cat teeth cleaning risks
Cat Health and Wellness

What Are the Risks of Teeth Cleaning in Older Cats?

Senior cats are prone to teeth and gum problems. You may have noticed symptoms such as bad breath (halitosis), redness, bleeding, swelling, and difficulty chewing food. Gum disease could be the first symptom of a more significant health issue that ravages your cat’s body. This means that your pet’s teeth should be inspected and cleaned, but doing so isn’t risk-free.

If your cat requires dental surgery or teeth cleaning, it will be put under anesthesia. This always carries a risk for older cats, so your pet needs to be otherwise in good health.

Cleaning the teeth of a senior cat is a fine balancing act between risk and reward. If you can do this gradually at home, so much the better. If you require the assistance of a professional, take the process slowly. This guide will explain how to keep your cat safe from dental problems.

Is Cat Teeth Cleaning Necessary?

Yes, cleaning your cat’s teeth is a critical part of their routine. Cats are very hygienic, but they are not able to clean their teeth. This places the onus on you, especially once they reach senior status.

Failing to keep your cat’s teeth clean could lead to many problems. Plaque and tartar are common concerns, and gum disease can often lead to further health complications. There is a difference between black gums and black speckles (freckles). The latter is caused by a harmless condition (lentigo simplex.) Look out for sudden changes to the color of your cat gums.

Unfortunately, getting your cat’s teeth cleaned can be difficult, and dangerous. The risks will be worth taking, however, to keep your cat healthy in the longer term.

Cat Teeth Cleaning Risks

If you clean your cat’s teeth yourself, the primary risk is a bite from your feline. Cats carry a bacterium called Pasteurella Multocida in their mouths. Be careful where you are using your cat’s toothbrush or dental wipes as a bite from a cat could lead to a bacterial infection.

The primary risk of treatment from a vet is the anesthetic. Your cat will be sedated so a vet can clean hard-to-reach places. The results will speak for themselves, but the risk is very real. Any time a cat is placed under anesthetic, it has an impact on their body. Is it worth the risk?

Most vets would say yes, and statistics show anesthesia to be safer than you may expect. There is also the fact that dental problems are no mere inconvenience for your cat.

Oral discomfort will leave your cat in pain. The condition could also spread to the other parts of the body. Failure to get a cat’s teeth cleaned could lead to intrusive and expensive surgery required later.

Can Cats Die from Anesthesia?

It’s possible that an elderly cat can die while under anesthesia. It’s also possible that a human will do in an airplane crash. Does this prevent you from traveling by air for long distances? If the answer is no, then you should not deny your cat the dental assistance they need.

There is no getting around the fact that anesthesia is riskier for older cats. These include:

  • Temperature. Your cat’s body temperature will need to be monitored throughout.
  • Heart Rate. The heartbeat of your cat will need to be monitored continuously. The level of anesthetic being used may vary throughout the procedure.
  • Allergic Reactions. Roughly 1 in 10,000 animals are allergic to anesthesia. There could also be a reaction to the gloves that a vet and nurses wear. Ensure that your pet does not have allergies before going under.
  • Hydration. Your cat will need to be kept hydrated throughout the procedure. A dehydrated feline should never be placed under anesthesia.

A vet will offer a variety of tests before your cat is placed under anesthesia. This may cost you more money, but it’s worthwhile.

If your cat’s heart (and other organs) are strong, and they’re generally healthy, they’ll be fine. According to PetMD, the chances of your cat passing away under anesthesia are less than 1%.

is cat teeth cleaning necessary?

Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease in Cats

You may be wondering why cats should have their teeth cleaned, if the risks are so substantial. The short answer is because older felines are prone to any number of dental problems.

Gingivitis is an inflammation in the gums. This will be caused by bacteria, which leads to plaque building around the teeth. The result will be bleeding and sore, swollen gums for your cat.

If gingivitis is not treated, it can escalate to periodontal disease. This is gum disease, as opposed to gingivitis’ gum inflammation. If the plaque is allowed to grow untreated, the bacteria will spread. This will eventually result in the tissue surrounding the teeth being destroyed. Finally, this will lead to the teeth falling out.

