Cleaning Kitty’s Teeth. Is Anesthesia Necessary for a Safe Dental Cleaning?


Cat dental cleanings are professional veterinary procedures to remove plaque and tartar from a cat’s teeth. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the surface of teeth, while tartar is hardened plaque that builds up over time. Both can lead to inflammation of the gums known as gingivitis and eventually periodontal disease if left untreated. Periodontal disease damages the tissues and bone that support the teeth and can be very painful for cats.

Regular dental cleanings are an important part of preventative healthcare for cats. Vets recommend annual dental cleanings starting around age 3 to remove plaque and tartar before they can cause dental disease. Cleanings involve a deep scaling and polishing to get teeth thoroughly clean above and below the gumline. General anesthesia is usually required to keep cats still and comfortable during the cleaning.

This article will provide an overview of cat dental cleanings, including the procedures involved, types of anesthesia used, risks, aftercare, costs, and the value of professional dental care for cats.

When Cleanings Are Needed

Most cats need professional dental cleanings occasionally throughout their lives ( Signs that your cat may be due for a cleaning include bad breath, reddened gums, plaque buildup, and loose or infected teeth. Gingivitis and periodontal disease are common in cats and indicate a need for a thorough dental cleaning and examination.

Veterinarians generally recommend annual dental cleanings for cats to prevent the onset and progression of dental disease. However, some cats may need cleanings more or less frequently depending on their individual oral health. Your veterinarian is the best judge of when your cat is due for its next cleaning based on an oral exam of your pet.

Regular at-home tooth brushing may help delay the need for professional cleanings. But most cats eventually require anesthesia for a deep cleaning above and below the gumline that only a vet can provide. Don’t put off getting a cleaning if your cat is showing signs of dental problems.

Procedure for Cleanings

The procedure for a dental cleaning with anesthesia generally follows these key steps:

Pre-anesthetic bloodwork is done first to check kidney and liver function ( This helps ensure it is safe to administer anesthesia.

Next, an IV catheter is placed to provide intravenous access for injectable anesthesia as well as fluids during the procedure ( The fluids help maintain blood pressure.

The cat is then intubated with an endotracheal tube to maintain an open airway and allow delivery of inhaled anesthesia gas. This provides a deeper plane of anesthesia.

After the cat is under general anesthesia, a complete oral exam is done, including dental radiographs if needed. Then scaling and polishing of the teeth is performed to remove tartar and plaque buildup.

Any other needed dental work like extractions can also be done at this time. The cat’s mouth is flushed periodically to remove debris.

Once the cleaning and procedures are complete, the cat is taken off anesthesia and monitored closely while recovering. Most cats go home the same day.

Types of Anesthesia

There are two main types of anesthesia used for cat dental cleanings and procedures – injectable and gas anesthesia.[1]

Injectable Anesthesia

Injectable anesthesia involves administering an anesthetic drug, usually an ultra-short-acting barbiturate such as propofol, via injection. This provides rapid anesthesia induction and recovery.[2] The pros of injectable anesthesia are that it offers precise dosing control and quick action. However, it requires repeated injections to maintain anesthesia during longer procedures. There is also a slight risk of injection site irritation.

Gas Anesthesia

Gas anesthesia uses inhaled anesthetic agents like isoflurane or sevoflurane. It allows for continuous administration to keep the patient anesthetized. The pros of gas anesthesia are smooth induction, maintenance, and recovery. The con is that dosage changes happen more slowly. Gas anesthesia requires an endotracheal tube and anesthetic monitoring equipment.

Risks of Anesthesia

There are some risks associated with anesthesia in cats, including dangerous drops in blood pressure and issues with breathing control. However, with proper monitoring by a veterinarian, these risks can be minimized.

Lowered blood pressure and changes in heart rate are normal side effects of general anesthesia medications. These effects on circulation may leave some organs vulnerable during the procedure. By monitoring vital signs closely and administering IV fluids, the vet can maintain good blood flow. 1

Since anesthesia also suppresses breathing reflexes, the cat cannot cough or regulate their airway on their own. The vet will insert a tube in the windpipe to support breathing. They will monitor oxygen levels and respiratory rate throughout the procedure. With this respiratory support, risks of dangerous drops in oxygen are low.

Overall, with a thorough exam beforehand and continuous monitoring during the procedure, anesthesia risks can be successfully managed by your veterinarian.


