he'd hafta have a lower canine removed and that might cause his jaw to look wonky and make him drool, since it anchors the position of the lower jaw. But the tooth was rotting out of his head and had to go.

So we did it.

He was woozy for an afternoon, and we had to give him antibiotics for a week (which he stoically endured with minimum fuss, because he is the Best Cat Ever).

His appetite has rebounded, his mood is better, he's put on weight, and he no longer has stinky breath.

And he doesn't seem any droolier than usual.

And it has not impeded his ability to catch, kill, and eat chipmunks.

It was completely totally 100% worth it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:18 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have an 18-year-old cat who had seven teeth pulled when she was about 15. The recovery was a little rough with her not eating much for a while after, but that also could've been the thyroid meds we started her on at the same time. It did cost quite a bit, but improved her breath and her life once she recovered.

Your vet's description of the process seems overly dramatic and gory. If you're not particularly attached to your vet, perhaps you should consult with another one.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:19 AM on June 24, 2010

We have a cat with really bad teeth. He has had to have tooth extractions twice. Both times it went fine and he recovered within a few days of sleeping and hiding. The hardest part about it (for me anyway) was giving him antibiotics and pain medication afterward. We ended up having to crush up the pain pill and squirt the antibiotics in tuna water.

Our poor kitty must have been in so much pain with the bad teeth -- he mostly just slept and once they were removed he was noticeably more spry and happy. If the vet in question is worried about the procedure and thinks it's brutal, your friend should probably seek out another vet.

Also, as others have said, this kind of think is not cheap so your friend probably should pick a vet that allows for payment arrangements if he/she can't afford it outright.
posted by Kimberly at 10:21 AM on June 24, 2010

I have a cat with Very Bad Teeth, and she's gone through this a couple of times now. Definitely worth it. She had a very hard time eating before both surgeries, and only a few days after them she was happy chomping away at dry food.

Do you trust your vet? I'm not sure why he would propose this to you in this way. Maybe if it's that difficult for him to perform, you should go to a different vet. I have discussed her tooth extraction with three different vets, and none have ever made it out to be as horrible an operation as yours.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 10:25 AM on June 24, 2010

I work at an animal hospital and have never heard of this "shattering" your veterinarian describes. Unless your cat has unusually brittle teeth, a doctor would normally x-ray once and then remove the problem teeth (they come out whole or two pieces, tops.) Recovery will hurt, but even cats who lose a whole mouthful in one session go home with pain medication and are usually able to eat normally within days. Nth the suggestion to seek a second opinion.
posted by juniper at 10:26 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Both of my cats have had teeth removed (one had major oral surgery to remove his upper canines), and in neither case did we have any traumatic outcomes. The only problem I recall is that the one who had full-on oral surgery was released too soon (in my opinion) and came home drugged out as all hell, ranging around the house and knocking into walls, etc. But both of them recovered well, eat fine, and have no problems today biting, chewing or eating.

I'd agree with Tooty McTootsalot that you might want to see if another vet has a bit more confidence in the procedure. This x-ray/dig, x-ray/dig process isn't something either of my cats went through.
posted by stennieville at 10:36 AM on June 24, 2010

My girlfriend is a vet tech for a small veterinary hospital. Peter (the vet/friend) says this is ridiculous and you should find another vet to do the procedure. He also says having it done should greatly improve your cat's health and mental status.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:45 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely worth it. We did this for my cat and she was completely different afterward - happier, more playful, hungrier.
posted by charlesv at 10:49 AM on June 24, 2010

My cat had a couple of tooth extractions and recovery was minimal. We gave her pain pills, but she didn't appear to be pain & was back to normal almost immediately, so I don't think the surgery is brutal each time. (They're sedated for it, too, obviously.) It's totally worth it! My kitty was throwing up because she wasn't chewing her food well enough because of the teeth, and now she's a happier, non-horking cat.
posted by Zosia Blue at 10:59 AM on June 24, 2010

My cat was down to two teeth at the end, I think, for the same "allergic to his teeth" problem. Recovery didn't seem particularly terrible, I don't remember it taking long, and afterwards he could eat again -- something he'd found difficult with his messed up, stinky teeth.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:08 AM on June 24, 2010

Yes, have done it with more than one cat. We have four now, of which two are geriatric, and those two have each had this surgery more than once. Result: pain free kitties that have trouble eating hard kibble. So we feed them wet cat food, which our vet recommends anyway.

