KATHERINE DOBBS, RVT, CVPM, PHR
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, by age three more than half of dogs and cats suffer from dental problems. By the time they turn four, at least 85% show signs of periodontal disease (gum disease), a condition caused by plaque.
Dental disease is painful for your pet and can cause a multitude of problems, including heart and liver infections. Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth at home goes a long way toward preventing disease and tooth loss, but it is not enough.
Like people, pets need professional dental exams and cleanings in order to avoid tooth decay. However, dogs and cats are significantly less willing to sit still for 45 minutes of scraping and polishing. Although your veterinarian can perform a basic oral exam while your pet is awake, an anesthetic is required for thorough examinations and dental cleanings.
Dental cleanings that are done without an anesthetic will make your pet’s teeth prettier, but not healthier. Without anesthesia, it isn’t possible to clean the inside surfaces of the teeth or under the gums where periodontal disease develops.
“Removal of dental tartar on the visible surfaces of the teeth has little effect on a pet’s health, and provides a false sense of accomplishment,” says the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) in a position statement opposing anesthesia-free cleanings.
Sara Sharp, a certified veterinary technician specialist in dentistry at Campus Veterinary Clinic in Denver, Colo., and secretary of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians puts it this way, “If your pet won’t sit still for a toenail trim, there is no reason to believe he or she will comfortably endure teeth cleaning. Pets are very protective of their mouths.”
Veterinarians need to use sharp instruments, similar to those used for humans, to remove tartar, and a pet can easily be injured by these tools if it moves at the wrong time.
Is Anesthesia Safe for My Pet?
Although there is always some risk when using an anesthetic, it is much safer than in the past and even for aging pets the risks are minimal. Your veterinarian will want to run preanesthetic blood tests, and will tailor the anesthesia plan based on those results and other factors such as your pet’s age, weight, and overall health. Due to the many variables that need to be considered when sedating or anesthetizing a dog or cat, AAHA-accredited hopitals are evaluated on anesthesia among the 900 standards of veterinary care. Additionally, the association developed anesthesia guidelines for veterinary professionals in 2011,
Sharp encourages pet owners to talk to their veterinarians about any concerns or questions they have. Together, you can make the best decision for the health and comfort of your dog or cat.
Keep Those Pearlies White
The American Animal Hospital Association recommends annual oral exams and dental cleanings under general anesthesia for all adult dogs and cats. According to AAHA’s Dental Care Guidelines, cats and small dogs should be started at one year of age and large-breed dogs at two years.
Make an appointment with your veterinarian if you notice signs of dental disease, such as:
- Bad breath
- Yellowing of teeth/tartar build up
- Bleeding or swollen gums
- Broken teeth
- Frequent eye infections or unexplained discharge
- Chronic sneezing or abnormal nasal discharge
- Drooling (cats)
- Reluctance to eat or dropping food
- Pawing at face and mouth
Dental cleanings that are done without an anesthetic will make your pet’s teeth prettier, but not healthier.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Jan-Mar 09 - Volume 4 Issue 1, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2008 AAHA. Find out more.