After a dental cleaning procedure under anesthesia, your pet will need some special care during the recovery period. It’s important to monitor them closely in the first 24 hours after the procedure. Expect your pet to be sleepy and less active than usual. Provide a quiet, comfortable area for them to rest and recover.

Your vet will likely prescribe pain medication to help manage any discomfort. Be sure to give this medication as directed. It’s also common for pets to have a reduced appetite after anesthesia. Offer small amounts of food and water regularly, but don’t be alarmed if they don’t eat much at first. Stick to soft, wet foods that are easier to chew and swallow. Your vet may recommend special recovery diets formulated for dental procedures.

According to the American Veterinary Dental College, most pets need 2 weeks for proper healing after a dental cleaning. Avoid any chew toys or hard foods during this time. Take your pet for a recheck appointment to allow the vet to examine their mouth and ensure proper healing. Call your vet right away if you notice any concerning symptoms like bleeding, vomiting, or appetite loss ( With proper at-home care, your pet can recover comfortably after their cleaning.

Cost Factors

There are several factors that contribute to the total cost of cat teeth cleaning with anesthesia. Some of the main cost drivers include:


Pre-anesthetic bloodwork is usually required before any procedure requiring anesthesia. This allows the vet to assess organ function and look for any red flags before putting the cat under anesthesia. Bloodwork can cost $80-$150.

IV Fluids

IV fluids are administered during the cleaning to support kidney function and maintain blood pressure under anesthesia. This typically costs around $80-$100.


General anesthesia carries risks for cats and is required to fully clean their teeth. The anesthesia itself can cost $100-$150 depending on the protocol and medications used.

Hospitalization & Monitoring

Cats usually need to be hospitalized for most of the day and monitored while recovering from anesthesia. This can cost $100-$200 for the day.

With all the above factored in, total costs for cat dental cleanings with anesthesia can range from $300-$1000 or more depending on your area and clinic.

Average Costs

The cost for cat teeth cleaning with anesthesia can vary quite a bit depending on your location and veterinary clinic. However, some general ranges are:

  • According to Pawlicy, the national average cost for cat dental cleanings with anesthesia ranges from $200 to $600.
  • In a major city like Los Angeles, cat dental cleanings typically range from $300 to $800 according to The Dodo.
  • For more affordable regions like the Midwest, costs are often $100 to $400 according to Forbes.

The anesthesia itself averages $50-$150 nationwide according to Pawlicy. Medications and antibiotics will add to the total as well. More complicated cleanings involving extractions can increase the cost up to $1,000 or more.

Reducing Costs

There are some ways pet owners can reduce the costs of professional dental cleanings for their cats.

Many veterinary clinics offer bundled packages or wellness plans that include dental cleanings at a discounted rate. For example, some plans provide one or two dental cleanings per year along with vaccinations, exams, and other services for a monthly fee. This spreads out the costs over time. According to Pawlicy, wellness plans typically save owners 15-25% off regular dental cleaning prices.

Another way to reduce costs is to schedule the dental cleaning along with other necessary procedures like bloodwork. The anesthetic costs can be consolidated rather than paying for separate instances of anesthesia. Some clinics offer package deals for combining services.

Pet owners should also make sure to follow up with all recommended at-home dental care between professional cleanings. This includes brushing, dental treats or chews, and oral rinses. Keeping the teeth and gums healthier between cleanings means less intensive work is needed when the cat is under anesthesia, which can lower costs.

The Value of Dental Care

Despite the sometimes high costs, regular dental cleanings and care are extremely valuable for a cat’s health and quality of life. According to one source, “Poor dental health can lead to tooth loss, gum disease, infections in other areas of the body, and a decreased quality of life for pets” ( Proper dental care through regular veterinary cleanings can prevent many of these issues and allow cats to retain their teeth and enjoy eating and living comfortably into their elder years.

Another source explains some additional benefits: “A proper dental cleaning allows a full oral exam by your vet, who can detect issues like abscesses, oral masses, and other problems. It also reduces the bacterial load in your cat’s mouth, potentially reducing issues like kidney and heart disease” (

While the costs may seem high, the investment in a cat’s dental health pays dividends through reduced pain, improved eating and nutrition, prevention of diseases, and an overall happier, healthier cat. Proper dental care should be considered a necessity, not a luxury.

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