Anesthesia and Pet Dental Care

A close up of a sleeping light-colored dog's face

Anesthesia and pet dental care go hand in hand. Even so, a number of pet owners are put off by the idea of administering general anesthesia to their pet. Yes, there are risks associated with putting your pet to sleep while undergoing a dental cleaning procedure. These risks are far outweighed by the dangers of pet dental disease – an extremely painful, progressive, and unnecessary condition. Let’s take a closer look at a standard dental cleaning procedure so you can better understand what’s going on.

The Myth of Anesthesia-Free Pet Dental Care

Let’s first address the conversation around anesthesia-free dental cleaning. A story comes to mind that can help bring awareness to the issue. This is a story that many people have, so it’s not a one-off concern. A client shared a story of their anesthesia-free dental cleaning procedure on Frumpy, their three-year-old dog.

After coming home from the procedure, Frumpy was so shaken that he hid away in the corner sulking, and refused even his favorite treats for three days. It was only after about a week that he was back to his old self again. This was a wake-up call for the client, and they chose to opt for standard dental cleanings from that point forward.

One of the reasons anesthesia-free dental cleanings can be so traumatic for some pets is due to all the bright lights, loud noises, uncomfortable (and often painful) cleaning, and restraint by people they don’t know. According to the 2013 AAHA guidelines on dental care for cats and dogs, “cleaning a companion animal’s teeth without general anesthesia is considered unacceptable and below the standard of care.”

In other words, the pain and trauma can be so great, especially given that there are other options available, that it is considered cruel to subject an animal to this level of discomfort. The good news is, you never have to subject your pet to this level of discomfort with a standard pet dental cleaning procedure that includes a personalized pain management plan and the use of general anesthesia.

High Empathy, Professional Results

When it comes to all things pets, empathy is the beginning of the journey. Do you know that about 60% of a dog’s tooth is below the gumline? This is where all the bacterial issues arise that cause gum disease. Unless this area of the tooth is addressed, there is a very high chance that there are major problems lurking just under the gumline in pets over three years of age.

Accessing this area of the tooth is not at all a comfortable experience for your pet. First, x-rays are used to see what is happening just below the surface. This requires total stillness for accurate results. When was the last time you saw Frumpy sit still, especially under any kind of stress? Likely never. Now add the process of the cleaning itself. Sure, we can make the teeth look all shiny and white, but this does not mean that the teeth are in great shape under the gumline. Addressing this area requires great care and accuracy, and an unconscious pet is the safest method to accomplish this.


It is important to note that not all animals will get the same treatment. Your vet is prepared to ensure your pet is in good shape before the procedure begins. This is especially important in senior pets who are more likely to have health issues looming under the surface. Make sure to follow your vet’s instructions to the letter. If you are instructed to provide no food after a certain time, that means absolutely no food (including treats). This is a matter of safety and needs to be adhered to.

Final Thoughts

Because anesthesia and pet dental care go hand in hand, having an understanding of what is happening can help you make an educated decision. Pet dental disease is a major issue that can cause serious pain, illness, organ failure, and even death. Ensuring you take appropriate precautions, establish an at-home dental care routine, and come in for your yearly wellness visit can help reduce the chances of getting dental disease, and reverse problems that are taking hold. As this is a much broader topic than is addressed here, please reach out to us, and we can have a more in-depth conversation with you. Along with your peace of mind, the health of your pet is our number one priority.