Paws and Effect
Rob's 20-year-old cat has dental disease and he wonders if this cat is just too old to have a dental, or if there's a treatment option other than surgery.

Resolving dental disease will make any cat feel a lot younger and healthier. Photo by Shlok Wadhwana on Unsplash

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My Kangs is now 20 years and seven months old. I have had her for almost 20 years. She had two other cat buddies most of her life: I put Tigger down 8 months ago at age 19 and 2 months, and Sedrick died in his sleep 5 years ago at age 16 years and 8 months. I spent a small fortune with surgery for Sedy and it bought him another year of life, but he was never quite the same. Plus he hated the meds I had to give him each day. Kangs has dental issues. Should I take her to vet and hope simple meds can help her dental issue? I was planning to just let her pass away when that time comes. She eats plenty each day, loves her brushing and is comfy. My human dentist has a cat and he said not much can be done now at her age. I think Kangs is slowly losing her vision and hearing. I am not rich, and feel the vet may be just wasted money at this stage. I feel maybe I should just let things be and keep her well fed and let nature take its course. She loves her hard treats and eats plenty of canned food and other stuff I give her, like butter, liver, chicken meat, etc. Any advice?

~ Rob

Thomas: Well, first, as a gentleman of a certain age myself, I must say you’ve been doing an excellent job taking care of your cat companions! Cats don’t live to be 20 without lots of good care from their humans. I’m 18 myself, and I hope I’m around for a good while longer!

Bella: Well, let’s begin at the beginning. We definitely think it would be a good idea to get Kangs to the vet for a checkup. You won’t know how she’s doing and if she can tolerate having dental treatment if you don’t know how healthy she is overall. The vet will run some blood work to test her kidney and liver function, and her thyroid.

Tara: We certainly understand your concerns about surgery after your experience with Sedrick. After Mama’s sad experience with surgery for our beloved Kissy, she had understandable hesitations about letting us go “under the knife” for dental procedures, too.

Thomas: We cats are really good at hiding our pain, too, so it’s possible Kangs could be in pain from dental disease even though she appears to be doing well right now. And don’t feel bad if it doesn’t look like she’s painful. When I had a dental and had eight teeth extracted, Mama felt like the worst kitty mom in the world because she didn’t realize how much pain my dental disease was causing me.

Bella: But Thomas doesn’t hold that against Mama at all. Like he said, we cats are so good at hiding our pain that even the best-trained cat parents don’t necessarily see it.

Tara: Given how old she is and that she seems to be doing quite well overall, she could possibly live another several years. What a dental can do is give Kangs a less painful life for as long as she has left.

Thomas: Now, it’s quite possible that the vet will say that she’s not a good candidate for surgery. If she has kidney disease or some other organ function problem, the procedure might be too high-risk to undertake.

Bella: But the issue is you’re not going to know that unless you talk to the vet and get the blood work done.

Tara: We’re sure there are other options if she’s not a good surgical candidate.

Thomas: That’s right. When I had my last dental and had four more teeth extracted, Doctor Jessica said that was probably going to be my last dental because of my kidney disease. But if I were to get a mouth infection, Mama would definitely ask the vet if antibiotics could help. They may not ease the pain, but they could control the infection.

Bella: And there are pain relievers vets can prescribe to ease any pain she does have. Our beloved Siouxsie was on buprenorphine for the last year of her life–not because of dental disease but because of severe arthritis.

Tara: That’s another thing Mama didn’t know until she asked the vet to do x-rays because her gait was odd. When Mama found out that Siouxsie had no cartilage left in her hip joints, she knew how painful that must be–and of course, once again, she felt like the worst cat mom in the world because she hadn’t done more serious pain control earlier.

Thomas: You humans get so neurotic about things. You have to realize as long as we’re safe and loved, we love you humans right back. You can’t possibly know everything–that’s why we’re here!

Bella: Anyway, Rob, we strongly suggest you talk to your vet about Kangs’ dental disease and ask what can be done to keep her healthy and pain-free.

Thomas: And honestly, human dentists, even if they have cats, don’t know everything about feline dentistry. Asking your dentist about your cat’s teeth is like Mama asking her human physician what to do about Thomas’s kidney disease.

Bella: Now, we’re not saying your dentist is bad, nor are we trying to make you feel bad about talking to your dentist about your cats. Mama always talks to her dental hygienist about us–when they don’t have all those tools in her mouth, anyway!

Tara: We totally understand about not being rich. Believe it or not, Mama doesn’t make lots of money, either, and it’s always a balancing act when we need care that’s not covered by our pet insurance.

Thomas: So, don’t be afraid, Rob. Take Kangs in to the vet, see what’s going on with her general health and what can be done to improve her dental health. We’re sure your vet will have some good suggestions!  And definitely ask about antibiotics and pain control if she’s not a good surgical candidate!

Bella: What about you other readers? Have you had a really old cat with dental disease? What did your vet do for treatment? Please let us know in the comments!

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