How Much Should A Cat Dental Cleaning Cost?

That’s right, Max is going off course here. But whoever said this blog can only talk about out-of-pocket costs for human healthcare? What about our furry family? They can get expensive too.

The spectrum for what people are willing to pay to keep their pets healthy goes from about zero to a million dollars. People from the “they are just animals” camp will often support letting nature take its course. Others from the million-dollar camp are willing to spend just about any amount of money because they have a stronger relationship with their pets than their own family. 

I have always come from somewhere in between. I can resonate with the “let nature take its course” group, but in recent years, I have become a bit of a softy in this area of life. In fact, I have spent some serious money in the last few years to keep our feline friends healthy.  

Dinah The Cat

Mrs. Max OOP has a cat named Dinah who has been with her for about ten years. She is a gray Siamese who spent her first year of life in the wild. Eventually, she settled in with my wife at around the age of one and has been hanging around ever since. I call her my wife’s cat because she seems to only like me some of the time. Dinah sleeps on Mrs. Max OOP’s pillow every night right next to her head. She hunted lizards when we lived in North Carolina and has graduated to chipmunks here in New England. 

Here she is. 

Dinah! Technically an apple head blue point siamese according to our “cat only” vet down South

Dinah’s Teeth 

Dinah has generally been a pretty healthy low-cost feline. But several years ago, her “cat only” veterinarian down in North Carolina strongly suggested we start watching her teeth a little closer. This vet was pretty eccentric and his passion for the field (particularly feline dental hygiene) got our attention. 

Dinah had built up an unusual amount of plaque and tartar on her back teeth. Our vet all but insisted on cleaning her teeth since he thought it might lead to cavities or gingivitis. It could also cause other health issues in other parts of her body. He emphasized that since everything is ingested through the mouth, there was a risk that bacteria on her teeth could spread.

I am pretty sure if we declined due to the cost this guy would have done the cleaning free of charge. He was so passionate about it we let him go ahead with the dental cleaning. 

This “cat only” vet speculated that some of the plaque build-ups were related to her diet. He had done some scientific research around the subject and he cautioned us against feeding her “crunchy” dry food anymore. His theory was that since felines by definition are hunters and not grazers, more meat in the diet would lead to better dental outcomes that would ultimately keep them healthier. His theory made a lot of sense, so we took the recommendation and put it in place. We still feed her a dry (natural) crunchy food when we travel though, mostly out of convenience.  

Although the recommendation did seem to slow down the plaque buildup, it did not completely stop it. So every few years we find ourselves cleaning her teeth again just to keep her healthy. Most people who know me well would probably be surprised I would be willing to spend money on cleaning a cat’s teeth. I guess Dinah has grown on me over the years : ). Plus Mrs. Max OOP would like to keep her around as long as possible.  

Dinah’s 2019 Check-Up

Dinah had her annual checkup a few months ago and got her shots all updated. My annual preventive exam later this month will be free, but her’s cost us about $160. The Affordable Care Act law failed to include the feline species in their preventive health mandates. She doesn’t even get the free cholesterol test that I get.

Dinah got a clean bill of health with a recommendation that we get her teeth cleaned again since they hadn’t been cleaned since 2017. Her new vet here in New England is extremely thorough, but also reasonable when recommending healthcare services for our animals. In other words, she probably wouldn’t recommend it unless it was necessary.  

So, when we got home we busted out the flashlight and took a look for ourselves. We clearly saw the plaque and tartar had built up again. As much as I like Dinah, you are never going to find Max OOP brushing her teeth. I have to draw the line somewhere. Because it had been over two years since she last had her pearly whites cleaned, Mrs. Max OOP and I agreed to have her teeth cleaned again. It was scheduled for September 12, 2019.

Right side of cat's teeth before the dental cleaning.
Dinah’s right side before her cleaning back in 2017. It looked a little worse than this last month when we checked before her September 2019 cleaning.

Cat Dental Cleaning

Since this procedure can be a stressful process for cats, veterinarians put the cat under general anesthesia. This makes the cat dental cleaning process easier for both our feline friend and the veterinarian. Anesthesia also adds to the cost of the process. To prep for the dental cleaning and anesthesia, cat owners are asked not to feed the cat the night before. 

