Anaesthesia-free dentistry in dogs and cats


Ratification Date: 08 Dec 2016


Performing anaesthesia-free dentistry on dogs and cats is not appropriate. Comprehensive examination, diagnosis and treatment cannot properly proceed whilst an animal is conscious.

The welfare of animals treated in such a manner is compromised and operators endanger themselves.


Anaesthesia-free dentistry refers to the practice of attempting to perform a scale and polish on a fully conscious animal. This is often performed by people who lack appropriate training and qualifications.

Anaesthesia-free dentistry is highly likely to negatively affect the welfare of the animal and have negative psychological and behavioural consequences. It also poses a risk of injury to the operator. It is not possible to perform a professionally thorough and complete dental examination in the fully conscious animal; general anaesthesia is required in dogs and cats.

Dentistry, like other branches of veterinary science, is a discipline that is reliant on detailed examination and a thorough knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology to make a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made then appropriate treatment can be undertaken.

Parts of the dental examination process require the patient to be motionless (e.g. radiographs) and also insensible to noxious stimuli (e.g. periodontal probing). Without a complete examination having taken place, appropriate treatment cannot be recommended or performed.

Whilst the removal of calculus and plaque during a dental prophylaxis procedure is the most common treatment performed, if done without diagnosis of other dental disease, it is inappropriate. Periodontal disease (the most common disease of dogs and cats) requires that the subgingival areas be cleaned. This is an uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, procedure when done properly and is not possible to do effectively on a fully conscious patient.

Simply removing the calculus that is visible on the tooth is ineffective because it does not clean the tooth root surface to allow healing of periodontal structures and reversal of dental disease. If the subgingival area is not cleaned, bacteria can continue to lodge in the area with the potential to lead to systemic disease (e.g. cardiac or renal).

At best, anaesthesia-free dentistry is a purely cosmetic activity which delivers no health care benefits and at worst it has the potential to mask underlying dental pathology resulting in delayed treatment of dental disease.

Other relevant policies and position statements

AVA info sheet (updated August 2021)

Guidelines for dental treatment in dogs and cats