Pet Dental Cleaning Without an Anesthetic – Good idea or bad?


Dental tartar is an unavoidable fact of life for us, as well as our pets. There will come a time in in every pet’s life that tartar will accumulate on the teeth and need to be removed by a veterinarian. Cooperative humans can have their teeth cleaned without an anesthetic, although the less brave may need to bolster their resolve with a bit of sedative. But it’s difficult to convince a dog or cat to sit still long enough for the doctor to perform a thorough dental exam and cleaning.

Proper scaling
For maximum benefit, tartar must be scaled from the tooth below as well as above the gum line. The tartar you can’t see can be more detrimental to the pet’s oral health than what you can see. The area below the gum line is where dental disease is most likely to get started and where proper scaling is critical. Ignoring this part of cleaning can result in gum disease, dental abscesses and lost teeth, especially in cats and small breed dogs.

Tartar is very tightly adhered to the surfaces of the teeth. During the process of scaling, microscopic scratches occur on the enamel. Because of this, scaling should always be followed by polishing. If not polished to a smooth surface, these scratches provide a surface for rapid re-accumulation of tartar.

Benefits of scaling under an anesthetic 

  • Molars (located in the rear of the mouth) can easily be accessed for complete cleaning.
  • All surfaces of all teeth can readily be examined.
  • Gingival probing can be done for the presence of pockets and disease along the gum line.
  • X-Rays can be taken to check for retained teeth, dental cysts, abscesses and root disease.
  • A complete oral exam can be done to identify tumors and other types of oral disease.

Downside of Non-Anesthetic Scaling (NAS)

  • The instruments required for scaling are sharp. Minor, quick movements by an awake pet can result in gum lacerations and other oral injuries.
  • The skill of non-veterinary, lay personnel can be an issue. You don’t want anyone messing around in your pet’s mouth who doesn’t have a full understanding of dental anatomy, oral disease, proper instrument use, etc.
  • The procedure is incomplete because scaling below the gum line isn’t done, X-Rays can’t be taken, rear teeth are not readily accessible and the mouth can’t be completely examined. The signs of dental disease can be very subtle and easily missed in a non-anesthetized patient.
  • For many pets, NAS ends up being more of a cosmetic procedure that does not address the important aspects of oral disease prevention. It gives a false sense of dental health.

Anesthetic Safety
As you can see, to effectively clean your pet’s teeth, the procedure must be done under an anesthetic. Modern anesthetics used for veterinary procedures have a wide margin of safety, especially when combined with state of the art monitoring and support. For example, all of our patients that are under an anesthetic are connected to digital monitors that measure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, blood pressure, respiratory rate, heart rate and run an electrocardiogram. We also place an intravenous catheter and infuse fluids during the procedure to maintain proper blood flow to the liver, kidneys, brain and other vital organs. In addition, pre-anesthetic blood work makes us aware of any sub-clinical health problems that might exist before we actually begin an anesthetic procedure.  While these extra measures can add some cost to the dental prophylaxis, it allows us to provide the highest level of safety for our patients.

Dental Care at Home
Brushing your pet’s teeth is the most effective way of removing plaque and preventing tartar formation. There are special brushes and toothpastes (liver, fish flavors) made especially for dogs and cats. Dental gels and oral rinses can be used that act as anti-plaque antiseptics. Special types of diets are available that help remove plaque are good choices for some pets. You can also give your pet certain types of toys, rawhide and treats to help maintain good oral health.   For more info, go to:    Home Care for Dogs by the AVDC

February is National Pet Dental Month.  Please give us a call or send an email if you have more questions about your pet’s oral health care or if you would like to set up an appointment for a professional dental exam and cleaning.

More Information:
AAHA standards: Anesthesia and intubation for dental procedures
American Veterinary Dental College
Veterinary Oral Health Council


4th of July Tips for Pets & Their People

English: Downtown Miami on July 4, 2007

English: Downtown Miami on July 4, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The excitement and noise that accompany 4th of July celebrations can be very frightening for some pets. Loud, unexpected noises and flashes of light may even cause pets to escape from the home, yard or leash putting them at risk for injury or loss.

