Dental cleaning, surgery for older dogs fine — with proper testing beforehand

Editor’s note: With pet dental health month upon us, we turned to Dr. Wendy Swift,  Associate Veterinarian at Ottawa Animal Hospital in Michigan and owner of Affinity For Nature LLC, to help answer a reader’s question regarding getting her senior dog’s teeth professionally cleaned.    

Dear Dr. Swift,

My veterinarian has recommended a growth removal and dental cleaning for my 14-year-old Shih Tzu.  I do not think my dog can safely have surgery, and why should a dental cleaning be performed if all she really needs is a growth removal?

Dear Reader,

Your pet’s age should not dictate whether or not surgery and a dental cleaning should be considered.  At 14, your dog should have pre-anesthetic bloodwork performed, including liver, kidney, and blood sugar tests, to ensure that there are no systemic organ concerns.  A complete physical exam also is essential, along with a specially tailored anesthetic protocol to fit your dog’s age, breed and current condition.

The growth removal should be considered if the mass is growing rapidly, if it bothers your dog or if it is ulcerated. Surgery should be performed immediately as your dog most likely has a mass that is potentially cancerous.  If the mass is slow growing and not changing in shape and feels soft, an aspirate of the mass should be performed and a cytology can indicate whether there is a concern for cancer or not.

Location of the mass may also play a part in whether it should be removed. Masses on the lower part of the legs are difficult to close surgically and should be excised when they are small.  Masses in the armpit and inguinal areas are also areas of concern as masses here can impede your dog’s ability to move. Even fatty masses in these areas should be removed.

The "cone of shame" has come a long way, with more streamlined collars available (such as this inflatable one) to keep your dog from licking incisions without banging into everything in sight.

The “cone of shame” has come a long way, with more streamlined collars available (such as this inflatable one) to keep your dog from licking incisions without banging into everything in sight.

Pet oral care is an essential part of maintaining a healthy dog.  At 14, your small breed dog most likely has signs of dental disease.  It is very important that a dental prophylactic cleaning be performed as directed by your veterinarian to prevent bacteria from spreading from the mouth to the rest of the organs of the body.  Routine dental cleanings can prevent kidney, liver and heart disease.

Check out some exciting information on National Pet Dental Health Month that is occurring in February at the AVMA website.  Share your oral health success stories and learn more on how to properly care for your pet’s oral health.

There are always risks when placing a pet under anesthesia, but if all concerns are addressed before hand, age is not a determining factor in performing a much-needed surgery or dental cleaning.  Speak with your veterinarian about any questions you may have before the procedure, including recovery time and any possible complications. Ask if any medications or special foods will be necessary after surgery.  It is always better to plan ahead for pain management, including canned food if needed after tooth extractions.

An e-collar, otherwise referred to as “the cone of shame,” may need to be worn if there is concern with incision licking. New streamlined e-collars are available that are a ring shape and are worn with your dog’s collar. These provide the anti-licking protection you are looking for without the awkward cone shape bumping into walls and doors or knocking items off the coffee table. Make sure you have a crate or quiet room available if your dog’s activity has to be restricted after surgery.

Overall, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so follow all discharge instructions and your dog will soon be on the road to recovery and have wonderful kissable puppy breath!


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