Questions about getting my dog's teeth cleaned under anesthesia
March 3, 2017 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Are the benefits of dental cleaning worth the risk of putting my 10-year-old lab mix under anesthesia? What should I be aware of and what questions should I ask my vet before making this decision?

[Posting this for a friend:] My vet has recommended that my dog get dental cleaning done. She would have to be there all day and be under anesthesia and the procedure is estimated to cost about $1000 (could be more). The cost includes pre-anesthesia bloodwork which will be done about a month before the procedure. My dog is about ten years old and a black lab mix.

I remember other vets recommending this ever since she was about six years old, so is this something that a vet normally recommends regardless of whether teeth are bad or not? I regret not brushing her teeth when she was younger but if I start now will it make a difference? Her breath can be stinky but it doesn't seem like she is in pain when she eats or chews bones.

I am worried about health complications due to anesthesia or anything related to this type of procedure. I would like to be aware of any cons before I sign her up for this. I would also like to know if there are any questions I should ask the vet before doing it that could help me decide if this is the right vet to use.

I have seen previous questions, which were very helpful and related but I would really like feedback that is more current.

Any feedback (from good and bad experience) would be greatly appreciated. I am in the Boston area. Thanks so much!
posted by désoeuvrée to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My little pup had her teeth cleaned under anesthesia at the ripe old age of 15ish. She also had seventeen (!) extractions. Little dogs are notorious for having terrible teeth, I'm sure your dog will have no need for that kind of dental work. Though she had kidney disease and was an old lady, she came through the procedure a much happier dog with no tooth discomfort and much fresher breath.

The only bumpy part was her reaction to the opioid pain meds. She whined and moaned reflexively for 36 hours after the procedure. She was not in pain, but the meds made her vocalize. It was nerve-shattering for the first couple hours, but then we could see that she immediately stopped when she was distracted by a short walk, petting or deep sleep. It was just a weird reaction and not an indication of pain. After a few days she went back to normal eating habits (soft foods and treats) and we event saw an improvement in her kidney function.
posted by annaramma at 3:46 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I do think a teeth cleaning under anesthesia is worth doing at least once or twice for dogs. The bloodwork should indicate to the vet whether there's a reason it would be unsafe for your pet.

The stinky breath is probably a symptom of bad teeth. Better to get them out than to have them lead to worse problems down the line. Dental disease can lead to heart disease and other problems.

That price sounds about right. Most pets don't show much in the way of symptoms of pain, so it's hard to know if your dog is in pain while eating.
posted by hydra77 at 3:55 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is a risk of malignant hyperthermia under anesthetic in Labs:
Malignant Hyperthermia is an autosomal dominant genetic mutation that can cause a dog to have dangerous physical reactions in response to specific triggers. The triggers include exposure to certain drugs, most notably the inhaled anesthetics like halothane, the ingestion of food ingredients such as caffeine and hops, and too much exercise. MH is also known as "canine stress syndrome" because the condition can become apparent when a dog is under stress or over-stimulated.

After experiencing one or more of the triggers, an affected dog can have extreme muscle contractions, increased metabolism, rapid heartbeat and elevated body temperature. The body produces too much carbon dioxide, and enters a hyper metabolic state. Muscles become rigid and stiff and seizures are a possibility.

If a dog with the MH mutation undergoes anesthesia using halothane or other types of inhaled anesthesia, the results can be quickly fatal. However, there are some forms of anesthesia that can be safely used to sedate dogs affected with MH. This is why it is important to identify dogs that have the mutation prior to scheduling surgical procedures. There is no cure for Malignant Hyperthermia, but dogs with this mutation can avoid stressful situations, intense exercise, and food and drugs that can trigger symptoms.

The mutation is autosomal dominant; only one copy of the mutation is necessary to produce an affected pup.
. . .
Malignant Hyperthermia can be tested for in any breed, but is more prevalent in the following breeds: Border Collie, English Springer Spaniel, Greyhound, Irish Wolfhound, Labrador Retriever
I assume the bloodwork has to be done a month before the operation to allow time for the test for this to come back, but I'd insist they make absolutely sure she doesn't have it, or use an appropriate anesthetic if she does.
posted by jamjam at 4:13 PM on March 3, 2017

My little pupster went under anesthesia and had 5 extractions. He had bad teeth due to having an underbite and having said teeth exposed to the elements, so it was kind of vet mandated. In hindsight this was a good thing because he had been getting more and more crotchety (than usual) so they were most likely bothering him.