Here are measures you can take to help make the 4th of July safer and more comfortable for your pet:

  • For maximum safety keep your pets indoors in a quiet area away from crowds.
  • If your pet is used to sleeping in a crate, it may feel safer inside the crate during the noisy parts of this holiday.
  • Close the blinds, turn on a radio and give a Kong toy filled with food to distract it.
  • Keep the pets away from fireworks and NEVER toss a lit firecracker when a loose dog is nearby.
  • Make sure only the human animals have access to party food and alcohol. Keep them away from hot grills and fires, as well as sunscreen and insect repellents.
  • Clean up after the party. Bones, spoiled food, alcohol and undetonated fireworks can pose a danger if eaten.
  • Pets that suffer from high anxiety and panic attacks may benefit from anti-anxiety medications. If you suspect your pet is a candidate, please call early to have a prescription filled. Newer medications can relieve anxiety without causing significant sedation.
  • Make sure your pet is microchipped! This is a very easy way to ensure your pet’s safe return if he or she becomes lost. Here are some scary statistics: only 15% of dogs and 2% of cats turned into shelters  are returned to their families.  This low percentage is in large part due to pets being found without any identification. Don’t let your pet become another statistic, and don’t put all your  trust in a collar with ID.  Collars can easily be lost. Please schedule a time NOW to have your pet microchipped before the holidays.  Microchip implantation is a quick, relatively painless and inexpensive way to help insure your pet will be returned to you if it strays.

    Radiograph of a cat with an identifying microc...

    Radiograph of a cat with an identifying microchip located above the spine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cat Carrier Blues: Teaching kitty to sing a new tune

DiamondHugheswpe9The first step in getting the cat into a carrier is finding the cat. Can’t find him, you say? Well that’s not an uncommon scenario. Carrier comes out and kitty turns into the invisible cat. Gone. Poof. No scent, no trail. Nowhere to be found. Why so?  Well think about it. The only times most cats see their carriers is before being toted off to the veterinarian or groomer. Can opener = good times … Carrier = not so good times.

Village of Damned

Cats can be very wiley about this carrier situation, often exhibiting super-sentient abilities. A woman who brought her cat in for an exam recently said that she does whatever she can to avoid thinking about her pet’s carrier on veterinary appointment days. She is convinced that “Stuff” (her cat) can read her mind and when her thought barrier breaks down, the cat disappears. Hmm, reminds me of the movie, Village of the Damned in which townsfolk focused on brick walls to prevent alien children from reading their minds.

Make it a fun space
The ultimate goal is to teach the cat not to be afraid of the carrier. To do this, he must have more positive experiences associated with the carrier than negative ones. For starts, you’ll want to leave the carrier out in the home so the cat sees it each day, not just when he’ll get stuffed inside for some unpleasant event.

The fastest way around most cats’ fears is through the tummy, and the ideal time to start training is when the pet is a kitten. Keep his food and water bowls inside, and occasionally place toys or very special treats (we’re talking chicken, shrimp, tuna – mega-good-stuff – whatever really turns him on) inside. If the cat is hesitant to enter,  place the bowls in front of the carrier for a few weeks, then gradually move the bowls into it.

Teach him to enter on cue
Once he is real relaxed with the carrier, you can work on teaching him to enter on cue. Take a small piece of really special food and, as you toss it into the carrier, point to the carrier and give a cue, such as “Kennel up.” Leave treats nearby and every time you walk by gesture toward the carrier, toss a treat inside and say Kennel up.” Repeat as often as possible. Solid learning comes from repetition. Make it a fun game the pet enjoys to play.

Moving on down the road
Once the pet is relaxed around the carrier and looks forward to entering it, you need to begin moving the carrier with him inside. Gently close the door, pick up the carrier and insert a tasty treat. Immediately set it back down. Repeat walking about with the carrier for short periods, gradually increasing the duration. You might even want to progress to very short car rides that end with something special such as more good treats or a vigorous play session.

Appointment time and no time to train
Get out your suit of armor, take your kitty shoehorn in one hand and the cat in the other. OK, seriously now, your most important tool is going to be patience. Carefully and calmly pick the pet up under the chest, back up toward the carrier and lower him through the door on top. For some cats it helps to gently wrap a towel around the pet and then slip the little kitty burrito into the carrier.


What type of carrierCatCarrierSoft_Sherpa
I personally like rigid or soft carriers that have a second opening on the top. It’s a lot easier to slip the pet through a relatively large top opening if necessary rather  than through a small front opening. It’s also easier for the veterinarian or groomer to get the pet out from the top.


There is a synthetic pheromone spray called FELIWAY(R) that has a calming effect on most cats. Applying it to the carrier for a few days prior to travel and 30 minutes prior placing the pet in the carrier has a calming effect on some cats.