FAQs about pet dental health


Just like humans, dogs and cats need regular dental care. When your pet’s teeth are in poor shape, it leads to bad breath and gum disease. When dental disease advances to periodontal disease, it can lead to life-threatening diseases of the liver, kidney, or heart.

But what is proper dental care? How do you keep your dog’s or cat’s teeth in good order? What are the signs that your pet needs a dental exam? Here are some frequently asked questions about dental health.

Q: How common is dental disease in dogs and cats?
Dental disease is the No. 1 veterinary diagnosis. According to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease by age 3, and very small breeds often develop it before the age of 1.

Q: How does dental disease form in dogs and cats?
Periodontal disease includes gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth). Periodontal disease begins with plaque; plaque occurs when a bacterial film sticks to the surface of the teeth. This is constantly happening. As saliva encounters plaque, minerals in the saliva cause calculus (tartar) to develop. As plaque and tartar spread beneath the gum line, the tissues around the teeth become damaged, leading to tooth loss.

Q: What are the long-term effects of canine or feline dental disease?
Periodontal disease can affect the structures in the mouth and nose, and bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and be carried around the body. Studies in dogs show that dental disease is associated with damage to the heart, liver, and kidneys.

Q: What are the signs of dental disease on cats and dogs?
Signs are easy to overlook. Other than bad breath (which doesn’t happen in all pets), there aren’t many symptoms. This hidden problem makes annual dental exams y a veterinarian important to your pet’s health.

When signs of periodontal disease exist, they include:

  • Bad breath
  • Reluctance to eat
  • Whining while eating
  • Pawing at the face
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive licking around the mouth and nose
  • Discolored teeth

Q: What if my dog or cat is eating and acting normally?
Even if your pets aren’t exhibiting any of the above signs, they may still be due for a dental exam if they:

  • Chew abrasive substances, such as rocks
  • Haven’t had an exam in more than a year
  • Do not receive regular dental care

Q: What can I expect when my pet goes in for a professional dental exam and cleaning?
When your dog or cat receives dental services at Sun Dog Cat Moon Veterinary Clinic, you should expect a full day’s stay. First, we evaluate your pet’s fitness for anesthesia, often running a health screen that includes bloodwork and a urinalysis. For a complete dental exam, radiographs, and dental work, your pet is under a safe general anesthesia. We perform a full dental examination and take dental radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate the structures in the mouth we cannot see. We then perform an ultrasonic scaling above and below the gum line to remove plaque and calculus. Afterwards, we polish the teeth to help prevent plaque-forming bacteria from attaching to the teeth. In some instances, we apply a sealant to the teeth.

Q: How often does my cat or dog need a dental exam?
We recommend an annual dental exam so we can visually inspect the teeth for cracked or loose teeth, recessed gums, or obvious plaque and tartar. We recommend one dental cleaning per year, too. Some cats and dogs prone to dental disease, need cleanings and dental care even more often than that.

Q: What can I do for my pet’s teeth between cleanings?
Just like your own teeth, you need to keep your pets’ teeth in top shape between professional cleanings. This includes daily or nearly-daily brushing with a toothbrush and pet-friendly toothpaste. Do not use human toothpaste. Introduce the toothbrush and toothpaste properly (calmly, without pressure) so that your daily teeth brushing becomes a great bonding experience between you and your pet.

Q: Is there anything I can do besides daily teeth brushing to help my dogs and cats?
Regular brushing is vital to your pet’s dental health. However, you can accompany the brushings with dental chews or certain human foods, such as carrots, that promote healthy teeth. Foods like Hill’s T/D diet also promote dental health; ask a Sun Dog Cat Moon Veterinary Clinic veterinarian if this is a good choice for your pet.

There are no products that can remove tartar and calculus that have already accumulated on the teeth – only a professional cleaning can do that. Once your dog or cat has received his or her annual cleaning, however, at-home measures are a great way to keep the mouth healthy until next year.

If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s dental health, call Sun Dog Cat Moon Veterinary Clinic today to make an appointment.