We dropped him off at the vet at 8:30am and picked him up at 5:30pm. He couldn't have anything pre-surgery to eat and was a little grouchy about that but soon forgot all about that when he got to eat the canned soft crap after (doggie junk food!!). He was groggy and sleepy that day when we picked him up but he was back at it like nothing happened the next morning.

It was super easy and he was fine. The bill came out to about $900, but that was for everything - blood work, anesthesia, extractions, cleaning and pain meds after. The vet even let him pick out a new toy to bring home with him. :)
posted by floweredfish at 4:27 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, I can answer this one! Just this Tuesday my 12-year-old pug/chi mix -- who came out of rescue and had a history of abuse/neglect -- had her remaining 10 teeth removed under anesthesia. I was, of course, a little worried about the surgery aspect, but she came home at the end of the day with her tail wagging and ate a full (soft) dinner.

And I can't describe to you what an amazing change I have seen just in 48 hours ... she is so clearly happier, more energetic, more vocal, more excited about eating, more social with the other dogs. I almost cried when I had the follow-up phone call with the vet because this procedure has made such an immediate, noticeable positive impact on her. I didn't realize how much pain/discomfort she was in before ... I thought she was just mopey and quiet because she's getting older, but she was like that because she was hurting! And now she's not hurting anymore and she's coming out of her shell!

It was crazy expensive ($1,000+ for the whole thing including meds) and I'd be lying if I said that wasn't giving me the hurts a little. But seeing how she has improved so much really makes me not fret the money so much. (Caveat that I am *extremely* grateful to be in the position to not worry about that, as I know that everyone isn't.)

I know my experience is n=1, but I am a great believer in dog dental work.
posted by mccxxiii at 5:49 PM on March 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Had it done to our middle aged Yorkie once and I'm sorry I did. After the procedure, she had a serious problem with tracheal collapse - she sounded like she had whooping cough!
Stayed with her until she died years later.
posted by Rad_Boy at 7:34 PM on March 3, 2017

Vets vary WIDELY on how much they charge for teeth cleaning. I posted a question about this in the Seattle region a couple months ago because I was quoted $750 for a cleaning without extractions and ended up calling two separate places that quoted $250. I ended up paying about $220. I've payed in the $200-300 range every other time I've had it done with her at vets in other states and have never had to do extractions. You should shop around. Note that the other posters who've paid ~$1000 have had multiple extractions.

It's worth getting done though. Dental health is a major factor in long-term health and quality of life for dogs. Not to mention it's nice to not have constant stinky dog breath (which is not necessarily a sign of bad teeth any more than it is in humans). I've done it maybe 5 times for my 10-year-old pup over the years. It's the equivalent to going to the dentist vs. brushing teeth in humans- you can't get rid of plaque buildup just by brushing more. Also, good oral health now means fewer expensive cleanings/extractions in the years ahead.

My dog also reacts very poorly to opiates- she gets super high and just CAN. NOT. HANG. You can request an opiate-free procedure if you have reason to believe your dog will have a bad reaction, which I didn't realize until this time around. My vet told me that they give them opiates in advance just in case they need to extract teeth or they get too close to the gums- she said it's not the real sedative (which was ketamine). I did opiate-free this time and my pup has never been calmer after a procedure, but she still didn't need extractions so YMMV.
posted by quiet coyote at 9:55 PM on March 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

My little dog-nephew had cleaning and extraction under anesthesia--he's just seven pounds of attitude and toenails, so the lack of margin made us nervous. But he eats SO much better now. They ended up extracting a couple extra teeth they couldn't be sure were a problem before putting him under. Clear long-term improvement in his quality of life.
posted by praemunire at 10:36 PM on March 3, 2017

I just had my 11 year old dog put under for a cleaning and everything went well. They put her on IV fluids and put a breathing tube in, the whole deal. She was given propofol. I totally get your fear, I was convinced someone was going to kill her by not paying close enough attention to the amount of drugs they were administering her, or she was going to end up brain damaged due to a lack of oxygen or something horrific. However, I now feel a bit ridiculous because she did well, and I did my homework so I shouldn't have been so dramatic about it. I left her at the best clinic in the area and the tech who performed the cleaning was great. I felt good about things after it was all over.

