Saturday, February 6, 2010

What Does Pet Dentistry Involve?

By Julia Williams

Earlier in the week, I mentioned that February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Although it’s not a “holiday” per se, it does serve to remind us that providing oral care is an important aspect of responsible pet ownership. We all want our beloved pets to be healthy and happy animals, and pet dentistry can help. I decided to write this article for those who aren’t familiar with pet dentistry and don’t know what to expect when taking a pet in for a teeth cleaning procedure. So, what does pet dentistry involve, and how much it will cost to have your cat or dog's teeth cleaned by a skilled veterinary professional?

The price of a teeth cleaning for your pet will vary considerably, depending on such things like their age, your geographical area, the condition of your pet’s teeth, and what procedures are necessary. This is why vet offices rarely give quotes for pet teeth cleaning over the phone. Morever, teeth cleaning is considered a surgery since it requires anesthesia, so your pet will need to be examined prior to the procedure. You can discuss teeth cleaning with your vet during your pet’s annual checkup, or schedule a pre-surgery exam if you think your pet has a dental problem and needs treatment right away.

After the pre-surgery exam, your vet will provide you with a cost estimate for your pet's teeth cleaning. The basic cost of pet dentistry (including the exam) will typically be about $200 to $300. If you have an older cat or dog, your vet will most likely recommend that blood work be done prior to your pet's teeth cleaning. Although there is an additional fee for this (around $50 to $75), a health profile can help your vet determine if there are any issues which make the surgery and anesthesia riskier for your pet. Generally speaking, for healthy animals under eight years of age, the blood work is considered optional (but please follow your vet's recommendation on this).

Although anesthesia is expensive and complications can occur, getting your pet's teeth cleaned without it is not an option. Even the most docile dog or gentle cat can become agitated and aggressive when subjected to a thorough teeth cleaning, which puts both them and the technician in danger. The cost of the anesthesia will vary according to a pet's weight, so teeth cleaning for cats and small dogs costs less than medium and large dogs. For older animals, your vet may also recommend putting in an IV catheter so they have a readily available "port" to administer fluids should that become necessary during your pet's teeth cleaning surgery.

While your pet is under the anesthesia you may want to have other procedures done, such as nail trimming. Additionally, if any of your pet’s teeth are badly decayed or causing other problems for them, these can be extracted during the pet dental procedure. Your pet may be sent home with post-op pain medication, particularly if there were extractions. Your vet may also recommend having a sealant put on your pet's teeth to help reduce tartar formation, and send you home with plaque prevention gel that you apply to your pet's teeth on a regular basis. All of these extra items will, of course, add to the cost of your pet’s teeth cleaning; however, they may be necessary as well as helpful to your pet in the long run.

Most vet clinics ask that you drop your pet off for their teeth cleaning first thing in the morning, and pick them up late in the afternoon. Although dental procedures are usually done in the morning, your pet needs to stay at the clinic for most of the day to ensure that they recover from the anesthesia without complications. Most do not charge extra for this hospitalization, though.

You can help keep the cost of pet dental treatments down by doing some at-home care. Brush your pet's teeth regularly, and apply the plaque prevention gel (if your vet recommends it). Like anything “new,” learning how to brush your pet’s teeth – and actually doing it – might seem intimidating at first. But if you ask your vet to show you how it’s done, take it slow, and be patient, most dogs will adjust to regular brushing. Cats generally put up more resistance to having their teeth brushed, and some will never really accept it. My advice is to keep trying, and be sure to use the specially formulated pet toothpaste.

Professional pet dental treatments, coupled with regular at-home oral care, can help you keep your dog or cat’s teeth (and their body) in good health. And, National Pet Dental Health Month is a perfect time to schedule your pet’s teeth cleaning appointment!

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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