Dental Disease in Pets – what you need to know


Did you know? Over 80% of the cats and dogs we see at the clinic have some degree of dental disease? This is especially common in small breed dogs, certain breeds of cats, and senior pets over the age of 7.


What is dental disease?

Dental disease is also known as periodontal disease which is the inflammation of the gums caused by plaque-causing bacteria on the teeth.  These bacteria, if allowed to accumulate can lead to tartar accumulation, gum recession, and bone infection. This causes pain in the mouth – ouch!!

In severe periodontal disease, bacteria in the mouth can spread to other organs, such as the heart and kidneys, which can mean a shortened lifespan for your pet.

What are symptoms of periodontal disease? Bad breath, yellow-brown crust on teeth, tooth loss, drooling, bleeding/red gums, and/or any change in chewing/eating habits.

“My pet is still eating, so they can’t be that painful”

This is a common response we hear in the exam room after we have diagnosed periodontal disease.


You may not know, but dogs and especially cats are MASTERS of hiding pain. Eating is a matter of survival – if they don’t eat, they won’t survive. This is why most pets that have dental disease will continue to chew and eat their food. OR, they’ll just start swallowing their food! Dog’s and cat’s mouths are built much like ours – nerves that detect pain are similar. Can you imagine yourself chewing on carrots with loose/infected teeth?

So…what is the good news about periodontal disease?

It can be prevented and treated!


Prevention can be accomplished by:

1) Maintaining dental health at home. This is by far the most important part of a dental prevention program! Just like us, plaque bacteria accumulates daily on the teeth.  Through various methods such as brushing the teeth, using specially formulated dental diets and appropriate chew toys, plaque accumulation and periodontal disease can be prevented.

Tip: There are lots of dental products out there – how do you weed through the good and the bad? One way is to look for VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) approved products. Visit their website here.

2) The next thing to keep in mind is to visit the vet for regular dental checkups with your pet! We can help you choose the right prevention tools that will work for you and your pet as well as complete an oral exam.

How is periodontal disease treated?

Through a dental cleaning under a general anesthetic with or without removal of badly infected teeth if needed. Below is a before and after photo of a cat’s dental cleaning.

before dentalafter dental

A proper dental cleaning must be performed under a general anesthetic.

Tip: Beware of anesthesia-free dental cleanings!

Please know that these are generally performed by individuals who are NOT veterinarians and often have little training.

Not only are they not able to clean and polish the teeth properly (or remove teeth that may be infected), but they cannot polish the teeth. Polishing is required to smooth out the scratches we make on the teeth during a cleaning. Otherwise, these small scratches will start to accumulate plaque extra-quickly.

The teeth may look shiny and brand new after these types of cleanings temporarily, but untreated periodontal disease will remain under the gum line, putting your pet’s health at risk.

“Dental cleanings are expensive”

Yes, generally they are.

They include many things like pre-surgical bloodwork, general anesthetic, complete and thorough examination of the teeth and mouth, cleaning of the teeth above and below the gumline, dental x-rays as necessary, extraction of diseased teeth, polishing of the teeth, and pain medication.

Consider it an investment in the long-term health and happiness of your furry family member!

Check out this great video on dental care!


Please visit any of these links for more information

Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)

How to brush your pet’s teeth

Dental diets