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Does My Pet Really Need To Have Her Teeth Cleaned Under Anesthesia? (by Dr. Pitcairn)

Animals like dogs and cats, being carnivores, have sharp teeth designed for tearing flesh into pieces that are swallowed whole. Our teeth, by contrast, are flat on the surface and used for grinding action – an indication that we were not designed to be carnivores.

In the natural state, carnivores do not develop calculus (tartar). Domesticated animals, in contrast, are not eating their natural diet and the softer food accumulates on the outside of the teeth in an area where it cannot easily be cleaned off. It is familiar to us that we can put our tongue in between our teeth and the inside of the cheeks to clean out accumulated food. Dogs and cats cannot do that as their teeth are too sharp. In the natural state, carnivores keep the outside teeth clean by gnawing on bones, a process you can still see with both dogs and cats accustomed to eating bones. If you observe the position they take, you will see that they use their side teeth in a sliding motion along the bone and this scrapes off any residue left from eating.

Correction of dental disease:

The obvious solution to the problem of tartar accumulation in domestic animals is to give them bones to chew on. In my experience this is the most effective method and, for many animals, will clean the teeth to perfection. However, this cannot be always be accomplished. Some animals are unwilling to eat bones, especially older cats. One has to also be careful to supervise the initial eating of bones in animals unfamiliar to them as some greedy animals will try to swallow them whole leading to digestive problems. So these are useful rules to follow:

1. Feed bones that are too large to be swallowed.

2. Give only raw bones as cooked bones will splinter and can cause stomach or intestinal damage when swallowed.

3. Do not give frozen bones as the can be too hard and cause the teeth to break.

4. Start animals young with this practice and they will adapt to this with intelligence. The older animals, first introduced to this practice can try to swallow pieces too large.

Alternative Treatments:

If you cannot get your animal to eat bones or do not wish to do this, the alternative is use other hard materials, like raw carrots, hard bread, etc. None of these will be as hard as bones, but will be a reasonable substitute.

To clean the teeth, one can use a soft toothbrush and suitable ones are sold by veterinarians. The most effective and useful treatment of the gums and teeth is make a solution of vitamin C and water. Use the ratio of 1/2 teaspoon of vit. C to a cup of water. Dip the brush into this solution and gently rub it back and forth along the teeth, especially where the gums and teeth meet. Only the outside of the teeth needs to be done.

Once a day will be sufficient.

In my experience, dogs and cats that regularly eat bones do not need to have their teeth cleaned in this way.

If the gums have become inflamed, e.g., red and swollen or discharging pus, then an excellent treatment is to use the herb Myrhh. Make a dilution by adding 1 teaspoon of the tincture (the alcoholic extract) to a cup of water. Gently apply this to the gums once or twice a day. Either use a soft toothbrush or, if the gums are too sensitive for this, flush the gums with this solution using a syringe.


If your animal has developed abscessed teeth, ones that are loose or that have holes in them, a dentistry may be necessary to clean up the situation. Usually the teeth are removed, the rest cleaned. After this you can put into practice the advice given above.

Some animals are especially prone to gum disease and a very useful supplement for them is CoEnzyme Q10, a natural substance found in the body. Given as a white powder in a capsule, the amount to use if 10 mg a day for cats and 30 – 60 mg a day in dogs, depending on their size. This can be added to food. As a safe nutritional supplement it can be used indefinitely as long as the need is there.

A very useful adjunct for animals with recurrent or persistence mouth disease is individualized homeopathic treatment. It is not uncommon for some factor like previous illness, vaccinations, prior use of drugs to weaken an animal in the direction of excessive tooth decay or gum disease. If the treatments mentioned above are not sufficient, then this is the next recommended step.

Frequently Asked Questions about dental cleaning:

Do you ever recommend professional ultasonic teeth cleaning in dogs? You do so in the 1982 edition of your book for calculus build up.

I do recommend this procedure. The suggestions for dental care (above) are intended to make such a procedure unnecessary but if it is not sufficient, then yes, I recommend that professional cleaning be done. It is very difficult to do a satisfactory cleaning on a conscious animal. The calculus is right up to the gum line and it is necessary to move the probe under the gum to remove that part. Animals do not understand the need for that temporary discomfort and will not be still and even can injure the practitioner.

If so, do you have a type of anesthesia you recommend, or a particular procedure?

I have the same recommendation as most vets, e.g., use of Isoflurone gas. It has the advantages of fast recovery. The procedure of teeth cleaning is like what is done for people, using a probe tooth by tooth to remove calculus. In addition, there is usually a manual probing of the integrity of each tooth. Hidden decay is revealed by sudden penetration through the side of the tooth with the probe, with sharp pain to the animal. Without anesthesia, there will be difficulty continuing past the first one.

My vet uses Isoflurone gas, but also routinely gives atropine, acepromozine, and telozol by I.V. beforehand to minimize trauma (he said the animal will struggle against the gas unless somewhat sedated first). What do you think of this procedure?

I think what is suggested is rather standard and a way that will be easiest on your dog. The pre-anesthetic drugs make induction easier and recovery smoother as they allay anxiety and pain.

Finally, do you recommend any pre, or post-anesthesia homeopathic remedies to speed recovery and to minimize damage from anesthesia? If so, what?

My routine recommendation for post dental treatment is to give a dose of Arnica 30c after the animal has recovered completely. This is usually sufficient. In the rare case, for discomfort extending into the second day, I advise one dose of Hypericum 30c on that second day.

To facilitate the processing of the drugs administered, give these three vitamins before and after the surgery.

Vitamin A: 10,000 IU once a day.
Vitamin E: 100 IU once a day.
Vitamin C: 250 mg once a day.

Do this for 3 days before and 3 days after.

Why is there tooth decay in my animal when I have followed your suggestions as to diet, using a home prepared diet?

There are two major reasons why tooth decay occurs in animals and these are use of commercial foods and vaccination. If you have been feeding a good quality home diet using raw meat and tooth decay still occurs, it is likely because your animal has been vaccinated in the past. It is one of the side effects of vaccination that there will be decay with even the best of foods.

The type of decay is peculiar to vaccine influence, that is that it occurs at the juncture of the gums and the teeth, what are called “neck lesions.” Though there can be other places affected and even looseness of the teeth as part of this syndrome, it is the presence of these “neck lesions” which tell me that the vaccines are responsible. In these cases, the only solution, in terms of long term prevention of recurrence of the problem, is to give homeopathic treatment to that animal. The vaccines in some will cause a permanent distortion of health, one that cannot be corrected by diet alone.

NB: In my experience, the non-anesthetic dental procedure can be a very useful adjunct to proper oral hygiene. This procedure should be performed by a trained veterinary dental technician. Groomers, breeders, pet store employees, etc. are usually not fully trained. Non-anesthetic dentistry does not replace a veterinary anesthetic dentistry. Painful extractions and other surgical procedure do indeed require anesthesia.–Dr. Jeff



Please note: The information provided here is meant to supplement that provided by your veterinarian. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of information at this site. Nothing can replace a complete history and physical examination performed by your veterinarian. -Dr. Jeff