Cat tooth cleaning and anesthesia - your/your cat's experiences
April 16, 2019 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Our cat, the very Reverend Dr. Professor Cat, probably will need a tooth cleaning under anesthetic. I'm worried about this. What has your experience been and what steps did you take to make sure the vet knew what they were doing?

The photo does not capture her beauty and charm, but it's the only one I have handy.

Our cat is a bit more than ten years old and has no particular health problems that we're aware of. She is probably a pound or two heavier than she should be but not a noticeably fat cat. We noticed last night that the edge of her gums around her front incisors is reddish looking, so presumably she has early gingivitis. (No other redness or symptoms.) We are taking her to the vet within the week and assume that they will recommend a cleaning, which means anesthetic.

I've looked up a list of questions to ask the vet about best practices and we have the option of a cats-only practice up the road if our vet doesn't sound satisfactory.

(For the record, we have tried to brush her teeth but just as we were getting her used to having her mouth handled last year, an enormous crisis happened and I have basically had to live elsewhere to deal with it. Cleaning the cat's teeth is a two person job and we let it go because there was only one of us available. We plan to clean her teeth in the future, but that can't start happening for a while. )

What was your experience with this? What questions did you ask the vet? How worried should we be given her age and weight?
posted by Frowner to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We've had several on-the-edge-of-elderly kitties go through this and they've all been fine. The vet you choose should do pre-procedure blood work, which will indicate whether or not your kitty is a good candidate for anesthesia. If she is, this is such a routine procedure that I, a consummate over-worrier, don't get too worried about it when my pets go under. You might want to ask if the vet anticipates having to remove any teeth so it won't be a surprise to you if they do. If she's not noticeably fat, I really wouldn't be concerned about complications.

After the procedure, they'll call you and tell you how she's doing and what time they think you can pick her up. They may or may not have prescribed antibiotics or pain meds, depending on what they had to do during the procedure. When she comes home, she'll be a little loopy, so it would be great if you could set her up in a room where she doesn't have to/cannot jump up on things, with her litter box and food and water. She'll probably be back to normal or maybe just a little sleepier than usual the next day.

Anesthetic dental cleaning for pets is such a routine procedure for vets these days. Don't worry too much about it, really.
posted by cooker girl at 6:29 AM on April 16 [7 favorites]

Her markings are lovely!

I've had several cats undergo tooth cleaning around that age, and I wouldn't be concerned about her age/weight. When they get older, putting them under anesthesia can be more of a concern, so getting her teeth in good shape earlier if your vet has concerns seems like a better idea than waiting to see if it gets worse down the road.

A few thoughts from personal experience:

- At least one common cat gum issue, stomatitis, can wax and wane in severity, which sometimes means by the time you get to the vet there's nothing for them to see and you end up going in multiple times before they can diagnose an issue. Nothing much to be done about that but maybe just be aware that it's a thing, and keep an eye on it between now and then so you can tell your vet if it's getting any better or worse.

- Talk to your vet about the possibility of extractions. If there are borderline teeth, and if you can afford it, I would recommend erring on the side of taking the teeth out. Cats recover fast and easily from losing even several teeth at once, and eat and clean themselves just fine. I had one cat who ended up losing several teeth over the course of multiple dentals over a year or so, and in retrospect I wish we'd just been more aggressive up front and saved her the extra surgeries and pain. Once all the trouble teeth were out she healed up and was almost instantly happier and better able to eat, after a year of intermittent misery as we tried to get her situation under control.

- If there are extractions, you'll get sent home with pain meds. I heartily recommend asking about the possibility of a stick-on pain patch vs. oral meds. If you need to go with oral meds so be it, it'll be fine, but if your vet does the stick-on patch it could save you and your cat some handling of her jaw while it's sensitive.
posted by Stacey at 6:37 AM on April 16

Seconding everything said above. I know that no medical procedure feels minor when it’s your pet, but teeth cleaning under anesthesia really is very routine.
I’ll add that my vet also asks me if I want a phone call first if they find any teeth that need extraction so I can ok it, so you may want to ask if that’s your vet’s policy.(Personally, I just give the ok for any extractions ahead of time as I trust my vet and I know she will call anyway if she does find anything surprising or serious.)
posted by bookmammal at 6:41 AM on April 16

I take my kitty kids to a cats-only practice, which really helps ease my mind (because they are experts in feline medicine) and get my cats better care.

Your vet should have bloodwork done beforehand (at my vet's that is standard practice) just to make sure your cat is in good health to begin with.

If extractions are needed, definitely get them. Feline tooth resorption aka kitty cavities, are incredibly painful for cats and they feel so much better when the offending tooth is gone.

Pain killers: My vet uses these long-lasting opioid injections so that I don't have to give any painkillers at home. It made my smallest boy cat incredibly stoned, though - he'd sit in the middle of my bed and stare into space, purring. My larger female, on the other hand, felt no aftereffects and wanted her food, NOW. If your vet doesn't offer the long lasting injections do try to get patches instead of syringes if you can.

Soft food for the day after: Since your cat will have been fasted to go under anesthesia, she is going to be hungry when she gets home. I was told to not give my cats dry food for the first couple of days, but Anastasia the Cow Cat ignored that and headed straight for the kibbles, and she was fine. Soulistic brand wet food (you can get it at Petco) is a good, very soupy, canned food that is easy to eat and palatable.

