by Dr. Ku
I first met 'Sasha' back in 1990. She was just a kitten then, and a very small and stuffy nosed one at that. Her soft fluffy white fur seemed hardly enough to keep her warm as she struggled desperately for life fighting a severe upper respiratory infection. After over several weeks in the hospital on supportive fluids and antibiotics, she finally seemed to be recovering and all of the intensive care was beginning to pay off. Less than 4 lbs. at the time, she gradually gained strength and became quite a feisty little girl.
Each year for her annual check-up we would see her grow into a happy little kitty. But she was never as strong as most other cats. She suffered from chronic conjunctivitis, and her little nose would easily become congested. At 10 years of age, she still weighed only 6 lbs. Over the years, we had noticed an increasing amount of tartar build-up on her teeth, but the only way to do an effective dental prophy would necessarily have involved general anesthesia. Sasha seemed too frail to her owners to handle the risks of anesthesia. We tried brushing her teeth, but Sasha never cared for that. It wasn't until a month ago, when Sasha stopped eating, that we knew her dental problems had become much worse. She actually developed a lower canine tooth root infection and eventually lost this tooth, despite antibiotic therapy to control the infection. In hopes of saving her remaining teeth, and realizing that further problems with not eating and infection could weaken her already fragile state even more, we decided to anesthetize her and take care of the rest of her teeth.
The day of her dental work, we were all a little apprehensive. We elected to take several precautions to help ensure our ability to monitor her while she was under anesthesia. Preanesthetic bloodwork was done and indicated healthy vital organ function (such as her liver and kidneys. Sasha was first given a mild sedative to help her relax as we prepared to anesthetize her. She had an IV catheter placed to allow immediate access to her vein in case of an emergency, as well as delivering fluid therapy during anesthesia to help her stay well hydrated and keep her blood pressure stable. We also hooked her up to a Doppler blood pressure monitor, and could hear her heart beating as we worked.
Sasha ended up having several more teeth extracted that day. These teeth had large cavities which were already painful, and could potentially result in fractured crowns, root exposure, and infection in a matter of short time. The remaining teeth were scaled, polished and fluoride treated before her recovery from anesthesia.
That evening she went home a bit groggy from the whole event. In fact it was a few days before we could say she was acting and feeling normally again. She was mainly sleepy and lethargic at first, but all the while, her appetite was good and she seemed to eat readily, if not more so, than before her dental procedure. By the second week, she had finished her antibiotics. When she returned for a recheck of her extraction sites, she appeared fully recovered. In fact, in those two weeks, she had already gained back a full pound (which she had lost), and to my delight, her owners reported that she was playful and running around like a kitten again!
It is sometimes difficult for us to know how much something hurts our pets until we remove the source of discomfort. I am grateful that we were able to accomplish this for Sasha. I remember not too long ago when brushing our pet's teeth seemed almost ridiculous. Now it is commonplace. We are learning more and more about the benefits of good oral hygiene for ourselves as well as our pets. And that's a good thing! So don't be afraid to look, and ask. Most dental problems can be minimized with preventative dental care. Happy National Dental Health Month!