So many people still underestimate the importance of their pet’s dental health.  The American Veterinary Dental Society recently estimated 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral and dental disease by age 3.  Regular dental care by way of brushing, routine dental exams and cleanings, and a diet that promotes dental health will result in improved health and overall longevity of a pet by preventing or aiding in early detection of dental disease.  Just as your dental health is important, your pet’s is equally so.

Dogs’ and cats’ mouths are similar to humans in that their teeth are susceptible to plaque and tartar build-up and bacterial infections.  Without regular brushing and dental care from the veterinarian, food, bacteria,and debris can accumulate and harden on the tooth’s surface and at the gum line, forming plaque.  As bacteria grow inside the plaque and as calcium salts are deposited, plaque turns into tartar.  If left unattended, this plaque and tartar build-up can result in gingivitis.  Periodontal disease can lead to infection and tooth loss.  *Worse, severe infection can affect other parts of the body such as the heart, liver, and kidneys.


Now, I have to admit, I have never brushed my dogs’ or cats’ teeth.  But it is highly recommended.  Some vets advise you to brush daily, while some may suggest once or twice a week.  To do this, you need a toothbrush and toothpaste specifically for pets.  The toothbrushes will be smaller, softer, and have a different shape than those for people.  It’s important to not use human toothpaste, as it contains ingredients that can make your pet sick if swallowed.  Pet toothpaste also contains an enzymatic cleaner and is flavored with chicken, liver, or another flavoring to increase palatibility.  When you start, sit with your pet quietly and use as little restraint as possible.  First, get your pet used to the feel of something being put in their mouth.  You can also first let them taste a bit of the toothpaste.  When you begin, talk to your pet in a soft voice and praise them as you go.  Brush in a 45 degree angle from the gum line.  Brush the outside of the larger teeth in the front of the mouth first, gradually increasing the amount of teeth brushed.  Small dogs should also have the inside of the teeth cleaned.  Cats and large dogs manage to keep them clean with their tongue.  If you have too much trouble with the toothbrush, there are also finger swabs, tooth cloths, and mouth rinses.  Be sure that you are gentle as too much pressure and rubbing around the gums can irritate them.  When you finish, you should reward your pet with a treat, walk, or playtime.


You can contribute to your pets’ dental hygiene by serving dry food and biscuits (in moderation as they’re usually high in calories), which can help prevent gum disease, as opposed to table scraps and wet food.  Feeding a raw diet would also do the same things as munching on those bones will help scrape the teeth clean.  There are many dental treats on the market now to help reduce plaque and tartar.  Be careful of chewy treats as they stick to the teeth and typically contain a lot of sugar.  Carrots are a good, healthy choice.


Some soft, non-abrasive toys can provide benefits by rubbing plaque off the teeth.  Do not give your dog hard bones to chew!  I learned this the hard way.  Josey, my Pit Bull, certainly enjoys giving those jaws a workout. 🙂  Little did I know her sterilized bone had fractured her tooth.  Dr. Sutor found it during her dental exam.  It’s called a slab fracture – a piece broken off vertically on the side of the tooth from Josey biting down on the bone.  Unfortunately it requires extraction as the tooth eventually dies.  My poor girl had to be put under anesthesia, then the tooth had to be drilled in half and taken out in two pieces as it was a molar and the root was still intact.  I felt awful that I’d essentially caused her the problem by giving her the bone!

Dental Exams and Teeth Cleanings

Your pet should receive a dental exam at the time of their routine annual visit.  If your vet advises you that it is time for your pet to receive a teeth cleaning, please take him/her seriously and don’t put it off.  Tartar accumulation reaches a certain point where only the dental instruments will remove it.  Your vet may prescribe antibiotics to prevent any bacterial spread during the dental work.  At the time of the cleaning, your pet will be put under anesthesia.  This is the only way to perform a thorough teeth cleaning on your pet.  Running bloodwork before the procedure may be indicated to confirm your pet can handle the anesthesia.  The vet will scale the teeth, examine the gums, remove any diseased teeth, and polish the teeth. 

Signs of Dental Disease in your Dog or Cat

Bad Breath!  Although dental disease is not the only cause of halitosis, it is the most common.  So if your pet has persistent stinky breath, an exam is indicated.  The cause can be the result of a bacterial infection of the gums seen with periodontal disease.  It’s important to know that “doggy breath” is not normal.

Signs of pain including “chattering” teeth while eating or grooming – especially with cats, drooling with possibly foul smelling saliva, crying out, and refusing to eat or reduced appetite.  However, I can tell you that Josey never exhibited any signs of pain due to her fractured tooth.  So the exam was super important.

Listlessness or lethargy

If your pet will allow it, you can also do your own visual exams.  Signs upon exam would be plaque and tartar on the teeth, missing teeth, broken/fractured teeth, and inflamed gums.

Swelling or draining wound below the eye due to a tooth abcess.

If you’ve been less than vigilant about your pet’s dental care, please don’t fret.  It’s not too late to start.   Last year, due to my urging, my dad brought his 8 year old pug to the vet for his first dental.  His breath was atrocious!  He wouldn’t let anyone near his mouth but the breath was enough to make me positive he needed some major dental work.  He wound up needing 3 teeth extracted.  But after that, he was good as new, with nice fresh breath to boot!  I am sure that was a big step in helping to keep him healthy and happy longer.

How many of you brush your dog’s teeth?  Any dental care stories you can share?

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