I am a huge believer in the importance of proper dental health in our dogs. In fact it is one of the best ways we as parents can extend the lives of our dogs. The challenge is that as our dogs get older anesthesia becomes riskier and in some cases, completely out of the question. I have been through this many times with my own dogs - weighing the pros and cons of putting my dog under to rectify serious dental health concerns. I do believe that if your senior dog is healthy and has serious dental disease then surgery is the right way to go BUT once you have had the surgery I have always felt there has to be a better way to maintain their dental health that doesn't require anesthesia.
Milo is a perfect example. He has had 2 dental surgeries in the past 2 years requiring numerous extractions each time and there was no doubt in my mind that he needed surgery to avoid serious consequences of dental disease. The last surgery was less than a year ago and his teeth were already looking terrible and I knew that before too long he would need more extractions, something I had hoped to avoid. At the same time, now that he is 12, I am very hesitant to put him under anesthesia just for a cleaning. I decided to look into teeth cleaning for dogs that does not use anesthetic and I came across a company in my area called K9 Gentle Dental who gave a lot of info on the procedure including videos, photos and many amazing testimonials so I decided to give them a try with Milo.
As for the results, well the difference is amazing. Looking at Milo's teeth I had my doubts they could really be cleaned, but as you can see in the before and after photos, they look fantastic.
If you google non-anesthetic dental cleaning for dogs you will come across opposition to the idea, but this negativity mainly stems from a fear that parents will use this technique in place of dental surgery which is not what K9 Gental Dental is about. In fact the first portion of the session is an evaluation of your dog's teeth. If upon inspection they see a need for surgery they will ask that you take your dog first to your vet for further diagnosis and dental surgery before using their services. Even with Milo they noticed a tooth where the gums were significantly recessed indicating possible problems below the surface and advised me to have that tooth checked by my vet. It was not loose so they were still able to proceed, but I did witness another dog that they could not clean because the issues were too severe and surgery would need to be the first step. They do not charge you if they are unable to continue with the cleaning.
The other objection I have read in terms of cleaning a dog's teeth while they are awake is the belief that a dog will not stay still long enough to allow a thorough cleaning, but when you see the video below you will quickly realize that this is not the case. The technicians were so sweet to Milo and while he channeled his inner pug and was more dramatic than the situation warranted, he was able to stay still long enough for the cleaning. Since Milo's teeth were so bad his treatment took almost an hour which included a couple small breaks, but I know if I have him treated every 6 months that the next time will be significantly shorter. And yes there is a certain amount of stress that the dog feels. Milo certainly didn't enjoy himself, but his stress level was about the same as when someone tries to cut his nails and given the health benefits and level of safety over anesthetic, I felt it was well worth it.
Milo is a very laid back dog so I asked what their experience has been with high anxiety type dogs (in my mind I was thinking about my Lily (pug) who gets very worked up at times and my Winnie (french bulldog) who is terrified of strangers) but they said that quite a lot of dogs will simply freeze and become some of the easiest dogs to work on, even the highly strung types. You can see an example of this in the video below where a Boston Terrier becomes almost rigid, but seemed fine having them work on his teeth.
A great suggestion they made for dogs more susceptible to stress is to have them come to your home, which they can do for a bit more money. Milo was treated inside a pet store and the whole time there were dogs barking and people coming and going so I can see why for certain dogs being in the comfort of their own home is a big advantage. Also if you are like me and have more than one dog, having them come to your home is very convenient so I will try this next time. I am not sure if Winnie will go for it, but they told me that if they try and she is simply too stressed then they will not continue and I will not be charged.
Check out Milo's experience:
Right now my plan is to have all three of my dogs checked by my vet since I need to have that one tooth looked at for Milo and I believe both Winnie and Lily may need some extractions, but then I will get everyone on a 6 month non-anesthetic cleaning routine to hopefully avoid future surgeries. I believe that if you go into this treatment method knowing that it is a way of maintaining good oral health and not a cure for dental disease then it is an amazing, far more affordable and safe option, especially for our seniors who have a more challenging time coping with anesthesia. I know I felt so much better going in this direction for my Milo and I look forward to having all my dogs treated this way moving forward.
*Special thanks to K9 Gentle Dental for taking such great care of Milo and for allowing me to record his cleaning experience.
Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.