Guilt-ridden cat owner’s British Shorthair brain damaged during dental cleaning


I have written about this before. There is a risk when a domestic cat is taken to the veterinarian to have their teeth cleaned. I believe that veterinarians tend to underplay the risk. They might say that one in several thousand cats suffer brain damage or die because of the anaesthetic. My research which took place some time ago indicated to me that the risk could be about 1 in 400 cats suffering some kind of major health issue because of the general anaesthetic during dental cleaning. This can lead to brain damage and death. Or the cat is euthanised because the cat has been brain-damaged.

It presents to the cat owner a great dilemma. If the owner is aware of these risks then they have to decide between the necessity of dental cleaning and the risk of their cat not coming through the operation.

In this instance a cat owner, Anita, was unaware of the risks. She felt that the operation was routine. It seems that her veterinarian did not explain the risks to her. She commented on this website and I have reproduced it below. It’s sad and distressing but it drives home to the uninformed the dangers of this operation.

I don’t want to overstate the dangers but I do want to make sure that cat guardians are aware of them.


Cat was brained damaged during teeth cleaning

Photo: Anita.

Anita’s Distress

Just lost Toffee, my 9 yr old British short-hair. Dropped her off to the vets this morning without a second glance for a “routine” procedure ( teeth cleaning) and got a message on my answer machine in the afternoon that she had experienced air build-up in the thorax, her heart stopped and she stopped breathing.

Despite trying to resuscitate she experienced loss of oxygen to the brain and so they suspected serious brain damage. They explained that the procedure itself ( cleaning and extraction of 3 teeth) went smoothly and she seemed fine afterwards but then she got into a critical stage of build-up of air.

The vet explained that they had to remove 400ml of air trapped in the thorax which was an unusually high amount and her lung never fully recovered from the impact. I feel devastated, guilt-ridden and am still reeling from the shock. I cannot believe the outcome and blame myself for trusting the experts without really understanding the risks.

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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6 Responses

  1. Anne says:

    My vets have always warned of the dangers of anesthesia, esp in older cats. It’s a danger for humans, too.

  2. M E King says:

    Dental cleaning has become big business for clinics. My Mercy needed corrective gum surgery to live a normal life. Probably because she was born to a feral cat and taken from a colony the poor nutrition during gestation may well have added to her deformity. That was necessary. The one clinic we were going to started pushing dentals every 6 months. I do manage to get the enzyme toothpaste into their mouth along with a toothbrush several times weekly. They all look great.

  3. Jane says:

    My heart goes out to poor Toffee’s human.

    Over the last five or so years our vets have been less keen on routine cleaning dentals.

    I wonder if poor Toffee had some heart issues, this breed is renowned for getting HCM, was a pre surgery exam or blood panel done.

    People! If you can, please get a physical exam of your cat and a full blood panel before any anaesthetic. No matter the breed, a mog can suffer the same fate, as easily.

    Breed related health conditions have been studied/recorded in many pedigree cats, alas no such work has been carried out on
    our mixed or ‘mongrel’ non pedigree bred cats.

    Anaesthesia is easier in humans than cats, said a human anaesthetist to me once, about six seconds before I fell under the black curtain.

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