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Why is anaesthesia important for dog and cat dentistry?

Dental disease is one of the most common conditions affecting companion animals; approximately 80% of cats and dogs over three years of age in Australia will show some degree of dental disease.

At-home dental care and regular dental check-ups are important parts of responsible companion animal care. Regular dental checks do not just maintain a happy smile and avoid bad breath, they are essential for animal health and welfare. If left too late, dental disease can cause painful infection and bone loss and increase the risk of other health problems.

Who does dog and cat dentistry?

All veterinarians are trained in dentistry. Veterinarians can professionally assess an animal’s teeth, probe the gum line looking for signs of disease, scale and polish the teeth, do x-rays to check the health of the tooth root, and extract teeth, if needed. There are also board-certified specialist veterinary dentists and oral surgeons who perform advanced procedures (e.g., root canal treatment, reconstructive jaw surgery). All these procedures must be done while an animal is fully anaesthetised (general anaesthesia).

Why can’t dentistry be done whilst they are conscious?

Dental work should only be conducted on cats and dogs under general anaesthesia to prevent your animal from suffering pain, stress, and distress.

  • An animal needs to remain completely still, and swallowing and panting restricted, to safely and thoroughly examine and operate on teeth.
  • Discomfort and pain – Examining the mouth of an animal is uncomfortable and may be perceived as threatening. Probing under the gum line, scraping scale and tartar off teeth with an ultrasonic scaler, examining cavities, touching exposed tooth pulp, and extracting teeth are often noisy and painful procedures that cannot be tolerated by a conscious animal.
  • Fear and anxiety – It would be a scary experience for a conscious animal to have dental procedures done, which can take an hour or more depending on the problem.

Please note that “Anaesthesia-free dentistry” involves physically restraining a conscious animal, to remove calculus and tartar from the surface of their teeth and is generally performed by non-veterinarians who are not trained in dentistry. It may be offered as a cheaper or easier alternative to professional dentistry under anaesthesia, but it does not prevent or treat dental diseases, and can cause significant pain and distress to the animal. Anaesthesia-free dentistry should be avoided in cats and dogs as it compromises their welfare and can also be dangerous for the operators.

What about the risks of anaesthesia?

Modern anaesthetic agents used by veterinarians are safe. Anaesthetised animals are closely monitored, and complications are rare. With adequate precautions and planning, older pets and those with chronic diseases can undergo anaesthesia safely. For more information, seek veterinary advice.


Australian Veterinary Association (2016) Anaesthesia-free dentistry in dogs and cats. Accessed 19 Jan 2024

Australian Veterinary Association (2020) Pet dental health month: dental disease in 80% of dogs and cats over age 3. Accessed 19 Jan 2024

Bellows J, Berg ML, Dennis S, Harvey R, Lobprise HB, Snyder CJ, Stone AES, van de Wetering AG (2019) 2019 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats*. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 55:49–69

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Updated on June 18, 2024
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