The pain of bad teeth is agonizing for cats. The surgery should be painless, during and afterward.

But you need a new vet, and since extractions are a pretty routine procedure, I'd suggest you get a new vet for all purposes, not just the tooth extractions.
posted by bearwife at 11:15 AM on June 24, 2010

The surgery is brutal (and annoying).. but more for the vet than for the patient. When you are used to soft tissue surgery all day long, and then have to do a complicated extraction in an old cat it can be an arduous and smelly task.

The teeth can and do shatter, depending on what is going on with the teeth, what if any disease process is underlying, what stage of decay the teeth are in and what tools the vet has available. I suspect that the vet in question looked at the dental rads and was concerned about positioning and constitution of the tooth.

If the cat is at the point where it isn't eating well, seems lethargic and antisocial, it would be wise to have the teeth extracted. Cats show pain by doing things like hiding and not eating, we really have terribly vague ways to gauge their comfort, but these are big red flags. That said, it is surgery, so you will have to determine that the cat is a surgical candidate, that he can handle the anesthesia and the post-op care. One of the previous respondents indicated that the surgery should be painless after, that is simply not the case in my experience. You will need to follow a pain management and antibiotic protocol if you want to minimize complications and pain.

As far as the capacity of the vet to do the procedure, nothing you mentioned makes me think he/she isn't capable. Make sure that the vet is proactive about pain management. Dental procedures are one of those things that most people have had done, so the vet describing it as being awful might say more about his dental experiences than about his technical skill and outcomes as a surgeon.

posted by Nickel Pickle at 11:35 AM on June 24, 2010

The description of the cat tooth surgery you are giving freaks me right the hell out. I'd be scared too. Both our cats have had oral surgery. One for just garden variety cat-bad-teeth, the other for Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions, which are foul and I am not linking to Wikipedia. In the second case, he had to have a canine pulled ( a big enough deal that they would have rather done a root canal, if that tells you anything). Our vet, while not lassiz-faire about it, was more concerned about the bad teeth than the surgery. Our cats are both about six years old, for reference.

ANYWAY. Point being, you should look for a feline dentist, or ask for a referral to one. This is our vet-dentist. If your vet cannot recommend one to you, then I would in all seriousness call that office and ask for a name of a Vet Society that these kinds of practitioners belong to. FWIW, our cat who had to see the specialist recovered faster from his (much more involved) dental work than our other cat, who had the standard vet do her work.

Good luck to your friend. Getting the teeth better makes the cat much happier. I promise.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:42 AM on June 24, 2010

I'm the one who said it was painless afterward. But we did "follow a pain management and antibiotic protocol. " I can say that was effective, and that our cats were much, much happier after surgery than before.

In short, even if there was some discomfort afterward, and we didn't see signs of that, it was orders of magnitude less than before.
posted by bearwife at 11:44 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two of my cats have had very bad inflammation (stomatitis) and have had nearly all their teeth removed. In both cases they are so much happier and healthier now, my only regret is I didn't do it sooner. One thing that did make a difference: Afterwards, your cat will need painkillers. Cat #1 got liquid painkillers to be given orally, and that was not fun for me or her because her jaw was sensitive for a few days and I had to touch it to get the medicine into her. I'm not sure she got all her painkiller down because of that. Cat #2 was given a pain patch that was just stuck onto a shaved spot on his skin for a few days, so I didn't have to try to force stuff down his throat, and that seemed to go much better. All things being equal, for any future cat-mouth surgery I'm going to specifically request the painkiller patch instead of oral meds.
posted by Stacey at 11:45 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I also have a cat who have had all of her teeth pulled due to chronic mouth/throat irritation that was so bad that she was barely eating. She was a million times better after having it done, and I don't remember any indication that she experienced severe pain from the procedure, not that you can really tell. But she perked up very quickly (without painkillers, but the vet didn't offer them and I didn't know to ask), within a day or so after the surgery, and is totally awesome now.

