Dental disease is a fairly common problem for cats. In fact, most kitties will experience at least one dental surgery during their life. Thankfully, dentals are very safe, routine surgeries for veterinarians. Choose a qualified, trustworthy vet and your cat’s chompers will be in good hands.
Pre-Anesthetic Lab Work
Most veterinarians now recommend pre-op blood work for kitties undergoing dental surgery, especially if your cat is a senior or has never been anesthetized before. For most young kitties, vets recommend blood work to check for anemia and liver function as well as a urinalysis to confirm operative kidney function. If your kitty is a senior (usually defined as over 8 years old) your vet may recommend more in-depth testing like a complete blood cell count (CBC) and blood work panel to check for dehydration, infection, parasitism, bone marrow dysfunction and liver and kidney disease. It’s very dangerous to anesthetize a cat with any of the aforementioned illnesses. Pre-anesthetic lab work can save your cat’s life.
The actual length of dental surgery varies depending on the severity of your cat’s dental disease, but they all begin with an intravenous catheter and injectable anesthetic. If your kitty is stressed, nervous or in pain, she may be given a light tranquilizer or some pain medication an hour or so before surgery. Once anesthesia has been sufficiently induced, your veterinarian will place a breathing tube into your kitty’s windpipe. This serves to both help her breathe and administer gas anesthesia throughout the procedure.
The dental procedure itself always involves a thorough cleaning to remove plaque and tartar with traditional hand tools (sort of like the ones your dentist uses on your teeth), ultrasonic cleaning devices or a combination of both. Your veterinarian will inspect each one of your cat’s teeth. She may decide one or more teeth are unsalvageable and need to be extracted. (Abcessed and fractured teeth, for example, will have to go.) The final step is polishing your kitty’s teeth so her smile shines. Many vet’s also choose to take oral X-rays while your kitty is still sleepy. A vet tech or assistant closely monitors her vital signs during every aspect of dental surgery, ensuring her safety.
Immediately after surgery your kitty will be transferred to the recovery area. This area usually contains warm blankets or towels and dim lighting. You should be able to pick her up about six hours after surgery. She may be a little drowsy or grumpy; she did just undergo surgery, after all, so provide her with a quiet environment in which to rest. Your vet may send home some oral pain medication or antibiotics if she’s had any extractions, though injectable antibiotics and pain meds are routinely given after surgery. If your kitty had one or more teeth extracted, your vet might recommend feeding her soft food for a few days.
Some feline dental ailments such as resorption—your kitty’s body attempting to reabsorb a permanent tooth, causing it to disintegrate—are hereditary. However, proper dental care can prevent some dental disease. Brush your cat’s teeth if at all possible to prevent the accumulation of plaque that will eventually harden into disease-causing tartar. Dental diets might be an option if your cat is vehemently against tooth-brushing. However, consult your veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.