As for cost, the estimate was $600, but that was with expected extractions. I ended up paying $300 because she didn't need any teeth pulled. That said, I paid $113 for the lab work. $413 in total

Things to do: blood work first. Always have a lab done first before letting anyone put your dog under. They should check for any major red flags in the blood work before doing a thing. You should also have the vet perform a basic wellness exam if your dog hasn't been examined in a long time. They might catch subtle labored breathing problems or an irregular heartbeat or something that you've missed. Also, ask if they administer IV fluids during procedures, and if they plan to during your pet's procedure. Fluids are always a good idea and they make it easier on the animal's system. Antibiotics. I'm a fan of them, even though a lot of people aren't. My dog is on clindamycin right now. When they scrape and scratch and dig around the gums they're moving a great deal of bacteria around and into your pet's system, and usually they break the skin and tissue up a little and there is some bleeding. If they have to pull any teeth then I'd say post-op antibiotics are a must to prevent secondary infections. Lastly, know your vet- and your techs. Google the crap out of them, find legit reviews. Make sure this is the best place for your pet. Great clinics will have glowing reviews (that are real- from Yelpers with numerous friends and reviews of plenty of other businesses)

Bad teeth can lead to heart disease and jaw infections that require extensive (and expensive) surgery. The risks of infections that can end up in the jaw bones, abscesses, and lost teeth far outweigh any risks of general anesthesia. I'm sure I'll freak out again if I have to bring my dog in for a procedure in the future, but at least I know that at least one clinic in the area is competent and probably won't kill her. I totally get it- you're putting your baby's life in the hands of some random person at a clinic and it's scary, but you need to do the best thing for your dog's health, and that's having their teeth thoroughly cleaned. If you want to avoid cleanings under general in the future, then I would buy a dog toothbrush (and replace it when you replace your own toothbrush) and brush your dog's teeth thoroughly every night before bed like you do your own teeth. Plenty of pet owner's do this, as surprising as that might be, and I plan to myself. Diets of hard kibble help clean the teeth as well, soft food doesn't allow the teeth to be scraped clean during meals. My dog is on oatmeal and scrambled eggs for a couple days but she'll be back to her hard kibble soon.
posted by Avosunspin at 10:49 PM on March 3, 2017

I get my dog's teeth cleaned under anesthesia when the vet recommends it. He's a greyhound, and the breed is notorious for bad teeth. It's expensive (maybe $800 or so at a big city clinic that I know runs pricey but it's worth it because I like them). But my vet seems to be good about saying "eh, he can wait another year" if his teeth don't need it. Greyhounds are also very sensitive to anesthesia and there are some drugs they can't be administered at all, so I make sure to go to a vet that has a greyhound-specific anesthesia protocol. It took me a while to get to this point financially, but now I budget - as in literally sock away extra money every month - as if he will need an annual teeth cleaning. He doesn't usually need one every year, but this then becomes a buffer for those other unexpected doggy vet expenses like breaking off a toenail or getting a bad batch of dog food.

The big thing for me is not cosmetic issues like white teeth and good breath, it's that if their teeth and gums get really bad, it's an avenue for infection that can reach the heart and cause heart disease. I once had a person come up to me and my dog and tell me a story about his beloved deceased greyhound that ended in "And that's why you should always get your dog's teeth cleaned. I regret not doing it." And extractions are even more expensive than cleanings; mouth issues can become last-minute emergency things if there's an abscess or something where your dog is suddenly in pain and can't eat.

I totally get that it's scary; I'm a nervous wreck every time my dog goes under. But if your vet is recommending it, it's probably a good idea. If you're not convinced, you can ask them to show you on your dog's teeth and gums where the problem areas are so you can see for yourself that it's needed.
posted by misskaz at 6:25 AM on March 4, 2017

I've had to have elderly pug eyes removed twice in the past several years, elderly like 14 and 15. Since they were already going under I got the teeth done as well. They both were just fine and lived a happier, less painful, few more years each.
posted by yodelingisfun at 11:40 PM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

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