Cat Teeth Cleaning Risks

Cat Teeth Cleaning Risks

No matter how diligent you are in cleaning your cat’s teeth, your pet needs to get his teeth professionally cleaned at least once a year. However, some fur parents are wary of the idea of their beloved pets being put under anesthesia for the procedure. For them, the cat teeth cleaning risks outweigh the benefits.

Cat teeth cleaning risks 

Like most medical procedures, the administration of anesthetics comes with its pros and cons. And as such, you need to be fully aware of these so that you can make an informed decision regarding your pet’s health.

The risks associated with professional cat teeth cleaning center around the use of anesthesia on the patient. The administration of anesthesia for professional cat teeth cleaning is necessary for a couple of reasons.

First, anesthesia prevents your cat from feeling any pain or discomfort during the procedure. Second, when your cat is asleep for the procedure, the veterinarian can clean your pet’s teeth thoroughly. 

Without anesthesia, a few people will need to hold down your pet. And even with that, there is no guarantee that your pet will be cooperative or that the vet can clean the teeth thoroughly. Furthermore, if your cat is awake during the procedure, he may suffer damage to his soft tissues.

Among the risks associated with the administration of anesthesia are: 

  • Low blood pressure
  • Low body temperature
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Delayed recovery
  • Death

These complications that arise from the use of anesthesia can be prevented through thorough prep work and monitoring of your cat by the veterinarian and his staff.

Furthermore, deaths due to the administration of anesthesia in cats are fairly low. According to estimates, one out of 1000 cats dies from anesthesia annually. 

Most of these deaths can be attributed to vets who did not follow the proper procedure in using anesthesia.

Advantages of professional cat teeth cleaning

Done correctly, the benefits of professional cat teeth cleaning outweigh the risk. But what are these benefits?

Thorough cleaning

Although it is possible to clean a cat’s teeth without administering anesthesia, the results are inferior.

When your cat is under anesthesia, the vet can clean the different parts of your cat’s mouth, especially the teeth and gums more thoroughly. If there is plaque or tartar in the teeth, the vet can move more comfortably and not worry about a squirming cat.

Less anxiety for your cat

To clean your cat’s teeth without anesthesia, the clinic staff have to restrain your pet for a substantial amount of time.

This can lead to discomfort in your cat. More importantly, this situation can cause anxiety, not just for the duration of the procedure. Worse, your cat can suffer from long term trauma.

Simply put, putting your cat under anesthesia is the more comfortable and less stressful option.

Cost savings

When you compare anesthesia-free dental cleaning with the procedure that does use it, the upfront cost for the former is considerably lower than the latter.

However, you can end up paying more if you choose to go anesthesia-free. For one, your cat’s teeth need to be cleaned more frequently. This is because the vet cannot clean your pet’s teeth thoroughly.

And because the vet cannot totally eliminate plaque and tartar, there is a high risk that your pet will succumb to periodontal disease. In turn, that condition will require another treatment that also costs you money.

How vets reduce or eliminate cat teeth cleaning risks

Administering anesthesia on cats is not a simple process where the drug is injected on the patient. The process entails following several steps before, during, and after the medical procedure. These steps have been designed to minimize, if not eliminate, the risks associated with the use of anesthesia on cats.

These are the steps that vets follow.

1. Evaluation

A reputable veterinarian will assess the health of his patients as well as their medical history to determine if they take anesthesia without risking their lives and safety. This evaluation should be complemented by lab tests and physical exams.

This evaluation allows a vet to recognize possible complications as well as identify possible interventions to prevent these.

2. Prescribing pre-anesthetic medication

If your vet has determined that it is safe to use anesthesia on your cat, he will prescribe pre-anesthetic medications or pre-meds to your pet.

Pre-meds provide a few benefits. For one, these drugs aid in pain management. These can also help make your pet feel calmer before the anesthesia is administered. Finally, pre-meds can help reduce the amount of anesthesia to be given to your little furry pal.

3. Putting an IV catheter

Compared to mask induction, putting an IV catheter on a cat is deemed safer. Plus, it makes it easier for the vet and his staff to administer an emergency drug if complications arise.

The IV catheter is used for the administration of the anesthesia as well as other fluids that your cat may need.

