My cat needs veterinary work, but ...

My Tigger (aka “Tig,” and who is 14 years old) lost a canine tooth recently. I noticed it, and thinking there might be some danger, I took him to the vet.

The vet found that while infection did not appear to be a problem, the empty socket, as well as Tig’s other teeth might be. Gingivitis, and so on. They wouldn’t know for sure until they had Tig under a general anaesthestic, and could x-ray him, and probe around a bit.

They could repair the socket left by the lost canine, and the doctor explained what he would do, using a model. It all sounded fine–I am no veterinarian, so I trust the doctor. Tig is old, but he is far from decrepit, and I would like to see him live out his last years comfortably. He still plays with his toys, chases the laser pointer, wrestles with my other cats, and complains when there is less than three days’ worth of food in the food bowl. He is a pain in the ass at times, but he’s also a buddy.

I got an estimate from the vet as to the cost of the procedure, and it is expensive. Very expensive. That prompts my question.

Remember, Tigger is 14 years old (human years). My feeling is that I can let Tig live out his life until he expires, or I can try to improve that quality of life, until he expires. It should be a no-brainer, but maybe it isn’t. I don’t know.

I have scheduled surgery with the pet hospital for a few weeks from now. But when I mentioned this to a friend, she was shocked. “You need a second opinion! At his age, Tigger doesn’t need that. Veterinarians are only out to rip you off when it comes to older cats!” My turn to be shocked; I thought veterinarians worked in the best interests of all animals, regardless of cost.

So my question: Do you think that this vet is working in the best interests of Tigger, or is he working in the best interests of his bank account? I can get a second opinion from a neighbour who is a retired veterinarian (and who will only charge me a glass of Scotch for the consult).

Hell, maybe that’s the secondary question. Maybe what I really want to know is, based on the facts I’ve stated here, will Tig be okay if we do nothing? Will his quality of life suffer? Does he need this? If so, I will make sure he gets the care he needs. But still …

I will consult with my retired veterinarian neighbour, but any comments would be appreciated.

His motivations really don’t matter. Some people think that “doing something” is better than “not doing something”. He could be one of those people. He could honestly be recommending what he thinks is necessary or he could be wanting to make money. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is whether you should get a second opinion before proceeding. Yes, a million times yes.

THIS is the question that matters. Hopefully your neighbour will give you some guidance as to whether you need to spend the money or not.

I have (and have had) a lot of animals. I go to more than one vet. My “local” vet is a vet hospital and they charge like wounded bulls. They will often recommend expensive treatments, multiple medications, expensive procedures. When I’m in your predicament, I go to see my “other vet” (which is further away, or I’d go there all the time). I trust him, and he is very frugal with my money. If something can wait or is not absolutely necessary, he’ll say so. He NEVER tries to make money off people.

My cat (who lived to 21, lost her last year :() had a broken canine for many years. It didn’t need any treatment. (yes, it’s not the same as your cat’s issue, but there are things that can just be kept an eye on and only addressed if they progress or start hurting, or get infected.) You really need a vet (your neighbour?) to tell you whether this is such a thing or not.

EDIT: My “good” vet has never recommended teeth cleaning by itself, he always says watch the buildup, and if they need to go under for something else, do it then.

I think missing teeth is pretty common in cats. The stray we adopted a few months ago is missing his two upper front teeth (still has his fangs and knows how to use them.) The only thing we needed to do was start feeding him pate style wet food rather than the chunky style. And that was probably more just his own personal preference. Our Elder cat is also missing teeth. She’s at least 16, though.

I’d ask the second vet, but if Tig is eating properly, I doubt there’s anything that needs to be done.

Yes, and if they have problems that are causing pain, they’ll be extracted. I think one of my cats had some whipped out when he was having another procedure.

I’ve been around cats most of my life, including a few older cats who’ve had teeth extracted or lost teeth, and they were fine. They never got any infection or had related problems.

There are some vets who will take the line that if there’s a 5% chance of problems they’ll do an expensive procedure ‘just in case’.

If he was my cat, I would do nothing, but watch carefully in case there were any signs of pain or difficulty eating, or any obvious problems in his mouth. I’d say there’s a high chance that no further treatment is necessary.

Underlying infection in the jaw sounds serious. Badly rotten teeth can be serious. I adopted a dog whose teeth were so badly damaged by the time we got him that his jaw ended up with a fistula running up to his sinuses.

It comes down to how much you trust this vet, I think. If you’ve worked with them, and believe their diagnosis, then you should proceed. Just like in humans, untreated dental issues can have serious consequences.

It can’t hurt to talk to your neighbor if you are concerned.

Yep, talk to neighbor vet. I think if Tig is eating and happy there is no emergency. I would wait. You will be able to see almost immediately if he can’t/won’t eat. IMO.
I have had elderly dogs and cats and teeth can be an issue. Wait and see seems prudent to me.

oh, another point. Even if he does need the procedure, a different vet might not have such high fees. The local vet hospital charges way more than my other vet does. I travelled to a vet quite a distance away for one animal’s surgery, after my local vet went crazy with the fees they wanted.

