None of my pets have ever needed a dental before; at least not that I know of. But I see now how incredibly important it is to check my pet’s teeth and keep them clean. It all started with what I thought was a cute picture of Lacey yawning. I never took enough pictures of Alex and now she’s gone. So when I adopted Lacey and Finnegan I bought a good camera and have taken probably thousands by now. As you can see her teeth are covered in plaque and tartar and her gums are incredibly red and inflamed.
I knew Lacey’s teeth probably bad, her breath was horrendous. Like something crawled up in there and died. But when I saw this picture on the computer I literally cried. I realized she had to be in a lot of pain and I needed to take care of this for several reasons. Yes, pain is number one. Your pet should never be in pain and because cats hide it so well, it’s your job to know their behaviors. I noticed Lacey slowing down a lot although she was eating fine. I thought it was just her age, but couldn’t understand that as she’s only seven. Two weeks before her dental, I also noticed she didn’t groom as much as she normally did. She did not experience all of these other symptoms but bad teeth and gums can also cause them to paw at their mouths, chew on one side more over the other, bleed from the gums, over groom themselves, become lethargic and develop an infection.
Eventually your pet’s teeth will indeed cause so much pain they will probably stop eating and that’s not something you ever want to happen. A cat can develop hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) within 48 hours of starvation. I know because my Alex had it and needed to be hospitalized, on an IV drip with antibiotics and fluids to flush out the toxins in her liver. It CAN be fatal so never let your cat get to that point. If your cat has not eaten on its own, or barely picks at their food, looks lethargic, tired, etc. please call the vet immediately and take them in as soon as possible.
There are other very important reasons to make sure they have healthy teeth and gums. Dental disease is just as hard on their health as it is on ours. Toxins can enter the blood stream through the gums and cause problems to vital organs like the heart and kidneys. I take excellent care of my pets and I want them to live a very long, happy and healthy life. This is no different than any other health issue and no less important.
Because I’d never gone through this before, I needed to do some research. So I called around to different animal hospitals and asked a lot of questions. You should know that it IS very expensive. They need to do a full check-up beforehand to make sure your pet has nothing else going on and that they are healthy enough to be put under anesthesia. Pre-op blood work is essential for this and can tell them if their organs are functioning properly, if there is any underlying conditions, infections, etc. They also check for heart disease which is again essential to know before putting them under anesthesia.
If you’re wondering why a pet needs to be put under for a dental cleaning, the answer is simple; a pet is not a human. They are already beyond terrified just going for a vet visit. There’s no way on this earth they’d lie still for someone to go poking inside their mouth and possibly even extracting teeth (which is painful). Under anesthesia the pet can have thorough dental x-rays, a complete scaling and cleaning and again, teeth pulled if necessary. Anesthesia free dental cleaning is growing in popularity but in my opinion is not nearly thorough enough and has some dangers associated with it. Here is an excellent article on why anesthetizing them is necessary:
The procedure itself doesn’t take long; usually no more than 30 to 45 minutes, but the pet must be prepped with sedation and pain medication before surgery. The time it takes for each pet to wake up is different. Lacey woke up very quickly and was tired when she came home but not at all wobbly or in a stupor. Finnegan was a different story. He woke up quickly but took a long time to come out of it once home.
What I did was call around to several veterinary hospitals, including my old vet, to see what they used specifically for anesthesia, pain meds, antibiotics, etc. I asked if they would honor my requests that certain medications not be used, what the entire dental exam and cleaning entailed and I asked for a quote. Since there are four stages of dental disease categorized it’s difficult to give a quote. But usually they will give you a range and quote on the high side the day of the procedure in order to prepare you in case they find extensive tooth and gum disease.
The hospital I ended up choosing was one that a friend had recommended to me some time ago. For all my questions and concerns I had, the vet tech stayed on the phone with me for over 30 minutes and was completely willing to answer anything and everything. They explained everything to me in great detail and because my kitties were new patients (or potential new patients) they offered me a free tour of the entire facility; the exam rooms, surgical area, in house lab, feline recovery area (which was kept in the opposite part of the building from the recovery area for dogs), etc. During the tour they again went over every aspect of the procedure and if I had any questions I could easily ask. I beat them over the head with questions to be honest and it didn’t faze them one bit, they were courteous and extremely helpful.
It just so happened that both my cats needed their rabies vaccinations and as it’s the strict law here in my state I had to make the choice, even though they are indoor only. If they were to bite anyone there, including the vet, the law requires them to be quarantined for 10 days in the pound if they are not vaccinated and I cannot put my cats or myself through that hell. During Lacey’s exam they did her blood work and rabies vaccine (rabies only, nothing else) and examined her teeth. She was surprisingly good about it. But since she’d just had her rabies vaccine that day, we had to schedule her dental for a month out to give her immune system time to rest and recoup. If your pet gets a vaccination of any kind, surgery or any kind of invasive procedure should not be done for at least a month out for that reason.
It also happened that her blood work results showed her liver enzymes were up slightly, which can be a sign of infection. She seemed to be fighting it off on her own so we did not give antibiotics at that time. We kept the schedule and decided to do blood work in house right before the dental and I would wait for the results to make sure they’d gone down. A month went by and the morning of the procedure was a disaster as the waiting room was filled dogs barking loudly and nervously. The good news from her blood work was that her liver enzymes were normal, however she spiked a fever. At the urging of the vet, I left her there for several hours to see if her fever would come down on its own. But it fluctuated. The vet felt it was due to the stress of the dogs and told me to bring her home and see how she does. We had to reschedule the dental for the next week. I was not at all happy, very stressed out myself and began to wonder if I’d made the right choice.
However, the next morning they called me to say they had made a plan that would accommodate Lacey better. We were to go in at 8 am instead of 7 (when the waiting room was full). We would wait in the car and I’d call when we got there and they would wave us directly into the exam room. They’d check her temperature again, and get her into surgery immediately, no waiting; in and out as quickly as possible to alleviate her stress level. This pleased me tremendously and I felt they really cared about my pets and as the vet had said “the goal is to take care of them but put as little stress on them as possible.” And I do know from being at other vet hospitals in the area, no one has separate waiting areas for dogs and cats. But for sure none of the others would have made these accommodations; I’ve been to some of them so I know this.
The day finally came and everything went smoothly and according to plan. Her temp was still slightly up but they felt it was still due to stress and she needed her teeth done badly, so we went ahead with it. In the end, three teeth were pulled and one canine has to be watched as it showed signs of some “potential” issues. She was sent home with amoxicillin (antibiotic) and Buprenex (for pain). She ate some soft food within the hour of being home and did well with her medications. Within a week and a half after surgery I began to see my little girl coming back to life again. No more tooth pain meant feeling good enough to play, groom and act as silly and loving as she used to. I was instructed on how to brush my cat’s teeth and will be discussing this and Finnegan’s dental experience in part 2.