What to Expect When Your Pet Goes Under Anesthesia for Dental Care at the Veterinary Dental Specialist

veterinarians giving dog anesthesia through a mask

What to Expect When Your Pet Goes Under Anesthesia for Dental Care at the Veterinary Dental Specialist

As pet owners, we always want the best for our canine and feline companions, including good oral health. Just like humans, pets require dental care to prevent issues like gingivitis (gum disease), periodontitis (disease of the bone and soft tissue surrounding the teeth), and other oral health problems. This means your pet must undergo anesthesia for a dental exam, cleaning, and imaging routinely throughout life. While the thought of anesthesia might be daunting, understanding what to expect can ease your concerns and ensure a smooth experience for you and your pet.


Preparation is Key

Before the procedure, your veterinary dentist will thoroughly examine your pet to assess their overall health and determine if they are a suitable candidate for anesthesia. This exam will involve blood tests unless your pet’s labwork was recently performed with your family veterinarian. Other diagnostic procedures may also be recommendedif your pet is diagnosed with a new heart murmur at the time of the examination, an echocardiogram with a cardiologist, chest radiograph, ECG (electrocardiogram measuring the heart rate and rhythm), or additional labwork testing the heart muscle may be recommended. If your pet’s labwork returns and shows signs of internal organ dysfunction, abdominal ultrasound or further labwork with your family veterinarian or a different specialist may also be recommended. Remember, age itself is not a disease, although it makes the presence of additional diseases more common. Elderly animals often need advanced dental care due to a lifetime disease buildup, so anesthesia for these patients is done commonly and typically without complication at our hospital.  


Explanation of Procedure

Your veterinarian will explain the entire dental procedure, including why anesthesia is necessary, what steps will be taken, and any potential risks. Feel free to ask any questions or voice any concerns you may have during this time.



Your pet will likely need to fast for a certain period before the procedure to reduce the risk of aspiration during anesthesia. Your veterinarian will provide specific instructions regarding fasting, including when to withhold food and water before the appointment.


Administering Anesthesia

Once your pet is ready for the procedure, they will be given a pre-anesthetic medication to help them relax and prepare for anesthesia. The anesthesia will then be administered through a combination of intravenous injection and inhalation, depending on the type of procedure and your pet’s individual needs.

*If your pet was diagnosed with underlying health conditions or is geriatric, involving our veterinary anesthesiologist in the procedure may be recommended. Dr. Kennedy works remotely with all our clinics and will create drug protocols, actively monitor specific patients, and advise us if complications arise. He can also be involved in cases where owners feel extra anxious about anesthesia or have had negative experiences in the past to provide an additional layer of security.


Monitoring Vital Signs

Throughout the dental procedure, trained veterinary staff will closely monitor your pet’s vital signs, including heart rate, heart rhythm, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, carbon dioxide levels, temperature, and anesthetic depth. One staff member is assigned to anesthetic monitoring; this person’s only job throughout the procedure is to routinely evaluate all the parameters above. This continuous monitoring helps ensure your pet’s safety and allows for immediate intervention if any issues arise.


Dental Exam and Cleaning

With your pet under anesthesia, the veterinarian will perform a comprehensive dental exam to evaluate the condition of their teeth, gums, and oral tissues. Any tartar and plaque buildup will be removed through scaling and polishing.


Imaging Procedures

Dental radiographs (x-rays) are ALWAYS indicated in veterinary patients. This is because most of the tooth structure is below the gumline, where we cannot see it! If we only took radiographs of “suspicious”-looking teeth, we would miss painful lesions daily. Our specialty practice evaluates every patient by cone beam computed tomography (CBCT). This technology is faster and more sensitive than dental radiographs, allowing us to look at the entire skull and every tooth in 3-D. Dental radiographs may be taken in addition to CBCT if any areas appear unclear on the CT scan. These technologies help identify issues like tooth root abscesses, fractures, and other dental problems that may not be visible during a visual examination alone.

*Typically, after the anesthetized oral exam and imaging procedures, your veterinary dentist will call you with an update regarding what treatments must be performed for your pet. We will never perform treatments or extractions without your permission, so please ensure you remain available by phone the entire time your pet is in the clinic with us. When we get in touch, please ask all questions you may have, but remember that your pet is currently anesthetized. We want to ensure you are on board with the plan and fully understand it, but we also want to return to your pet as soon as possible to perform the required treatments and move them to recovery promptly.



After the dental procedure, your pet will be carefully monitored as they wake up from anesthesia. They may be placed in a quiet, warm recovery area where they can rest comfortably until they are fully awake and alert. Depending on the type of anesthesia used and your pet’s response, they may feel groggy or disoriented shortly after waking up. If your pet’s teeth needed treatment, particularly if they underwent extensive oral surgery, local nerve blocks are always applied in hopes of creating numbness in that area. They will also be sent home with oral medications to help with pain over the next several days. Pain control is extremely important to us, as we know that many of the procedures we perform cause significant discomfort. In extreme situations, we recommend keeping your pet overnight in the ICU for ongoing IV pain medications in the immediate post-op period.


Post-Procedure Care

Your veterinarian will provide detailed instructions for caring for your pet at home following the dental procedure. This may include dietary changes and oral hygiene care recommendations to promote healing and prevent further dental issues. Follow these instructions closely to ensure the best possible outcome for your pet’s oral health.


Follow-Up Appointments

If your pet had any procedure that required sutures, we want to recheck them in 2 weeks to ensure these areas have healed. The recheck may be sooner if your pet’s surgery was more involved. Depending on the severity of your pet’s dental issues and the procedures performed, you may need to schedule follow-up appointments for additional treatment or monitoring. Your veterinarian will advise you on the appropriate follow-up care plan based on your pet’s needs and when the following anesthetized procedure should be performed. Although we all wish it could be, dental care is rarely a “one-and-done” situation. If your pet still has teeth, they must be cared for!


Veterinary Dentist in Colorado Springs

While the thought of anesthesia can be intimidating, it’s important to remember that dental procedures are routine for many veterinarians and their staff. By choosing a veterinary dental specialty clinic to perform your pet’s anesthetized exam and cleaning, you can trust that your pet will receive the highest quality care before, during, and after their dental procedure.

In conclusion, anesthesia for dental care is necessary to ensure your pet’s oral health and overall well-being. Understanding what to expect and following your veterinarian’s guidance can help ensure a safe and successful dental experience for your beloved companion. Investing in your pet’s dental health today can help prevent future oral health problems and ensure they live a happy, healthy life for years. If your dog or cat is due for a dental checkup, contact Animal Dental Care & Oral Surgery today to schedule an appointment. 



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