4. Pre-oxygenation and intubation

Pre-oxygenation provides your cat’s lungs with a boost of oxygen and helps make the transition between consciousness and unconsciousness seamless.

Intubation, on the other hand, is done to protect your cat from the accidental inhalation of foreign objects while he is under anesthesia. 

5. Patient monitoring

A reputable clinic will designate one staff member to monitor your pet’s vitals while he is unconscious. That staff member may also administer other drugs or fluids should complications arise any time while your cat is under anesthesia.

For dental procedures, the vet may also administer pain relief medications.

How vets clean a cat’s teeth

Cleaning a cat’s teeth is no simple procedure. To ensure your cat’s safety, the vet needs to take several steps.


As previously mentioned, vets need to determine if it is safe for their patients to get anesthesia. To do this, your cat will need to undergo a series of exams, including tests for his liver, kidneys, and heart.

The vet also needs to take an X-ray of your cat’s teeth. The images generated will allow him to have a better view of your cat’s dental health.

Administering anesthesia

If the vet decides that your cat is a good candidate for a dental cleaning, he will then administer anesthesia and put a tube into your pet’s windpipe. The windpipe helps your cat breathe while he is unconscious.


Using an ultrasonic scaler and polisher, the vet will clean your cat’s teeth. 

During this time, the vet will give you an update on what he has found in your cat’s mouth. If there is a need to extract a tooth or more, your vet can do it on the spot or schedule it for another session.

After the teeth have been cleaned, the vet will apply a dental sealant to give the teeth a layer of protection against periodontal disease.

Recovery and discharge

After the procedure, the vet will remove the tube inserted into your cat’s windpipe. Then, your cat will be moved to a recovery area until he regains his consciousness.

Before discharge, the vet will provide you details about the procedure and instruct you on post-treatment care.

What happens if your cat does not pass the vet’s evaluation?

If your feline is deemed to be unhealthy to undergo professional cat teeth cleaning, the vet may postpone the procedure until your pet is healthy enough. In the grand scheme of things, your pet’s overall health is more important than removing plaque or tartar.

On the other hand, if your cat is suffering from heart, liver, or kidney issues, the vet may proceed with the procedure while taking the necessary precautions. Ultimately, the vet will weigh the risks and benefits before making a recommendation to you.

This is where choosing the right professionals becomes even more important. Before deciding to go through with the procedure, do not hesitate to ask the vet questions. 

In an ideal scenario, your chosen vet should thoroughly evaluate your cat’s health by performing the necessary tests. During the procedure, there should be a trained individual whose only job is to monitor your cat while his teeth are being cleaned.

How to clean your cat’s teeth

Even if your cat’s teeth are cleaned professionally, it helps you clean his chompers at home. Here are a few helpful tips that you can follow.

Train your cat

You cannot decide one day that you need to clean your cat’s teeth. It does not work that way. You need to get your cat accustomed to getting his mouth touched.

Comfort is key

Find an area in your home that your feline feels most comfortable. It can be on your couch while he is sitting on your lap or in the bathroom where there are fewer distractions.

Use the right toothpaste

Do not use human toothpaste, salt, or baking soda when brushing your cat’s teeth. Buy toothpaste formulated especially for cats.

It is also a good idea to let your cat taste his toothpaste. This will make him familiar with its scent and taste.

Use a toothbrush made for pets. Alternatively, you can use a children’s toothbrush, a finger toothbrush, or even gauze wrapped around your finger.

Cleaning the teeth

Start by lifting your pet’s lips to expose the teeth and gums.

Brush his teeth gently just as you do with your teeth. Be sure to reach parts of the teeth near the cheeks as well as the back teeth which are susceptible to tartar build-up.

Professional cat teeth cleaning is necessary

Taking care of your cat’s teeth is your responsibility. Gingivitis and periodontitis are preventable conditions. Although you can clean your cat’s teeth at home on your own, you will still need the vet’s assistance.

Like any medical procedure, there are risks associated with administering anesthesia on your cat before his teeth are cleaned by the vet. But if you weigh the risks and benefits, you will see that the latter outweigh the former.

Image: / Inna Postnikova