This article is sponsored by the SF SPCA, a community-supported nonprofit dedicated to saving, protecting and caring for cats and dogs since 1868. To learn more about the SF SPCA, its adoption program, veterinary hospital and various other programs and services, visit

Just because your dog or cat continues to eat their food doesn't mean the animal isn't suffering from dental disease. Like humans, animals eat when hunger strikes and are willing to chew through the pain.

Managing dental issues in companion animals is relatively new and it's a practice that should be left to the experts. There's excellent coaching available to help people brush their pets' teeth, but while necessary, this is largely a preventative measure, not a complete oral-care regimen. Furthermore, it's extremely hard to keep your four-legged patient still--you can't exactly hand them a magazine!--while you're knocking off tartar.

A proper dental checkup requires painful probing to measure pocket depth and often involves anesthesia. Qualified veterinarians will also search for gingival hyperplasia, periodontal pocketing, gingival recession, fractured teeth, resorptive lesions, tooth mobility, furcation exposure, oral masses, enamel hypoplasia, retained roots, malocclusion, missing teeth, and oronasal fistulas, to name just a few. In veterinary dentistry, anesthesia is a given because the patient isn’t going to stand for the discomfort, and shouldn’t have to.

Because dental work can be expensive, many pet stores and grooming salons offer unlicensed “anesthesia-free” cleaning services. But these short cuts are not good for our companions’ health, and, thankfully, the California Veterinary Medical Association is trying to stop unlicensed and illegal teeth cleaning. The necessary, below-the-gumline cleaning is painful,  precise work that requires the patient to hold very still, meaning sedation is often a must.

Anesthesia always has risks, but there are safe anesthetists who work with animals. Ask your vet what medication they use, who will be monitoring your animal, and how they handle any post-anesthesia problems. In the meantime, keep up the home dental care.

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