Why Does My Pet Need Anesthesia During a Dental Cleaning?

Ensuring optimal dental health for your pet involves comprehensive care that often includes dental cleanings under anesthesia. While the idea of anesthesia may raise concerns for pet owners, understanding its necessity and safety is crucial for providing the best possible care for your pets.

Cat gazing with mouth open, showing pearly white teeth

We’re here to help answer all your questions about Anesthesia and why it’s essential during a dental cleaning:

What is a Dental Cleaning Under Anesthesia?

When your pet undergoes a veterinary dental cleaning, anesthesia is administered to guarantee a comprehensive and pain-free procedure. Although anesthesia might raise concerns, when administered following proper protocols, it proves to be highly safe. Ensuring your pet’s comfort and well-being is paramount to veterinary professionals, and anesthesia facilitates the essential procedures required to preserve your pet’s oral health.

Undergoing a dental procedure with anesthesia entails a thorough examination called a COHAT, an abbreviation for complete oral health assessment and treatment. This assessment is pivotal for guaranteeing comprehensive dental care and fostering the long-term oral well-being of pets. Throughout a COHAT, various procedures are performed to tackle dental issues effectively. These procedures may encompass:

  • Complete Oral Exam and Radiographs: Each tooth is meticulously examined and probed to assess its health and integrity. Similar to the X-rays you might receive from your own dentist, this step involves a comprehensive examination of your pet’s mouth and the use of radiographs to identify any underlying issues beneath the gum line. Common problems detected through radiographs include broken teeth and roots, periodontal disease, tooth decay, root infections, bone loss, abscesses, or infected teeth.
  • Cleaning Under the Gum Line: Periodontal disease often starts beneath the gum tissue, making it crucial to clean this area thoroughly. This cleaning process is impossible to perform on an awake dog or cat but is essential for removing bacteria and preventing gum disease.
  • Scaling and Polishing: Professional scaling involves the removal of plaque and calculus buildup on the visible portion of your pet’s teeth. This step is crucial for maintaining oral hygiene and preventing dental issues. Following scaling, the teeth are polished to create a smooth surface that discourages plaque and bacteria from adhering, promoting long-term dental health.
  • Tooth Extractions: If necessary, tooth extractions may be performed to address severely damaged or diseased teeth. Veterinarians use specialized instruments and techniques to ensure safe and comfortable extractions for your pet.
  • Pain Management: Personalized pain management protocols are implemented to minimize discomfort during and after the procedure. This may include the administration of analgesic medications to ensure a smooth recovery for your pet.

After the procedure, your dog or cat will undergo recovery and can typically return home the same day. Your veterinarian should provide you with a comprehensive report of their findings and any recommendations for home care to maintain your pet’s oral health between cleanings.

By prioritizing comprehensive dental care, veterinary professionals aim to address underlying dental issues effectively and promote long-term oral health in pets. Anesthesia ensures that these procedures can be performed safely and comfortably, allowing for thorough treatment and optimal outcomes for your pet’s oral health.

Hand Scaling Root Surfaces in Pet Dental Procedure

(A) Orientation of the curette before placement in the periodontal pocket. (B) Insertion of curette into the periodontal pocket. (C) Removal of subgingival debris.

Why is Anesthesia Needed for a Dental Cleaning?

Anesthesia plays a crucial role in ensuring optimal patient comfort and safety during dental interventions for your pet. Dental professionals utilize sharp, sterilized instruments and perform delicate procedures during dental cleanings and treatments, necessitating the need for anesthesia to minimize discomfort and ensure a stress-free experience for your pet.

Moreover, anesthesia facilitates accurate diagnosis and treatment by allowing the veterinary team to perform essential procedures such as dental X-rays with precision and without causing distress to your pet. By ensuring your pet remains still and relaxed throughout the procedure, anesthesia enables the veterinary team to deliver thorough and comprehensive dental care.

Anesthesia is particularly crucial for addressing plaque and tartar buildup beneath the gumline, where bacteria thrive and can cause severe infections if left untreated. With anesthesia, the veterinary team can access these critical areas and effectively remove plaque and tartar, reducing the risk of oral infections and promoting your pet’s overall oral health and well-being.

Injecting Perioceuticals during Pet Dental Procedure Under Anesthesia

Is Anesthesia Safe?

Ensuring the safety of anesthesia is paramount during your pet’s dental procedure. Anesthesia safety protocols include thorough pre-anesthetic screenings and evaluations to assess your pet’s overall health and identify any potential risk factors that may impact the anesthesia process.

Throughout dental procedures, trained professionals continuously monitor your pet’s vital signs, such as heart rate and oxygen levels, to ensure a safe and controlled anesthetic experience. This vigilant monitoring helps detect any abnormalities or complications promptly, allowing for immediate intervention if necessary.

Open communication between the veterinary team and pet owners is essential in alleviating concerns about anesthesia safety. Veterinary professionals strive to maintain transparency regarding anesthesia safety measures, addressing any questions or apprehensions pet owners may have.

By adhering to established protocols and guidelines, anesthesia remains a safe and essential component of comprehensive dental care for pets. Veterinary professionals prioritize your pet’s well-being and strive to provide optimal dental care in a safe and controlled environment, ensuring a positive outcome for your pet.

Dog Going Under Anesthesia

Is Nonanesthesia Dental Cleaning an Option?

You may have come across the term anesthesia-free dental cleaning from various sources, such as local groomers, pet stores, or even some veterinary providers. This practice, also known as non-anesthesia dental scaling (NAO or NAOS), involves scaling (scraping with an instrument) a dog or cat’s teeth without anesthesia, aiming to remove plaque and tartar buildup. While it may seem like a convenient option, it’s essential to understand what this procedure entails and its potential drawbacks.