As others have suggested, get a second opinion. Every vet charges something different even if they have the same diagnosis. One thing to remember about cats is they very rarely show pain - so even if he is eating fine and seems happy, he could still be in significant pain and have potential heath problems on the horizon due to the bad teeth. In addition to the second opinion, I would tell the vet you are on a limited budget and ask what, if anything, can wait. It’s not always in the best interest of the cat to wait until later for some things, however, as there is always a risk when you use anesthesia, not to mention the stress for the kitty. As far as paying for it, you could also look into Care Credit, which can be used like a credit card for veterinary expenses. It’s interest free as long as you make the payments and pay it off in the agreed upon time frame. Good luck!

Second opinion? Yes. Of course. BUT.

Yes, this. One of my cats has chronic dental issues (her health in general is not the best) and the first I was made aware of this was during a normal checkup. She’d been eating fine, drinking fine, acting fine, but three teeth had to come out and a fourth was badly abscessed, the abscess being what the vet found while having a peek in her mouth. When she had that all fixed up, the difference really was noticeable even though she had not been acting “off” in any way that I’d been aware of, and I’m one to notice immediately if a cat’s not doing well.

You may want to see about giving Tig’s breath a sniff (yes, I know, I know, not pleasant.) One telltale sign of Rika’s teeth needing seen to is when her breath begins to smell rather…pungent, shall we say…and I’m reliably told/have experienced that’s a good indicator in any animal of something going on in their mouth. If his breath could kill a moose at fifty paces, I would definitely lean more towards having the procedure done.

ask your neighbor vet if it’s possible to monitor your cat yourself. If the cat’s gums get infected you should be able to tell early on just by playing with the cat and gently pressing along the gum line for a reaction. You can also visually inspect the cat without causing a hissy fit. it’s not like you’re going to jam fork in the cat’s mouth.

Your regular vet should be able to lay out the possibilities and what to look for.

Unfortunately, cats are amazing at hiding serious conditions and appearing normal when quite sick. Not saying the OP’s cat is that sick, but appearing happy and eating can be misleading.

Second opinion sounds like a good idea.

Putting my dog under anaesthesia and doing a serious dental cleaning/scraping would cost $675 at my regular vet, but it’s only $89 at the hour-away low-cost clinic. They did a fine job and I intend to use them in the future, even though it was far enough away (and first-come-first-served) that I had to make a day of it. Of course, additional procedures such as tooth removal or socket repair would be extra, but far less expensive at the cut-rate place than at the regular vet. If your neighbor recommends you go for it, shop around.

Let us know what you decide.

Okay, I’ve decided not to go through with the procedure, and cancelled the surgery.

My neighbour the vet was unavailable, but I did get in touch with my ex-wife–not a veterinarian, but an otolaryngologist, who did a lot of her head-neck-chest work on cat cadavers, whose head-neck-chest structure is very similar to humans. (As a doctor, she worked on human cadavers too, of course, but I recalled her telling me about her work on cats.) I knew this, which is why I called her–after many dissections in the lab, she knows cat dentition, and about infection, and so on.

She said that if Tig was his normal self–eating his Cat Chow, begging for crunchy treats, drinking his water, using the litter box, playing with his toys, and wrestling with my other cats; then he was probably fine, and had no need for the work. Tig has done all of the above–he’s as normal as he always has been.

Perhaps the advice is not quite as good as it would be from a veterinarian, but it still comes from a medical professional. If Tig appears to be in distress and needs help, I will get him to a vet on the double-quick. But until then, I won’t upset his routine.


In the Bay Area, going rate for general + anything is $1000+…

My young black cat is proof of this, he tried to act like he was fine all the way until he was writhing on the ground meowing horribly with his organs swelling up. It was very expensive to fix him but it can be very difficult to tell if your cat is in pain. Get a second opinion if you are worried about price, if two vets say there is a high probability of a problem then it is up to you how long you think the cat will live and whether it is ‘worth it’.

As an idiot that let a bad tooth go well beyond the point of abcess and root canal (like my black cat I was a young tough guy) I can tell you it can become an intense mind shattering pain. In the case of your cat it may be something you can just monitor (swelling, discoloration around gums, refusal to eat).

Vets vary. We used to go to a vet that over-treated, imo. They wanted to do exploratory surgery on an old cat who probably had cancer, for instance. (Despite it being unlikely that any cancer found would be treatable.) We decided not to have our sick old cat cut open, and he lived another year, and seemed reasonably happy.

The convenient 24-hour emergency clinic is all about generating revenue. I’ve taken animals there when I needed to, but it’s routine to have to tell them “no”.

Our current vet is much more cat-oriented, and I trust his opinion as to whether something needs to be treated.

Good luck with your cat.