The Risks of Putting Your Cat Under Anesthesia for Dental Cleaning


Cat dental cleaning involves the removal of soft and hard deposits like plaque and tartar from a cat’s teeth by a veterinarian. It is an important preventative health procedure to maintain good oral health and prevent more serious dental disease in cats.

Over time, plaque and tarter can build up on a cat’s teeth if not removed through daily brushing. This can lead to gingivitis, periodontal disease, and tooth decay. Professional dental cleanings allow veterinarians to thoroughly clean a cat’s teeth above and below the gumline to remove disease-causing bacteria. Cleanings often involve scaling and polishing each tooth with specialized instruments.

Regular dental cleanings are recommended every 1-2 years for cats based on their individual oral health needs. Cleanings help prevent painful dental issues, infections, and tooth loss. Keeping a cat’s teeth clean and healthy through professional cleanings can improve their quality of life and support overall wellbeing.

Anesthesia Risks

Anesthesia carries inherent risks for cats undergoing dental cleanings or other procedures. One of the most common risks is lowered blood pressure or hypotension, which can occur after administration of anesthesia. According to VCA Hospitals, “Another potential danger associated with anesthesia arises if the cat is not properly fasted prior to anesthesia. Anesthetized patients lose the normal reflex ability to swallow or vomit.”

Other risks of anesthesia in cats include shallow breathing, low body temperature, slow heart rate, and delayed recovery, according to Preventive Vet. They advise monitoring cats closely during anesthesia and recovery to minimize risks. Hollyridge Veterinary Care adds that most anesthesia complications arise within the first 1-3 hours as cats wake up from procedures. They recommend your vet keep your cat until fully recovered from anesthesia.

Procedure Risks

The main risks during the dental cleaning procedure itself involve the anesthesia. According to Chewy, “As long as the preoperative blood work is normal and the heart and lungs are normal, the risk of death from anesthesia is very low, about 0.1%.” However, anesthesia does carry inherent risks like breathing difficulties, low blood pressure, and arrhythmias. The veterinarian will monitor your cat closely throughout the procedure to minimize these risks.

Other potential risks during the cleaning include injury to the mouth tissues or teeth, throat irritation from intubation, and hypothermia from the length of the procedure and effects of anesthesia. Again, a skilled veterinary staff will take precautions to avoid these risks as much as possible.

Overall, while dental cleanings under anesthesia do carry some risks inherent to the procedure, veterinarians are trained to minimize these risks and complete the cleaning as safely as possible for your cat.


Proper aftercare following cat dental cleaning is crucial to avoid complications like infections or issues with healing. The Shallowford Veterinary Clinic recommends waiting one week after the cleaning before starting at-home dental care to avoid discomfort as the mouth heals ( Soft foods should be fed for several days after extraction procedures to allow healing as well according to PetMD, including moist food, semi-moist food, and softened kibble ( The Woodbury Veterinary Hospital also notes some pets may require antibiotics for 7-10 days following dental cleanings if severe infection was present ( Careful monitoring for signs of complications like swelling, bleeding, or changes in eating/drinking habits is also crucial during the aftercare period.

Home Dental Care

A good home dental care routine can help avoid unnecessary cleanings and costly dental disease treatment. According to, brushing your cat’s teeth is the gold standard for home dental care. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and cat-safe toothpaste to gently brush the outer surfaces of the teeth in a circular motion. Work up to brushing daily, but even a few times a week can be beneficial.

You can also provide dental treats and chews to help scrape plaque and tartar off teeth between brushings, according to Look for treats and chews formulated to support dental health. Additionally, selecting dry kibble over soft, wet food can help somewhat.

By implementing an at-home dental care routine for your cat, you may be able to delay or avoid professional dental cleanings and reduce the risks associated with anesthesia and the cleaning procedure itself.

When Cleanings Are Necessary

There are a few signs that indicate your cat may be in need of a professional dental cleaning. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, you should watch for bad breath, reddened gums, broken teeth, and excessive drooling. Your veterinarian may also notice a buildup of tartar and plaque during an exam. The severity of these signs can indicate the extent of periodontal disease and help determine how urgently a cleaning is needed.