Your cat will be fine! Teeth cleaning under anesthesia is routine now and most vet practices are so very familiar with it.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:46 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

I’ve had this done with older kitties before. It’s not a big deal and has never caused any problems in my experience.
posted by a strong female character at 6:57 AM on April 16

My cat is the same age, normal weight, no health problems except for stanky breath. She's only been the vet a few times in her life, but I had her in to the vet in my old neighborhood last summer because she was suddenly losing weight. Turned out to be that she didn't like the flavor change of her food and was just undereating, but the vet said she needed a dental cleaning.

I recently went to Banfield (aka the clinic in PetSmart) because they are highly recommended by other cat-owners I know, and have a wellness plan with dental that came in at HALF the cost of the other 2 vets in my area.

They did a preliminary visit (mandatory), which is free with the coupon on their website, and it was good for me to see their facilities and meet the vet. Everyone was extremely gentle with her, their facilities were the cleanest of any vet I've been to, and I felt pretty confident. A couple weeks later I dropped her off for her cleaning, everything went well, and I picked her up after work. She was grumpy and hungry and back to normal the next day.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:25 AM on April 16

*I should add that Banfield (and I would expect any vet) does pre-anesthesia bloodwork to check for any issues. It's included in the cost of their wellness plan.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:27 AM on April 16

If the cat is older make sure they do a senior wellness check before hand with blood work. That should help catch any concerns that might make anethesia more dangerous. I do a lot of rescue work, though mainly with dogs, & the only time I've heard of problems with teeth cleanings is when people have tried to save money by skipping the pre tests because their dog is "only just" old or assumed they are some sort of scam by the vet to make more money.
posted by wwax at 8:05 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]

You could look into a board-certified Veterinary Dentist through the American Veterinary Dental College, but I agree with the folks above who suggest that this is a fairly routine procedure that can be handled at any competent general practice.

The real concern with teeth cleanings is the anesthesia monitoring, which will in all likelihood be done by a veterinary technician. My friends who are specialty anesthesia technicians would be thrilled if you asked your vet if they have a tech who is certified by the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia and Analgesia on their staff. At the very least, you could ask your vet about the experience and training level of their technicians. You should also ask about the maintenance schedule on their anesthesia machines. An annual recalibration is recommended.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:50 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

we have had many cats go through this and be fine. their breath did get noticeably better. if your vet is good they can address your specific concerns. also be warned, it can make your cat smell different enough any other cats in your house might not react well and you will have to reintroduce them.
posted by evilmonk at 10:21 AM on April 16

Our old man cat had a his first cleaning and extraction at 17, and I'll tell ya, I should have done it earlier. He was a completely different cat after the tooth cleaning and extraction and I deeply regret not getting his teeth sorted out when he was younger. I wonder how his quality of life would have improved if he hadn't lived with ouchy teeth for 2 ish years.
posted by teleri025 at 10:33 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

My now-16 year old cat has gone through this twice -- once at age 12, once at age 14. The first time, it was a piece of cake. The second time, she had a slightly harder time recovering; she didn't start eating until about 48 hours after the procedure, and she was really weird about food for about a month afterwards. But she bounced back and is absolutely fine now! Between the two surgeries, she had a ton of extractions (maybe 6-8?), but she has enough teeth left that she can crunch on kibble and treats.

Cooker girl's description of the process is very, very similar to what I experienced both times. Definitely keep your kitty safe after she comes home; mine was basically high as a kite and kept falling over, walking into walls, etc.

Not sure where you live, but if you happen to be in the Twin Cities, let me know -- I adore my vet and they took very good care of my girl both times.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 10:45 AM on April 16

We had an older cat that needed tooth cleaning and a couple teeth pulled. The dill-rod vet told us afterwards that "a couple other teeth looked questionable and might need to be pulled later." I imagine he meant well, but "when the mind is weak, the livestock suffer." So, good on you thinking ahead.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 11:17 AM on April 16

Roswell, aka Puppycat, just went through this a week ago. He had 5 teeth extracted and the rest cleaned. He's a highly anxious cat and I was very anxious about the whole thing beforehand. It took him a while to recover from the anesthesia -- he was very wobbly at first, then kind of hyper, with lots of purring and kneading, and then slept a lot. He's better now, but still a bit subdued and sleeping more.

He is definitely eating a lot better. Before, he would eat a mouthful of food and then walk away from the food bowl, then beg for more food (why I took him to the vet to check his teeth in the first place). Now he's just chowing down on it. The first day I watered down his canned food a bit to make it more soupy, but since then he's been eating his usual canned food. He doesn't like dry food, so not an issue.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:43 PM on April 16

I had a negative experience with this. My vet needed to extract a couple of teeth, and the procedure went fine, but afterwards my old girl went downhill reeeallll fast. About a week later I took her to a different vet and found out that my original vet had failed to remove the entire teeth, and basically left tooth chunks in her gums. 2nd Vet took them out but it ended up being the beginning of a slow decline to the end for her.

I don't know how you prepare for or prevent this though, other than, if she doesn't bounce back immediately, take her right back to the vet and ask them to x-ray to check for fragments.
posted by bluesky78987 at 4:32 PM on April 17

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