Keeping Your Cat’s Teeth Pearly White. Pros and Cons of Feline Dental Care

Introduction

Dental health is extremely important for cats. According to a veterinarian from the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America, “Dental disease is the most common disease found in pets, yet it is one of the most preventable. Oral health directly impacts the health of pets’ teeth, gums and other areas of the body.” (https://amcma.org/the-importance-of-dental-health-for-cats/) Poor dental health can lead to tooth loss, gum disease, infections, and possibly damage to major organs like the heart, liver and kidneys. That’s why regular dental cleanings and exams are a key part of preventative healthcare for cats.

There are pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to get your cat’s teeth professionally cleaned. This article provides an overview of the potential benefits and drawbacks of professional dental cleanings for cats.

Pros of Cat Teeth Cleaning

There are several benefits to regularly cleaning your cat’s teeth. One of the main pros is that it helps prevent plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth and gums. As plaque and tartar accumulate, they allow harmful bacteria to thrive in the mouth. This bacteria can lead to infections in the gums, tooth decay, and periodontal disease (Source). By removing the plaque and tartar through professional cleanings, you disrupt the bacterial colonies and reduce chances of infection.

Additionally, keeping your cat’s teeth clean promotes overall health and wellbeing. The bacteria from dental diseases can spread through the cat’s body and potentially damage internal organs like the heart, liver and kidneys. So by preventing dental issues through cleanings, you help avoid other health complications (Source). Your cat will also likely feel more comfortable with clean teeth and healthy gums.

Cons of Cat Teeth Cleaning

One of the main downsides of professional cat teeth cleaning is that it can be an expensive veterinary procedure. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), on average, cat dental cleanings range from $300 to $500. This cost includes the pre-anesthetic bloodwork, IV fluids during the procedure, anesthesia, monitoring by a vet tech during the cleaning, and sometimes post-op pain medication[1].

There are also potential risks associated with anesthesia. Though rare, there is a small risk of death from anesthesia during dental cleanings, with studies showing around a 0.1% mortality rate[1]. Other risks include low blood pressure, slow heart rate, and stress on major organs like the kidneys and liver. Proper monitoring by the veterinary team can mitigate these risks. Pre-anesthetic bloodwork helps vets assess if the cat is healthy enough for anesthesia.

To minimize risks, it’s important pet owners choose an experienced vet who is familiar with updated anesthesia protocols and monitoring procedures. Owners should also follow all pre- and post-op instructions from the vet.

When to Get Cat Teeth Cleaned

Professional dental cleaning for cats is recommended annually, starting around age 3. Kittens have baby teeth that fall out, so it’s best to wait until permanent teeth have grown in before beginning regular dental cleanings.

There are some signs that indicate it’s time for a teeth cleaning before the yearly mark. Bad breath is a major indicator of a dental problem. Excessive drooling and difficulty eating may also signal a need for a cleaning. If your cat has developed red, inflamed gums or other symptoms of periodontal disease, a veterinary dental cleaning can help get teeth and gums back into healthy condition.

Many cats don’t show obvious outward signs of dental disease. Even without bad breath or inflamed gums, tartar can still be building up below the gumline and bacteria can cause damage in the mouth. For this reason, annual dental cleanings are recommended once a cat is an adult to help prevent plaque and tartar from leading to dental disease.

What the Procedure Entails

The cat dental cleaning procedure involves several steps performed by a veterinarian under anesthesia to thoroughly clean a cat’s teeth down to the gumline. Here are the main parts of the process:

Pre-anesthetic bloodwork is done first to ensure the cat is healthy enough for anesthesia. Bloodwork checks liver and kidney function, electrolyte levels, and complete blood count 1.

An IV catheter is placed and the cat is given general anesthesia to fully sedate them during the cleaning. This allows the cleaning to be performed safely and painlessly 2.

The teeth are then scaled to remove tartar above and below the gumline using both hand and ultrasonic scalers. The tartar is polished away, leaving the teeth smooth and clean 3.

Recovery Process

Cats typically recover from an anesthesia dental cleaning within hours. The effects of anesthesia wear off rather quickly in cats compared to humans. Most cats are back to near normal by the time they return home the same day.

Appetite and activity levels may be somewhat reduced for the first 12-24 hours after anesthesia. Cats tend to sleep more and eat a bit less on the day they undergo anesthesia. By the next day, they are usually back to their normal energetic selves.

It’s important to monitor the cat closely in the hours after the procedure to ensure no complications arise. Check that they are awake, alert, and eating and drinking normally. Contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about their recovery.

Overall though, dental cleanings are very safe procedures for cats when performed by a licensed veterinarian. The recovery period is generally mild and cats bounce back to 100% within a day or so.

Aftercare

After a dental cleaning, it is important to follow proper aftercare procedures to ensure your cat recovers smoothly. Vets typically recommend feeding your cat soft, moist food for 7-10 days after a dental procedure.1 Hard kibble or dry food could irritate the gums and mouth if teeth were extracted. Canned food or meat purees are ideal as they are soft and easy to eat. Ensure your cat is eating adequately and maintaining hydration.

It’s also important to monitor your cat carefully for any complications during the recovery period. Signs to watch for include bleeding from the mouth, difficulty eating, behavioral changes, or excessive drooling. Alert your vet if you notice anything abnormal. Your vet may prescribe medication to manage pain or infection after the dental procedure. Follow all medication and care instructions from your vet closely to prevent complications.

Costs

The cost for a professional cat teeth cleaning typically ranges from $300 to $800 in the United States.1 This price can vary based on your geographic location, the veterinary clinic performing the procedure, and other factors like whether blood work is required or if tooth extractions are necessary.

Blood work may be recommended before anesthesia, which can add $80-$200 to the total bill. Tooth extractions are also common with dental cleanings, with costs ranging from $20-$150 per tooth depending on difficulty and location. These additional procedures can quickly increase the overall cost of the teeth cleaning.

Some clinics or veterinary schools offer more affordable options for cat dental cleanings, so it pays to compare prices if the cost is a concern. But you’ll also want to ensure your vet is experienced and your cat receives high-quality care.

Alternatives

There are some at-home alternatives to professional cat teeth cleaning that can help maintain your cat’s dental health between veterinary cleanings.

One option is to brush your cat’s teeth at home using a soft-bristled brush and pet-safe toothpaste. Gently brushing your cat’s teeth daily or several times a week can help remove plaque and tartar buildup. Be sure to introduce toothbrushing slowly and use positive reinforcement so your cat becomes comfortable with the process. Only brush the outside surfaces of the teeth, not the inner surfaces or gums. Never use human toothpaste, which can be toxic to cats if swallowed (Source).

Another alternative is to give your cat dental treats or chews. There are many veterinarian-approved dental treats made specifically for cats that are formulated to break down plaque and tartar. Offer these treats daily as part of your cat’s routine. Avoid hard, crunchy treats that could potentially fracture teeth. There are also some chew toys designed to clean teeth and massage gums as your cat chews. Supervise use of these toys to prevent choking or ingestion (Source).

Conclusion

In summary, there are compelling benefits as well as some downsides to cat teeth cleaning. The major pros are improved dental health, prevention of disease, fresher breath, and an overall healthier and happier cat. However, the procedure does require anesthesia which has risks, albeit low ones. It also can be costly and involves a recovery period.

Ultimately, to decide if teeth cleaning is right for your cat, the best guidance comes from your veterinarian. They can examine your cat’s unique dental health and needs and advise you on the pros and cons given their situation. With their input, you can make an informed decision that’s best for your furry friend.

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