If not stopped in its tracks, periodontal disease can be dangerous. It can lead to cats losing many teeth, and spread to other organs. In addition to this, it’s just plain painful for your pet. Regular cleaning of your cat’s teeth can prevent the issue from taking hold.

Other Common Dental Problems in Senior Cats

As cats age, their teeth become less reliable. Periodontal disease is the most prominent, as we have discussed. However, some of the other issues that older cats face with their teeth include:

  • Halitosis. Brushing teeth does not freshen up your cat’s breath.
  • Broken Teeth and Tooth Alignment. If your cat experiences head trauma, their teeth will likely be impacted. This could result in cracks or fractures in their teeth. Alternatively, they may find their teeth knocked out of alignment. Broken or misaligned teeth could result in painful root exposure, which will necessitate dental surgery.
  • Tooth Resorption. If your cat seems reluctant to chew, they may have tooth resorption. This issue impacts many cats over the age of 5. The condition involves the dentin, aka the hard shell of the tooth, is reabsorbed by the gums. This will be painful for your cat, as the nerves of the tooth will be exposed. A vet will recommend extracting the tooth in such instances.
  • Infection and Abscesses. There are numerous reasons why a cat may have an infection in their mouth. They could result from head trauma, broken or resorbed teeth, or even consuming a foreign object. Swelling in the face, and cats demonstrating visible discomfort, denote infections and abscesses. Dental surgery is almost always required as a result.

Tooth and gum disease could be an indicator of something more serious. Many health issues in cats begin in the mouth and spread.

How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth at Home

If your cat allows it, you can save time and money by brushing their teeth yourself. Many senior cats won’t be willing to have their teeth cleaned later in life, however. If this habit was not picked up in kittenhood, you’re likely to be bitten.

If you are prepared to attempt cleaning your cat’s teeth yourself, however, follow these steps. If your pet finds the process agreeable, you’ll find it easier to monitor their oral health.

  • Pick up cat-specialist toothbrush and toothpaste. Cat toothbrushes are smaller and softer than their human counterparts. Cat toothpaste usually tastes of fish or chicken, to make it more appealing to felines. More importantly, it is devoid of the harmful chemicals found in human toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste on your cat – it’s toxic.
  • Relax your cat, and get them to use you running your fingers around their mouth. Add a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to your finger. Once they get a taste for it, your cat may voluntarily open wide.
  • Once they’re ready to start, gently open one side of their mouth and start brushing. Start at the top, by the gums, and work your way down. This will remove any trapped food in the teeth.
  • You’ll need to reverse this when you tackle the bottom row of teeth. Start at the bottom, and brush upward.
  • Once you’re happy that every tooth has had some attention, you’re done. Your cat can safely swallow their toothpaste, and rinse their mouth by drinking water.
how often should i get my cat's teeth cleaned?

Never attempt to force your cat into a tooth cleaning. Some cats won’t allow it. Physically restraining them or forcing the issue will end badly.

If your cat does not allow you to brush its teeth, you’ll need professional help. You may find a cat groomer that is willing to clean their teeth for you, but it is unlikely.

Professional Cat Teeth Cleaning Procedure

If your cat needs a professional cleaning service from a vet, the routine is fairly set.

  • You will be offered a litany of tests before administering an anesthetic. These are highly recommended, as they will identify any potential issues.
  • Once your cat is ready to be put under, a vet and nursing team will take care of this. There will be a team of people keeping an eye on your cat throughout the process.
  • Once they are asleep, your vet will get to work on your cat’s teeth. They will remove any plaque build-up from every tooth in your pet’s mouth. This will freshen up their mouth, and prevent the disease from spreading. This process could take anywhere from 40 minutes to two hours.
  • Your vet may run x-rays (for an additional fee) if you request them. This could help to find any dental surgery requirements in addition to the cleaning.

Once your cat wakes up, they can usually be taken home the same-day. They may be a little groggy for at least a day or two. Keep an eye on your cat to make sure they don’t show any signs of shock.

How Often Should I Get My Cat’s Teeth Cleaned?

This depends on your cat. If brushing their teeth at home, you should do so up to three times a week. If your cat tolerates it, you may even want to do so daily. This is a surefire way of keeping your cat’s oral health tip-top.

If you require professional help, it will be a different story. The risks of anesthesia multiply the more it’s used, and it will also become costly.  Get your cat’s teeth checked annually by a vet, and conduct inspections between visits.

