Jan 29 2013

Harbor Animal Hospital FAQ’S on Anesthesia for Pet Dental Care

Question: Why is anesthesia necessary for my pet’s dental cleaning?  Can’t the groomer just scrape the tartar off of his teeth?

Tartar and plaque harbor harmful bacteria.  When removed from the surface of the teeth, precautions must be taken to prevent these particles from being inhaled by the patient and causing potential lung infections.  For this reason, “Non-anesthetic” teeth cleaning, is NEVER recommended. Anesthesia allows us to place an endotracheal tube in the windpipe to prevent inhalation of harmful bacteria. Secondly, the most important part of the cleaning is the removal of plaque and tartar under the gum line.  As anyone who has had their teeth cleaned can attest, this can be quite uncomfortable and is therefore not possible in an awake pet.   And lastly, without anesthesia it is difficult to adequately polish the teeth after cleaning. This can leave the cleaned surface rough and actually increase the adherence of plaque to the teeth.

Question:  I am worried about my 13 year old dog undergoing anesthesia for a dental procedure.  Is it possible for a dog to be “too old” to benefit from professional dental care?

You are not alone if you are concerned about your pet’s safety with anesthesia.  At Harbor Animal Hospital, we are very concerned about your pet’s safety as well.  Although there will always be potential risks to anesthesia that must be closely monitored, the majority of our patients that are anesthetized for dental procedures are older pets and, through the use of modern anesthetics and monitoring equipment, we are able to safely anesthetize pets that a few years ago may have been considered too risky.  Veterinary medicine continues to advance in our understanding of anesthesia and pain control.  You can feel confident that we are able to provide the same level of anesthetic safety for your pets as you would expect for yourself.

First, pre-anesthetic testing helps us to recognize those pets that are having internal problems that aren’t yet recognizable by their owners at home.  If a problem is found, we can try to resolve it before allowing the pet to undergo anesthesia.

Second, modern inhalant gas is a much safer arrangement than using only injectable agents to achieve an appropriate level of anesthesia.  As mentioned above, the endotracheal tube protects against contamination of the lungs by oral or stomach matter.

Third, monitoring has changed from merely watching to see if the dog is breathing to tracking pulse rate and quality, oxygen saturation, respiratory carbon dioxide levels, blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature, and electrical rhythm of the heart.  When pets are being monitored appropriately it allows veterinarians and technicians to detect abnormalities and initiate therapy to avoid anesthetic problems.

Fourth, all pets undergoing dental care now receive fluid therapy by intravenous catheter during anesthesia to maintain vascular volume and blood pressure.  This protects sensitive brain and kidney cells.  We also use thermal support to prevent hypothermia during anesthesia which can change the rate at which drugs are processed.

We firmly believe that age is not a disease and mature pets, that are otherwise healthy, are able to tolerate anesthesia well.  A pet that is older is more likely to have advanced periodontal disease and thus more teeth pain.  These older pets still need care in order to maintain the quality of their lives.  Taking care of their gums and teeth is one of the best ways to extend their lifespan.

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