Keep Those Smiles Bright: Dental Disease in Dogs and Cats

In a recent post, I outlined the three top pet diseases that veterinarians see. Coming in at number one was dental disease, and I thought I would expand on that one a little bit today. Severe and untreated dental disease can affect every body system, so a little knowledge is power!  If you have ever had severe dental pain, you can surely relate to what your pets may be going through – they get the same sorts of dental diseases that people do. See the answers below that we wrote in response to readers’ questions on dental disease in pets.

How common is dental disease in pets?

Common! Approximately 2/3 cats and 80% of dogs older than 3 years of age have some degree of dental disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of dental disease?

There are a number of things that should alert you to dental disease in your pet:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Approaching the food and then backing away if their teeth hurt
  • Chewing with obvious caution and discomfort
  • Dropping food from the mouth
  • A very unpleasant breath odor
  • Pawing at their mouth

What causes dental disease?

The most common cause of dental disease is tartar accumulation. Pets accumulate bacteria on the surface of their teeth, which can mineralize to form tartar and calculus over time. Tartar starts at the gums, especially on the back teeth. In severe cases, it can cover the entire tooth.

Tartar on the teeth leads to gingivitis or inflammation of the gums. For early disease, a thorough dental cleaning will lead to a full recovery. This is where prevention with brushing and special dental treats can be very important, too!

If gingivitis is allowed to progress, irreversible periodontal disease can occur. The bone that supports the tooth is destroyed leading to tooth loss and infection around the tooth root. Infection may spread deep into the tooth socket, creating an abscess, or can enter the bloodstream, affecting the heart, kidneys and other internal organs.

What should I do if my pet has signs of dental problems?

If your pet has evidence of dental disease you should take them to your trusted family veterinarian for an examination and cleaning. All dental cleanings are done under short-acting general anesthesia. Blood work may be needed before the anesthesia to help plan the safest way to get the job done.

After the cleaning, a great way to keep teeth shiny and clean (as well as satisfy a dog’s natural instinct to chew) is to give them SENTRY Petrodex Dental Care Breath Chew Tabs. These chews promote a healthy mouth as well as freshen doggie breath.

Just as with people, the rate at which tartar accumulates is really variable between individuals. Usually a dental visit every 6-12 months is enough to keep your pet’s mouth healthy.

What can I do to help prevent dental disease in my pet?

Recent advances in pet foods have resulted in diets that can reduce tartar accumulation. Your veterinarian can give you specific recommendations that can benefit your pets and keep teeth clean between professional cleanings. Treats, like the SENTRY Petrodex Dental Bones, help scrape plaque off teeth and keep them shiny and clean, too.

One of the most effective ways to keep teeth healthy is to brush your pet’s teeth. Toothpastes and brushes are available from your veterinarian and pet specialty stores nationwide. They are designed specifically for a pet’s mouth.

With a little care and little help from your family veterinarian and Sergeant’s, you can help increase your pet’s overall health by keeping their teeth and gums healthy! You’ll be glad you did and you’ll love the fresh breath that comes with it!

– Photo Credit: Feature image from flickr by Toby. Inset photos from flickr by Maja Dumat.


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