If you notice a sign of tooth decay or gum disease, it’s usually too late. At least some amount of damage will have been done by the problem. With this in mind, you should not take any chances with your cat’s oral healthcare. Ensure they are regularly reviewed, and treated if necessary, before a concern becomes a severe problem.

How Much Does Cat Dental Cleaning Cost?

This depends on your personal vet’s price plans, and what work you need done. Expect to pay an average of around $400 for a professional clean, according to Costhelper.

Naturally, however, this can vary wildly, though. The process of taking an older pet for professional tooth cleaning is usually costlier. This is because the cat will likely have a more pressing concern to deal with. Additionally, if any anesthetic is involved, tests will be required to ensure the cat will be safe. All of this will add zeros to the final bill.

Don’t be cynical when it comes to the expense of teeth cleaning. It may seem high, but the expense will be entirely worthwhile.

cat dental cleaning cost

Will My Pet Insurance Policy Pay for Tooth Cleaning?

Check your policy to learn the answer to this question. Be aware that it’s unlikely. Many insurance policies will pay for surgery that fixes teeth after an accident, but not cleaning.

Discuss potential payment plans with your vet if you’re worried about the expense of teeth cleaning. It can be costly, but it’s also essential – especially once a cat starts to age.

Tooth Cleaning Alternatives for Cats

Some cats refuse to have their teeth cleaned at home, and a professional clean is unsafe. This leaves owners in a tricky scenario, as options are limited. In such a circumstance, consider these methods:

  • Dental sticks. You’ll find these in the treat aisle of a pet store. By chewing on these items, your cat will be able to rid their teeth of plaque build-up.
  • Dental gel and wipes. If your cat does not let you near them with a toothbrush, you could try these items. You may encounter similar problems, however, as they still involve popping fingers into your pet’s mouth. If your cat tolerates the use of gel or wipes, they’ll enjoy better oral health. These items will kill germs and bacteria, freshen breath, and prevent plaque build-up.
  • Water supplements and additives. If your cat stubbornly refuses to let you near their mouth, try additives in their water. Again, you can pick these up from a pet store. These supplements are not as impactful as direct cleaning, and the taste may deter your cat.

None of these methods are foolproof, but they’re safer than tooth cleaning under anesthesia. Before undertaking a new oral healthcare routine, however, it’s worth chatting to a vet.

How Can Cats Avoid Teeth and Gum Problems?

There are steps you can take to minimize a cat’s risk of experiencing dental problems:

  • Incorporate dry food into your cat’s diet. Dry food is better for your cat’s teeth than wet food. However, many animal dieticians believe that wet food is more nutritionally balanced. Try a diet of primarily wet food, adding a scoop or two of kibble. You could also look into a specialist dental food.
  • Provide your cat with hard bones. Chewing on bones can be an excellent way for your cat to clean its teeth naturally. It will be fun for your feline, too. However, ensure that the bone is solid and uncooked. A soft bone will splinter, and can be dangerous to a cat.
  • Encourage your cat to play with chew toys. Anything that your cat can sink their teeth into will help keep their mouth clean. Many cats outgrow basic chew toys. However, sprinkling a little catnip on an old favorite may tempt your pet into revisiting it.
  • Offer low-sugar, tooth-cleaning treats. Cats do not enjoy the sensation of sweet tastes. This makes feeding them treats that are packed with sugar somewhat counter-productive. Stick with natural, chewy treats that will give their teeth a workout.

There is no to reverse the aging process. Their teeth will start to pose more problems than before. Remaining vigilant, and undertaking regular inspections of their teeth, will help keep your pet safe.

Finding the safest way to keep a cat’s teeth clean is pivotal. There will always be a risk involved when placing a cat under anesthetic, so this may be best avoided. If your cat is otherwise healthy, however, a thorough clean will be a big help. This means the rewards should outweigh any risk, especially if your cat struggles with their teeth.

Remember, prevention is always better than cure. If you check your cat’s teeth and gums regularly, they are less likely to struggle. See a vet at least once annually, ideally twice when your cat is senior. Above all, don’t ignore any signs of tooth decay or gum disease. The faster you act, the more likely your cat will make a fast and painless recovery.