Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Kitty Vet Dilemma

This is Josephine. She was a barnyard cat before she lost her eye, and one-eyed cats don't do very well outside. Normally, the cats in our barn love the outdoors, and you can't keep them in, so we just let them go back to where they are happy, even with this sort of traumatic injury.

Josephine was different. Almost from day one, you could see her thinking "I could get to like this." By the time we were done treating the eye, she was ours. Today, if we leave the door open, she might peep outside, but she scampers back as soon as anything looks even the slightest bit dangerous.

Josephine is the perfect cat for us. Her favorite activity is sitting on a lap while people type at a computer. She hates all people food and jumping up on things. She is smart enough to know that Mr. Goat likes to play rough and tumble games, but she shouldn't bite me if she knows what is good for her.

Her favorite game, actually, is to stalk Mr. Goat until he isn't looking, jump on his leg as high as she can go (she usually gets to about the mid-thigh), bite the heck out of him, then launch herself off and run away. He thinks this is awfully cute. I think it's hilarious, but only to watch.

So, when the Vet said last month that she needed to have four teeth pulled, including the two upper canines, we didn't balk at the 1K estimated bill. For us, she is worth that and more. We scheduled the surgery for August 12th. However, in the last week, I am beginning to re-think this decision.

The Vet sold us on the idea of the surgery by stating that the teeth were actively causing her pain. I've been watching for evidence of this, but so far I don't see any. He said that she would have trouble eating and that food would fall out of her mouth when she ate. This has been a constant for the last seven years; I don't see any evidence that it has gotten any worse. Mr. Goat reports that she bites him no less viciously now than she did eighteen months ago (the date of her last dental checkup).

The Vet reports that she will be able to eat fine without teeth, but I am sure that it will be more difficult for her. Also, if we remove her upper canines, we remove her ability to defend herself or to hunt should she accidentally get outside. She'll look bizarre without them. And all surgeries carry a certain amount of risk due to anesthesia and infection. If she appeared to be in pain, there would be no decision to make. Absent evidence of pain, though, these considerations are coming into play.

My current idea is to continue to live this month extra frugally, as we had planned to do to pay for the surgery, but cancel the surgery. Then we can put the money aside for the day when she is quite evidently in pain, and we won't have to worry that we might not have the money when we need it. I haven't quite decided on that though; the surgery is not yet canceled.

Have you had any experience with cat dental health? Are there any considerations that I am missing? What would you do?


  1. Do you see her drooling a lot or at all? That's another indication of pain in general, as well as oral pain.

    A couple thoughts: how did he know she needed 4 teeth pulled, specifically? Is she THAT cooperative that she let him wiggle her teeth/test her gums? From my experience observing dental care under anesthesia because only the rarest of pets [like our hospital dog] would allow people to mess with their teeth. Even my mamma's girl dog will only tolerate my visual inspection and some tapping on her teeth.

    The reason I ask is, again from observational experience, our techs and docs only pulled teeth when the pet was under anesthesia and the teeth could be examined closely. They would, like my dentist, I suppose, jiggle and wiggle the tooth, check for decay, clear out the tartar and other buildup and then decide during the "surgery" that the teeth needed to be pulled. I'm a little perplexed, then, how your vet knew those teeth had to go. Unless he's examined them under anesthesia before?

    If her teeth aren't clearly rotten and have to go, most times a good cleaning and round of antibiotics to fend off infection were considered good enough to help any discomfort, inflammation or post-surgical irritation. The concern over dental health is certainly valid, I know because one of my pets had chronically bad teeth and it was tough on him, but there seems to be a bit of a leap straight from maintenance care to surgery and I feel like I'm missing something here.

  2. She's a Siamese mix; she drools constantly and has for as long as we have had her. But we get her teeth cleaned every year, so I don't think she's had this problem longer than a year. I haven't noticed any more drooling than usual, and nether has Mr. Goat, and we have both been watching carefully for 6 weeks now.

    As to anesthesia, I only wish she were so nice! No, she was under for her usual annual cleaning when he spotted the teeth problem, but I was out in the pasture so he couldn't get permission to pull them while she was under that time.

    Maybe I should get a second opinion, but I hate to put her under any more times than I have to. She's getting to be an elderly kitty, and I can't imagine that it is good for her.