My vet did not mention anything about it being a brutal surgery, although thinking about it I can imagine it could be hard on both vet and cat.

Incidentally, I now have wet food out all the time for all the cats, because I want Ms. Toothless to be able to eat easily. I think she mainly eats the soft food, but I have seen her crunching up the hard food too. Cats do okay.
posted by acanthous at 2:09 PM on June 24, 2010

Also, her tongue sticks out a lot more now that there are no teeth to hold it back, which is pretty damn funny. So there's a bonus.

I should also note that she was 8 or 9 years old when we had this done, so like your cat, there's a lot of life left for her to live well. Good luck.
posted by acanthous at 2:14 PM on June 24, 2010

My 12-year-old tabby had four teeth pulled recently, two of which were front fangs. (She had several back teeth pulled a couple of years ago.)

She was uncomfortable for about the first three or four days, but that was mostly because of the big plastic collar she had to wear, which she hated (she couldn't get into a lot of her usual sulking places under furniture). We had oral antibiotics and painkilling drops to give her twice a day for a week.

She seemed to get over it pretty fast, and was crunching away on larger bits of kibble inside a week. She looks like a kitty hobo when she yawns, but she definitely seems happier now that she doesn't have the mouth pain.

I think you shouldn't let the description of the tooth surgery put you off too much. The cat won't feel a thing under the anesthetic. Besides, our vet gave us one of the extracted fangs, intact, to make a heavy metal necklace for her if we felt like it -- so there's no guarantee they will shatter!
posted by vickyverky at 2:22 PM on June 24, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody. I hope this will be helpful and reassuring for my friend.
posted by not that girl at 2:35 PM on June 24, 2010

Yeah my 13 year old cat had some teeth pulled a few months ago. Everything went fine, and it was critical -- he's always been a picky eater, so once the tooth pain kicked in he just didn't eat. Lost quite a lot of weight and I was quite worried it was something worse (given his age). Thankfully the dental work fixed everything and he's back to normal.

Similar to others here, my vet didn't describe anything like what yours did. Not sure if your vet was giving a worst case scenario, or mine just didn't cover all the details.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:37 PM on June 24, 2010

I just went through this with my 17-year old guy, who may not actually recover from the surgery (because he is extremely old and likely has cancer.)

The vet said that, even if he doesn't survive, the tooth extraction would have been part of palliative care anyhow, because they were in such an advanced state of decay that it would have been hard to control the pain they were causing.

I think it's worth it. A 10 year old cat in good condition will benefit a lot more from it.
posted by Ouisch at 2:43 PM on June 24, 2010

My cat had a single tooth pulled and it saved her life. She went from a drooling emaciated miserable wretch to a beautiful sleek animal. It was completely worth it. She was about 10 at the time also.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:08 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it may depend on how impacted and how straight the teeth are. My 'old fart' rescue cat, Tommy, had two of his teeth removed (he now only has one left - he'd already absorbed the rest of them by the time I got him), and he was fine, just as others on this thread describe.
posted by Kurichina at 3:21 PM on June 24, 2010

I've had two cats who needed teeth pulled; one of them needed lots of teeth out, to the point where she barely had any lower teeth left. In both cases they were absolutely fine afterwards. The one who lost most of her teeth, after a short recovery period, suddenly became re-interested in food, which led to a revived interest in life. She became much happier and more playful.

Our vets are very, very good about describing exactly what the surgery will entail and what the possible outcomes will be and they never mentioned teeth shattering. Maybe that's the worst-case scenario?
posted by andraste at 4:02 PM on June 24, 2010

One of my male cats just has bad teeth, while the other has resorptive lesions. Both have had removals that have been completely uneventful after the pain meds wore off; just be sure the vet doing the surgery is committed to adequate pain control.

Much easier than the greyhound with the Mouth of Doom, certainly.
posted by catlet at 8:31 PM on June 24, 2010

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