In the morning, Mrs. Max OOP dropped Dinah off on her way to school bright and early at 7:45 am. Thankfully, the vet’s office is conveniently located right around the block from her school. Dinah would stay at the vet for the day and be ready for pick-up after school at approximately 4 pm.  

The cleaning itself is interesting. They use an ultrasonic scaler that generates vibrations to crush and remove plaque and tarter. This minimizes damage to the tooth enamel and shortens the time Dinah needs to be asleep. They even polish her teeth leaving a nice smooth surface that will discourage bacteria and plaque from re-adhering to the tooth surface. Once they are done, they wake her up and send her home. Mrs. Max OOP got to witness the whole process down in North Carolina the first time Dinah got her teeth cleaned. 

Dinah’s 2019 dental cleaning went pretty smoothly. Apparently, this time Dinah had a hard time waking up from the anesthesia, but they were able to give her some medicine to help wake up.  Unfortunately, she woke up with three small teeth extracted.

Right side of cat's teeth after the dental cleaning.
Dinah’s pearly whites after her 2017 cleaning!

How Much Should A Cat Dental Cleaning Cost?

Believe it or not, we were able to get a pretty detailed estimate of the high- and low-end out-of-pocket cost for a professional feline dental cleaning. Interesting that it almost seems easier to get an estimate for a feline medical procedure than a simple hernia repair surgery for a human. The cat dental cleaning estimate literally had line item details for the potential cost of the procedure.

The reason the price can vary so much is often the vet finds that tooth extractions are necessary. The problem is, they don’t always know that before the cleaning occurs. Extractions increase the cost of the cleaning since more resources are needed to perform them. When we got the estimate back in late 2017, the low-end estimate came in at $304.26 and the high-end estimate came in at $753.04. Here is a photo of the estimate. 

An invoice showing an estimate for cat dental cleaning cost coming. This estimate shows a cost range from $304.26 to $753.04.
Our 2017 Cat Dental Cleaning Estimate: between $300 and $750 depending on extractions.

The actual out-of-pocket cost came in as follows:

Dinah’s 2017 teeth cleaning with no extractions =  $393.01

Dinah’s 2019 teeth cleaning with 3 small extractions = $503.40

That $900 would do me well invested in medical office buildings, but we also want Dinah to stay healthy.

Here is the invoice from her 2019 exam in case it helps anyone out there with price comparison!

An invoice showing the actual cost for our cat's dental cleaning coming in at $503.40.
Dinah’s 2019 teeth cleaning invoice including three tooth extractions. Apparently feline oral surgery is about $200 per hour, but they only needed 15 minutes for Dinah.

The Results

The before and after pictures speak for themselves. I don’t need to be a veterinarian to know I am getting what we paid for. Hopefully, this cleaning will improve Dinah’s quality of life and also keep her healthy longer.  A healthy cat stays away from the vet!

Left side of cat's teeth before the dental cleaning.
Left Side Before
Left side of cat's teeth after the dental cleaning.
Left Side After

Final Thoughts

As pumped as I was that the Max Out of Pocket crew was able to save $300 on our dental premiums in 2019, most of that money was invested right back into our cat’s teeth.

We like to keep out-of-pocket costs low in all areas of our healthcare lives here at Max Out of Pocket. This includes our pets. Although I tend to have frugal tendencies, I have been open to taking a reasonable approach to keeping our feline friends healthy. Feline dental care is one of the preventative preventive areas I have been convinced to spend some money on. Dental cleanings can prevent other, more expensive, health issues.

Also, since cats can’t speak, they can’t tell us about painful things like cavities and gingivitis. So making sure they aren’t experiencing any pain just seems reasonable. After all, humans domesticated them, that wasn’t their choice.

It was relatively easy to get an estimate for this procedure, and our actual out-of-pocket cost lined up pretty well with the quoted amount. The results speak for themselves. I would definitely recommend shopping around for a reasonable price for this procedure. We opted to stick with Dinah’s vet since we are comfortable with them.

Dinah waiting for Mrs. Max OOP to come to bed.

Max Out of Pocket for Dinah’s dental cleaning? About $400 without extractions and $500 with extractions. 


1 Response

  1. Dragon Guy says:

    An interesting perspective here. Perhaps you can start a series comparing human and feline medical costs :). I bet there will be a lot of costs for similar services for cats that are way cheaper than what we have to pay!

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