Firstly, anesthesia-free dental cleanings do not involve anesthesia, meaning your pet must be physically restrained during the procedure. Unlike human dental visits where we can understand the process and cooperate, pets cannot comprehend why they are being restrained, leading to stress and discomfort. While some pets may appear to tolerate the restraint, it can still be traumatic for them, as they cannot communicate their feelings or discomfort.

During a non-anesthesia dental procedure, the visible part of your pet’s teeth is scaled to remove plaque and tartar buildup, enhancing the teeth’s appearance. However, this procedure does not address the plaque and bacteria lurking beneath the gumline, where periodontal disease originates. Despite the visible improvement in tooth appearance, underlying oral health issues may persist, posing a risk to your pet’s overall well-being.

Anesthesia-free dental procedures lack the thoroughness and effectiveness of anesthesia-assisted dental cleanings. Without anesthesia, it’s impossible to perform dental X-rays or safely and effectively clean below the gumline, where dental disease often begins. Additionally, scaling teeth without proper polishing leaves the tooth surface susceptible to bacterial plaque buildup, exacerbating oral health issues in the long run.

Moreover, non-anesthetic procedures subject pets to unnecessary stress, discomfort, and potential injury, compromising their overall well-being. Unlike anesthesia-assisted dentistry, which can address underlying dental issues and provide comprehensive oral care, non-anesthetic procedures only offer superficial cleaning without addressing the root cause of dental problems.

When considering your pet’s dental care, prioritize anesthesia-assisted dentistry under the guidance of trained veterinary professionals. While non-anesthesia dental cleanings may seem like a convenient option, they do not provide the same level of safety, effectiveness, and thoroughness as anesthesia-assisted procedures.

If you’re approached by groomers or providers offering anesthesia-free dental cleaning, it’s essential to advocate for your pet’s health and well-being. Politely decline the offer and emphasize the importance of comprehensive veterinary dental care. Here are a few ways you can respond to such offers:

  • “No thank you. We prefer to utilize our veterinarian for all of our pet’s health needs.”
  • “We’ve noticed our pet’s teeth are not in good condition, and we believe they require a comprehensive veterinary dental cleaning.”
  • “Our veterinarian provides thorough dental cleanings that include cleaning below the gumline to ensure our pet’s oral health.”

Remember, your pet’s dental health is essential, and investing in proper dental care now can prevent costly and painful dental issues in the future.

Happy White Labradoodle and His Family Playing. Labradoodle has pearly white teeth.

What Age is Best to Start Dentals Under Anesthesia?

Determining the ideal age to begin dental care for your pet depends on various factors, including their individual needs and circumstances. However, early intervention, starting as young as 1-3 years old, can significantly impact your pet’s long-term oral health and prevent dental issues from progressing.

Pets displaying signs of dental or periodontal disease, such as bad breath, visible tartar buildup, or inflamed gums, benefit from timely dental procedures under anesthesia to prevent further deterioration. Regular dental evaluations during annual examinations allow veterinarians to monitor your pet’s oral health closely and recommend appropriate interventions when necessary.

While the ideal age for initiating dental care may vary, it’s essential to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best timing for dental procedures based on your pet’s age, health status, and dental needs. Early intervention and proactive dental care can help maintain your pet’s oral health and overall well-being for years to come.

Kitten Yawning, Showing Pearly White Teeth

Where Can I Learn More?

Find out more about your pet’s dental health:

  • Learn Why Your Pet Needs a Vet Dental Cleaning here.
  • How to Prevent Dental Disease in Your Pet here.
  • How to Brush Your Pets Teeth & Best Dental Treats here.
  • Watch Dr. Douglas Dean’s Pet Brushing Technique here.
  • For WoofDoctor on Wheels recommended dental products and other favorite pet products, visit our full list here.

If you’re ready to schedule your dental cleaning, please call us at (843) 966-3362



  1. American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). (2019). AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Retrieved from https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/dental-care/overview/
  2. American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). (2020). AAHA Anesthesia and Monitoring Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Retrieved from https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/2020-aaha-anesthesia-and-monitoring-guidelines-for-dogs-and-cats/anesthesia-and-monitoring-home/
  3. American Animal Hospital Association. (n.d.). Dental Images – Educational. AAHA. https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/dental-care/educational-images/
  4. American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC). (n.d.). American Veterinary Dental College. Retrieved from https://afd.avdc.org/
  5. Azarpazhooh, A. & Tenenbaum, H.C. (2012). Separating fact from fiction: use of high-level evidence from research syntheses to identify diseases and disorders associated with periodontal disease. Journal of Canadian Dental Association, 78:c25.
  6. Gardner, A.F., Darke, B.H., & Keary, G.T. (1962). Dental caries in domesticated dogs. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 140:433-6.
  7. Glickman, L.T., Glickman, N.W., Moore, G.E., et al. (2009). Evaluation of the risk of endocarditis and other cardiovascular events on the basis of the severity of periodontal disease in dogs. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 234(4):486–94.
  8. Hale, F.A. (1998). Dental caries in the dog. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, 15(2):79-83.
  9. Verstraete, F.J., Kass, P.H., & Terpak, C.H. (1998). Diagnostic value of full-mouth radiography in cats. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 59(6):692–5.
  10. Veterinary Oral Health Council. VOHC Accepted Products.
  11. WoofDoctor on Wheels. Recommended Dental Products.
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