Veterinary Cat Dental Cleaning – The Risks

by Michael

Periodontal disease - vet needs to clean under the gums hence general anesthetic - Photo by Eric__I_E

Periodontal disease - vet needs to clean under the gums hence general anesthetic - Photo by Eric__I_E

We should know the risks associated with professional dental cleaning of our cat's teeth. Whether we agree to having our cat's teeth cleaned depends on balancing risk and reward (health benefits).

The risk was brought home to me about 2 months ago. I was at a veterinarians and got talking to a person in the waiting room, as you do. They are nervous moments. I dislike vet's waiting rooms. But I like to de-stress by talking to fellow customers.

Well, he was with his old lady cat. She was having her teeth cleaned by the vet. He had been told that the risk of a cat dying under anesthetic was 1 in 100 or a 1% chance. He was nervous about it but had decided to proceed. That risk seemed high just for clean teeth. Clean teeth and healthy gums are important to overall cat health but....the risk seems high because the downside is so total.

The figure of a 1% chance of death may be too high. Two research articles say that the risks of death in general is 1 in 233 or 1 in 895. For sick cats undergoing the cleaning process the risk climbs substantially to 1 in 71.

I find these slightly scary numbers. Clearly the vet does a physical check up and some blood and urine work beforehand to make sure that the cat is fit for general anesthetic but this is not foolproof.

The risk of "complications is much higher at 1 in 9. Vomiting causing asphyxiation is a risk too it seems.

All in all would you take that risk on behalf of your cat? Some cats are thankfully predisposed to good oral health but some are not.

Cat gum disease

Dental gel for cats

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Veterinary Cat Dental Cleaning - The Risks

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Mar 14, 2012
My thoughts NEW
by: Ruth

I'm so sad for you anonymous and I know the feelings of guilt you have now, wondering if it realy was necessary to have your cat's teeth cleaned.
But it's the vet to blame, not you!
It seems to me they are now obsessed with cat's teeth, you take your cat for something else and the first thing they do is look at their teeth.
Even before our cats were seen when we changed practices the receptionist brought up them having dentals, having no idea if they needed one or not.
I worked for vets years ago and it was treat the cat for what he was in for, don't look for more ways of making money out of the clients.
What's that old saying 'If it aint broke, don't fix it'

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Mar 14, 2012
To Anonymous NEW
by: Barbara

I'm so sorry about your cat, that is everyone's worst nightmare, and why we are so reluctant to put either of our boys through an unnecessary anaesthetic. Vets seem obssessed with teeth cleaning but honestly, cats have been around us for thousands of years without going to the dentist, and if this is the result no wonder! To think you were going to bring her home healthy and then get a shock like that was tragic. Don't feel guilty, you did what you were advised to do, bad enough losing her without eating yourself up with guilt.

Barbara avatar

Mar 13, 2012
Dental Cleaning NEW
by: Anonymous

Our precious cat of 11 years died after her proceedure 3 weeks ago. She had her teeth cleaned at age 6 with no issues. Despite our best efforts to brush her teeth (she hated) and tartar control treats, she was experiencing increased tartar build up and difficulty chewing on the left side. To ours and her vets knowledge, she was in otherwise good health. Pre-proceedure physical, blood work, heart rate, respirations, all normal during the proceedure and after. She came out of light anesthesia with no problems. She died 2 hours later (after we were called that she was ready to bring home). What a shock when we arrived. Never again will we take these chances if we adopt another cat. The guilt is overwhelming.

Oct 26, 2011
Dental cleaning
by: Barbara

We dread ever having to take either of our boys in for any operation that involves anaesthetic, we always did but more so after Popsy "died" during supposedly light anaesthesia for an x-ray, they brought her back for a while, but we did lose her in the end.
To me, unless teeth and gums are causing severe problems I would resist dental treatment for cats,cats lived with us for centuries before vets started upping the ante's and wanting to treat them as mini-humans, and surely eating cat biscuits helps in some way to clean the gnashers. And by the way I'm not denying our cats treatment while looking after my own teeth, because I wouldn't put myself through it either.

Oct 26, 2011
I wonder
by: Michael

I wonder how many vets volunteer this information? I think that unless the gum disease is so bad as to affect health noticeably that the risk is too high.

Cats are not very good at being anesthetized - worse than humans.

A person wouldn't agree to be anesthetized for bad teeth and gums at that risk.

Injury is also a possibility (a higher possibility) and I presume that includes brain damage.

Oct 25, 2011
Clean Teeth/Dead Cat? A truly horrible dilemma.
by: Grahame

I'm really pleased to see you raising this issue, Michael. Sasha needed a good tooth and gum prophy. There was some inflammation. But he ate well and digital pressure on his teeth and gums did not phase him. Sobered by the risk posed by dental anaesthesia to our beloved 17 year-old cat, we held off. Sasha died of plasma cell cancer, not his teeth cleaning (which never took place, because we were adopting a policy of 'watchful waiting'.)

I dread this issue. I would not subject myself to such odds. Yet, if tooth decay and gum inflammation lead to cardiac problems, what, then, is the prudent and responsible decision to take for our cats?

I think that terrible situations, such as this poses, further conduce one to the persuasion that the universe is not our friend, that nature is red in tooth and claw, and cares not a whit for us and our beloved cats.

My dentist, whom I saw today, has never given me unrelieved or unrelievable pain, so I am relaxed seeing him, and he is happy because I am not one of his dentist-fearing patients. But what if the downside risk was immediate death? Aye, there's the rub, my dear beloved cats.

A truly horrible dilemma.

Oct 25, 2011
A Scary Odds?
by: Sylvia Ann

Inspector McWee could stand some major dental work, but there's a large risk because of his years(20), and because he has an oddly slow heart rate, according to the veterinarian who treated him for a bug last month. But if his teeth make him ill at some point, he'll have to go in in spite of the risk.

In years past we've feared anesthesia - not because of what the vets have done to our cats, but our squirrel-sized chihuahuas. My mother collapsed when Etta died under anesthesia, as did Snabby-Lou, her little boy.

If McWee developed dental infection - as Ethel did - he'd have to go in. But as long as he's in apparent good health, with a normal appetite, it isn't worth the age-related risk.

For a younger cat, is one in 100 that dicey?

To my grandma's way of thinking, one in a million was a trifle. She often won contests - a week in Hawaii, a 'Kelvinator' refrigerator, gift certificates, etc. as she was convinced she had a perfectly decent chance, and was always composing and sending in 'jingles' and solutons to puzzles.

It's hard to believe how anyone could be tempted by the horses, by casinos and the lottery - yet droves are drawn to these money-throwaways. Our state has dozens of Native American Taj-Mahals(theoretically Mafia-run),and business is booming day & night.

One in 100 may alarm people concerned about living in a tsunami-zone - as we do here - or being struck by satellite debris. But unless one's child is too old or too small - forget anesthesia for a pal-rat - the rest of us probably view the risk as next to nonexistent.


Veterinary Cat Dental Cleaning – The Risks — 3 Comments

  1. I just lost my precious 10 yr.-old Persian Himalayan after a dental procedure. She went into respiratory failure well after the procedure and couldn’t be revived. I ordered the “extra-safe” anesthetic seveflurane. I feel sick at heart.

    • God, this is terrible to read about. Heartbreaking. I feel so sorry for you. My condolences. If you want to write about it one day feel free to do so in a longer comment and I will be pleased to turn that into an article but only when you feel ready and if you feel ready.

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