senior chihuahua dog

Can my senior dog safely get a dental cleaning?

If you are someone who is worried about your senior dog going under for a dental cleaning, you are not alone. Pet parents often put off dental cleanings for their dogs because they are concerned about their dog going under anesthesia. Those concerns grow greater as their dogs become seniors. This is unfortunate because senior dogs are often the ones who need regular cleanings the most.

It would be great if there were a way to get dental x-rays to assess dental needs, without anesthesia, but unfortunately, that’s just not possible. Your dog would have to hold totally still during an uncomfortable procedure.  And regardless of how well-behaved your fur child is, being anesthetized is the best, and only way, to get x-rays and do proper cleaning of your dog’s mouth.  

Hidden pain

Your dog’s teeth could look beautiful on the surface, but there could be underlying issues causing pain that only an x-ray would reveal. Pets sometimes exhibit pain symptoms that may or may not be noticed by their parents. If the pain is noticed, parents might not think of a dental issue first, or even at all. After a much-needed dental procedure, that pain symptom often goes away. Pet parents often comment that their dog is more playful and has a smoother, more joyous gait after a needed dental extraction.

Is anesthesia safe for senior dogs?

Anesthesia these days is actually quite safe when performed by a well-trained veterinarian, even for seniors or dogs with health issues. To meet the current standards for anesthesia, a blood panel and urinalysis are often done, especially in seniors. A veterinarian who is well skilled and trained in anesthesia is able to make adaptations to make “going under” safe for almost all pets. Proper monitoring during and after the procedure is an important part of the equation as is knowing how to respond if something were to go wrong. A board-certified anesthesiologist is well worth finding if your dog has systemic issues.

Why does my dog need to fast for a dental?

Fasting is very important before any anesthesia procedure. This is because your dog’s reflexes are temporarily stopped while anesthetized. That interruption of reflexes means your dog’s ability to keep acids or food from entering the lungs becomes much more difficult. Also, if the stomach has food in it, there is a risk of vomiting. Your dog will be intubated during anesthesia, and vomiting could be very problematic.

After your dog’s dental cleaning procedure

After your dog’s dental procedure, he may be a little groggy from the anesthesia for up to 24 hours. So, it’s important to keep him quiet. Close the shutters or blinds if he likes to bark at everyone walking by, and don’t try to engage play the first day or two. The homeopathic remedy, phosphorous 30c, can help with the recovery from anesthesia. 

Feeing soft food for about two weeks after your dog’s procedure will make eating more comfortable.  Preparing homemade chicken stew ahead of time and blending it to a smooth consistency is a great post-dental surgery meal. Feed small and more frequent meals on the first day or two. Your dog might have a slightly upset stomach, so the small meals and blended consistency will help with digestion. You can also offer a few treats that have been soaked in water. A little plain pumpkin puree or goat kefir may also help settle your dog’s stomach.

Be patient with you dogs as he figures out how to eat with a sore mouth and possibly a missing a tooth or two. He might make a bit of a mess with food and water as he adjusts to new ways of doing things for a few days.

If your dog had extractions, a little facial swelling might be seen for 24-48 hours. You can apply a cold compress or ice pack to the area 5-10 minutes a few times a day to help ease pain and inflammation.

You might also notice a little gruffness in your dog’s voice or mild cough. This is likely a result of the intubation which can result in a little throat irritation. It should go away in a few days. A humidifier can help with this. Also, try giving a little coconut oil and wild raw honey. A 10-15lb. dog can have ¼ tsp of coconut oil and one drop of honey, four times a day. You can put it in a dish, or swirl it on your finger and offer it to him to lick. The antimicrobial properties of the coconut oil and raw honey will also help your dog’s mouth in the healing process.

Coconut oil and honey helps ease your dog’s throat.

Additional healing aids

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) therapy is very helpful with cellular regeneration and reduction of pain and inflammation. If you have access to one, this is a great time to use it for your dog. If your dog is not accustomed to PEMF, always use the lowest setting and build up from there.

Certain essential oils are also helpful in the healing process. Consider diluting a little myrrh or peppermint in fractionated coconut oil and very gently rubbing one drop on the gumline once or twice a day.

The homeopathic remedy Arnica 30c is beneficial in the aid of bruising. Buy the smallest pellets you can find. Most stores carry #35, but if you can find #10, that’s easier for most dogs to absorb. You can dilute the pellet in water and offer it to your dog or you can place them inside the gum. Do not do this at the time as applying an essential oil. Administer them independent of each other. If you are using #35, one pellet is plenty. If you find #10, you can give 8-10 pellets. The day of surgery, give a little Arnica every other hour. Talk to your vet for a specific protocol for your dog.

Maintaining good oral health

Daily brushing is an important part of your dog’s oral health maintenance. But remember, brushing alone is not enough. In addition to daily brushing and annual cleanings, consider a water additive or gel. There are several products available, but you’ll make to make sure what you buy is actually doing some good. Healthy Mouth is made from all-natural and organic human-grade ingredients and has the VOHC seal of approval. TEEF, by Primal Health, makes a water additive containing Protekin42, a prebiotic that gets to the root cause of dental disease. As dogs age, the disease-causing bacteria outnumber the healthy bacteria in a dogs mouth. The TEEF formula is said to rebalance the bacteria giving the mouth a healthier environment.

Does pet insurance cover dental cleanings?

Depending on your policy, dentals may be covered by your dog’s health insurance. Be sure to read your policy carefully or give them a call so you don’t run into any surprises.

Doggy dentals can be very expensive at a specialty clinic, but more affordable at your first opinion vets office. Money Magazine did extensive research on various pet insurance companies. Their article covers important facts like reimbursements, pre-existing conditions, and exclusions.

If you don’t already have pet insurance for your dog and he or she is a senior, you will have higher premiums than if you started when they were young. Some companies won’t take seniors, but in Money’s article, they take the legwork out for you so you can quickly identify the right company for you and your dog’s needs.

Scheduling your senior dog’s dental

It is always a little scary when your senior dog goes under anesthesia. It’s normal to be concerned, but don’t let that concern stop you from getting your dog the care it needs. Remember, you can’t see what lies beneath the surface. Keeping your dog’s mouth in good health can mean adding years to his life. Periodontal disease leads to many systemic issues. Regular doggy dental cleanings and extractions when needed can make a huge difference in your pet’s health. 

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