In general, the American Veterinary Dental College recommends annual dental exams and cleanings as needed starting around age 3. However, some cats require cleanings as early as 1 year old if plaque buildup is significant. Older cats with documented dental disease will likely need professional cleanings more frequently, such as every 6-12 months. Your veterinarian is the best judge of when your individual cat needs a dental cleaning.


The cost of a professional dental cleaning for a cat can vary significantly depending on your location, the veterinary clinic, the type of anesthesia used, if any extractions or other procedures are needed, and other factors. According to Pawlicy, a typical cat dental cleaning costs anywhere from $100 to $400, but could amount to $1000 or more depending on the cat’s dental health.

Forbes cites veterinarian Dr. Katie Rohrig stating costs range from a few hundred dollars to over $2000. The main factors driving cost are the anesthesia, any necessary extractions, medications, and fluids. Even just a basic cleaning will involve anesthesia which starts around $200. Extractions and pain medications can quickly increase the total. According to PetMD, the average insurance claim was $190 for a cleaning, rising to $404 when extractions were needed.

It’s a good idea to get an itemized estimate beforehand so you know what to expect. Clinics in areas with a higher cost of living will also tend to charge more. Discuss options with your vet to find the most affordable plan for your cat’s dental care needs.

Alternatives to Anesthesia

Some pet owners may wish to avoid the risks of anesthesia and opt for an anesthesia-free dental cleaning instead. These cleanings are promoted as a safer, less expensive alternative to a full dental cleaning under anesthesia.

During an anesthesia-free cleaning, pets are awake and typically restrained while their teeth are scaled to remove plaque and tartar. This can be stressful and painful for pets since anesthesia is not used. As noted by the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), “the term ‘non-anesthetic dental scaling’ is misleading. In reality, the procedure should be termed ‘limited veterinary scaling without anesthesia’ because it does not result in a complete examination and cleaning of the teeth and below the gumline” [1].

Without anesthesia, it’s difficult for veterinarians to fully clean beneath the gumline or take dental x-rays to evaluate problems. This means serious issues like fractured teeth, abscesses, and periodontal disease can go undetected and untreated with anesthesia-free cleanings [2].

While anesthesia does carry risks, a thorough professional dental cleaning under anesthesia remains the standard of care. Anesthesia allows for the best assessment and treatment of dental disease to promote long-term oral health.

Preventing Periodontal Disease

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent periodontal disease in their pets, including:

Daily tooth brushing. Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is the most effective way to remove plaque and prevent tartar buildup. Use a soft bristled toothbrush and cat-safe toothpaste.[1]

Dental treats and chews. Giving your cat dental treats or chews helps scrape plaque off the teeth. Look for treats approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.

Regular veterinary cleanings. Most cats need professional dental cleanings at least once a year to fully remove tartar and conduct a thorough oral exam.

Diet. Dry food helps scrub the teeth. Pick kibble that is highly digestible and approved for dental health.

Oral rinses. Rinsing with an antiseptic solution can reduce bacteria when brushing isn’t possible.

Early examination. Have your veterinarian examine your cat’s mouth regularly so any problems can be addressed early before advanced disease develops.

With proper preventative care at home and professional cleanings, periodontal disease is largely avoidable in cats.


While dental cleanings under anesthesia have some risks, the benefits often outweigh them for cats prone to plaque buildup and periodontal disease. With proper at-home dental care and professional cleanings when recommended, cats can maintain healthy teeth and gums for years.

To minimize risks, pet owners should have bloodwork done beforehand to screen for any issues, choose an experienced vet, and carefully follow aftercare instructions. Alternatives like anesthesia-free cleanings can also be considered, though their effectiveness is debated.

The best approach is prevention – regular toothbrushing, dental treats and chews, plaque-reducing diets. With diligent care at home, some cats may not need professional dental cleanings as often.

By balancing professional dental care with daily tooth brushing and other preventive measures, cat owners can promote good oral health with minimal risks.

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