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Should cat have her teeth cleaned?

Species: Cat
Breed: Grey tabby cat
Age: 11-15 years
My 13 year old cat recently went for a wellness vet visit at a new vet. The vet recommended a dental cleaning and I need some advice about this..............because............

About 4 years ago, we were living in a different city. The vet recommended a dental cleaning at that time. This was the first anesthesia my cat had in her life except for the one time when she was spade as a youngster. After the cleaning, they released her to us in her box. When we opened the box upon arriving home, she darted out, paralyzed from the waist down, unable to move. Her pupils were dilated and cloudy, she was paralyzed from the waist down and couldn't hold her head up. She couldn't see and so was bumping into the walls. It was terrifying and I never thought she would come out of it. We brought her back to the vet the next day and they kept her for 4 days until she came fully out of it. The vet said he had never seen this before.

So, fast forward to present day and once again my cat is being recommended for a dental cleaning (a possible cavity and gingivitis in top corner of gums). When I told the new vet about what had happened, she totally dismissed it and dismissed my obvious concerns about putting my cat under again. I want a second opinion about whether after this experience it is wise for a cat, at age 13 to undergo anesthesia again? And, what are the tradeoffs - is it better to risk it to save her teeth and possible future discomfort or are the risks too great and it is better to go without the dental cleaning.

I just didn't feel as though the new vet even registered how close to death my cat was after the previous dental cleaning and she wouldn't engage in any discussion about my concerns about doing it again.

I would appreciate very much your thoughts on the risks vs. benefits. I know it is hard without seeing her teeth - the vet showed them to me and showed me where possible cavity might be and where the gums were receding. I really appreciate the service your provide- getting a second opinion in my area would cost me @$150 and my cat hates getting in her cage and taking trips to the vet, so this is much better. Thank you.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Wow, this is a tough decision for you!

I won't be able to say for certain whether your girl should have her teeth cleaned without being able to examine her. But, I can give you my thoughts.

First, let's talk about the first scary incident with anesthetic. What happened to Nina is really not common at all. The most likely explanation I can think of for her symptoms is if she had a period of time under anesthesia with poor oxygen levels. Sometimes this can happen because of human error and sometimes it can just happen for reasons that are out of our control. The lack of oxygen can affect the brain and cause problems with mobility and sight. In 13 years of practice I have had one cat that had similar symptoms. This cat made a full recovery but it took a few weeks.

Another possibility for the symptoms is if your cat had had something we call a "vascular accident". This is similar to a stroke. A stroke happens when a blood clot lodges somewhere, usually the brain. However, if your cat was better within a few days this probably wasn't the case. Most cats who have stroke like incidents will have them because there is a serious problem with the heart. If this was the case then Nina really shouldn't be alive today! Cats with heart disease that causes problems like this don't tend to live very long.

Most likely what happened to Nina after her last anesthetic is something that won't happen again.

It sounds like your current vet is seeing something called a resorptive lesion. These lesions aren't cavities, but they are similar. They are painful for cats. I have many people tell me, "My cat can't be in pain because she is not showing me signs of pain and she is eating." However, often, cats don't show us when they are in pain. They will try to eat on the opposite side. However, sometimes they have lesions on both sides. They're going to keep eating because they know they have to eat to survive. I can't tell you how many times I have done dentistries on cats with resorptive lesions and afterwards the owners noticed that the cats were so much happier and active and acting "like kittens again".

If this were my case, here are some things that I would do:

  • I would first try to get the records from your vet from 4 years ago. The vet will have documented exactly what happened and what the suspected cause was.

  • I would be doing a blood screen first of all. If there are normal kidney and liver enzymes then I would feel very comfortable doing an anesthetic.

  • I would do good anesthetic monitoring including blood pressure and oxygenation levels.

  • I would start off by working on (most likely removing) the sore tooth before I did the rest of the dentistry. That way, if there was a problem during the anesthetic then I can wake her up immediately.

It is really common for cats to get sore teeth. If you think about it, we are supposed to have a full dental cleaning every 6 months and we brush our teeth twice a day. Imagine how our mouths would feel if we went years between dental cleanings with very little brushing!

I hope that helps and if you do go ahead I hope everything is ok!

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.