But I can’t afford a dental cleaning for my dog!

If you’ve taken your dog or cat to the vet lately, you probably heard something like, “Yeah, he could use a dental cleaning.”

A “dental cleaning” typically means the vet will clean your dog’s teeth while the dog is under general anesthesia.

The cost starts at around $400* and can be more when you add x-rays or tooth extractions.

Not exactly cheap.

I believe most vets are truly looking out for our pets, but $400 is more than what many of us can afford.

In my experience, vets are not very good about discussing how urgent a dental cleaning is for each individual pet. Instead, vets tend to recommend dentals for all pets across the board once the pets reach a certain age or once a certain amount of tarter becomes visible on the teeth.

But some pets need their teeth cleaned more urgently than others.

As a pet owner, you need to be the one to ask more questions. 

Before agreeing to a dental cleaning for your dog, ask the vet these questions:

My dog Ace

  • How urgent is this? Does my dog really need a dental cleaning this month? Or is this something that could wait a month or two or possibly six months?
  • Is my dog a candidate for a non-anesthetic dental cleaning? What is the difference in the procedure? What is the cost difference? Which would be best for my dog?
  • Do you think my dog is in pain right now?
  • Could we do x-rays first to get an idea of the health of the teeth? How much would that cost?
  • Do I have any other options, for example changing my dog’s diet or committing to brushing his teeth?
  • What will happen if I don’t schedule a dental cleaning?

Further questions to ask that could help you save money on dental care for your dog:

  • First, explain to your vet that you’re on a budget.
  • Ask for a detailed estimate on the dental procedure. Look at everything on the estimate and ask if it is absolutely necessary. For example, does your young, healthy cat really need bloodwork before anesthesia? Does your dog really need her teeth polished in addition to cleaned? Are multiple x-rays really needed? Do all the teeth really need to be cleaned or can the vet just pull the cracked tooth? Every situation will be different, and it’s OK to ask these questions.
  • Ask questions on anything that doesn’t make sense in the estimate.
  • Ask if there are any additional costs that could come up such as tooth extractions, additional x-rays, pain meds, additional anesthesia, etc.
  • Ask if there are any packages or discounts, for example a discount during February’s National Pet Dental Month or a discount for adopted dogs or senior dogs.
  • Shop around to find the vet with the best rates. Also ask about payment plan options.
  • Ask if the vet accepts Care Credit. This is a health credit card with no interest for six to eighteen months, depending on your plan. Care Credit has been a huge help for me on more than one occasion. You’ll need a decent credit score to open the line of credit.
  • If you recently adopted your dog, contact the rescue group or shelter to see if it would be willing to help cover a portion of the cost.

Ways to keep a dog’s teeth clean in the first place

There is only so much control you have over this, but you can make a point to:

  • Feed the highest-quality diet you can afford. Raw dog food would be my #1 recommendation, followed by a high-quality organic dry food.
  • Brush your dog’s teeth. I know! I don’t do it either, but it is something we should all consider because it can make a big difference. See my post from last week for alternatives to brushing a dog’s teeth such as giving him things to chew on or using dental wipes.

How about you? Have you ever scheduled a dental cleaning for your dog?

*$400 was the average estimate I was given when I asked two vet offices about a professional cleaning for my cat’s teeth. The cost varies widely from area to area and dogs are often more expensive than cats.

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11 Readers Commented

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  1. jan on February 10, 2014

    I have routine cleaning done every year, the worst day of my life when they are put under, but the cost is only $150 at my regular veterinarian because there are never serious problems when it is done regularly. In this area the cost is generally $200 to $800 so you are right, shop around and let them chew.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 11, 2014

      Wow, $150 doesn’t sound so bad. Of course, I guess it adds up when you have multiple dogs.

  2. Rebekah on February 11, 2014

    Fortunately my dogs all have gorgeous white teeth. Some of it is due their ages (almost 4, 4, and 2) but I feel much of it is due to their raw diet.

  3. Diane on February 11, 2014

    I definitely shop around. I have 4 dogs, two that are older, small breed dogs which typically have a tougher time keeping their teeth clean. So I have my dogs’ dentals done at the smaller town vets. Even with the extra well-pet check up required, since they are “new” patients, it’s way cheaper then in the town I live in. Like hundreds of dollars less. I typically go to a town near my parent’s house so we make a weekend of it.

  4. Dawn on February 11, 2014

    Pierson has terrible teeth. I brush daily, something I never had to do with Sephi and Maya. And every couple of weeks or so, Pierson actually lets me poke and prod through his teeth and scrape off plaque buildup with my fingernail. With the plaque buildup removed, his teeth are still stained but I’ve already asked the vet about cleaning and they said cleaning won’t get rid of the stains.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 12, 2014

      So gross, but I should see if I can scrape Ace’s teeth with my fingernail as well.

  5. jackie on February 12, 2014

    I feed my dog a raw diet and I also add ProDen Plaque Off purchased on Amazon. It’s a seaweed supplement that hinders plaque from forming. I also give her a raw bone weekly. I haven’t brushed her teeth now for quite a while since starting the Plaque Off but I check her mouth often and there is just a little brown on the big teeth in front. I used to use Petrodex enzymatic toothpaste before and I’m going to start again. It doesn’t take long. Prevention of tartar buildup is the key.

  6. Tracy on February 4, 2016

    Someone Please help…..I can’t afford to have his teeth cleaned and they are really really bad. His breath is awful and i’m sure he’s got an infection from it. I paid 500$ 3 years ago and you can’t even tell anything was done. I am desperate. I’m the worst dog parent ever. I would never let my children get this way.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 5, 2016

      Can you afford at least an exam (maybe $50-$100?) to get the vet’s opinion on what might be going on? Are you in the U.S.? Could you apply for Care Credit? That’s what I did when I couldn’t afford my dog’s emergency care.