Dental Disease in Cats and Dogs

You may notice during routine vet visits that your vet will check your pets teeth and sometimes recommend treatment or dental hygiene procedures. Unfortunately for pets, many owners do not follow this advice and don’t realise why a pets dental health is equally important as their own, and can have serious consequences for their health if neglected. If you have any queries or would like to book a free dental checkup and advice session with Justyna, who has excellent experience and training in dental treatment, please do not hesitate to call for an appointment at the surgery, or discuss this with your vet on your next visit. Below our nurse Justyna outlines why looking after your dog and cats dental health is so important:

A Guide to Feline and Canine Dental Disease:

Periodontal disease is the leading cause of dental infections, pain, discomfort and early tooth loss in dogs and cats. Additionally bacteria and infection in the mouth may spread through the bloodstream to cause heart, kidney or liver disease. These diseases can cause serious damage to the organs and lead to premature death.

How Periodontal Disease Develops:

A build-up of sticky food debris and saliva form an invisible film called plaque on the surface of the teeth. Over time this film then attracts free bacteria in the mouth, which attach to the plaque. Attachment also stimulates the bacteria to produce a slime layer to their outside surface. This slime helps to bind the bacteria together and also provides protection. The plaque biofilm spreads into the gap between the tooth and the gum where bacterial toxin production increases causing inflammation of the gums or gingivitis. This leads to severe discomfort to the animal and further periodontal problems.

Once plaque is established it is almost inevitable that calculus development will follow. Calculus is a stone or limescale-like material that forms from minerals found in saliva, which crystallise within the plaque biofilm. Whilst not directly contributing to periodontal disease, calculus forms a rich reservoir of the plaque bacteria responsible for problems. Many teeth can be affected by periodontal disease, but we must remember that dental disease can sometimes be localised tio only one or two teeth, so full examination of your pet’s mouth is necessary to identify dental disease and treat it appropriately, or prevent it before things get worse.

calculus dog periodontal disease

Yes-Periodontal disease is preventable!

A complete and full examination of the mouth is essential as part of an overall physical check up. Many of us know the pain associated with mouth ulcers, and some will have had the misfortune to have experienced a tooth root abscess. The nerve supply to cat/dog’s teeth is just as efficient as our own-there is no reason to suppose that they do not feel the same level of pain that we do with dental disease. Domestic pets are substantially less demonstrative of oral pain than humans. They may simply be quieter than normal or more withdrawn. Therefore, an owner may be unaware of any major lesions until dental disease is very advanced or until more severe signs like discharge from the mouth or swelling appears. Often it is only when we see an improvement or change in behaviour after effective dental treatment, that we realise that our pet may have been suffering.

Your  pet might be in pain if she/he is:

  • gradually losing interest in chewing or playing with toys
  • reluctant to eat, favouring one side of the mouth, or appearing to have difficulties in picking up food
  • pawing at the mouth
  • painful on examination or reluctant to allow full examination of the mouth
  • If your pet has dental problems, the first thing you’ll usually notice is bad breath.

Other signs include:

  • dribbling
  • yellow or brown tartar on teeth
  • bleeding gums
  • loose teeth or tooth loss
  • difficulty eating
  • rubbing the mouth
  • redness of the gums
  • discharge visible around the edge of the tooth
  • lethargy, especially in older animals, can be due to dental disease, NOT due to the fact that your animal is “getting older”


Before starting any form of home dental care it is important to consider that optimum results will only be seen if the teeth and gums are healthy and free of tartar. In view of this some pets will benefit from a dental “scale and polish” procedure under general anaesthetic. A general anaesthetic is given to your pet to allow a thorough examination of the teeth and avoid any stress or discomfort. Each tooth is assessed, cleaned and polished individually. If necessary some teeth may be extracted if periodontal disease is too advanced, the root is exposed or the tooth is loose in the socket and prone to infection or causing chronic pain. Depending on the severity of the dental disease a short course of antibiotics may be required. Similarly, if required anti-inflammatories and pain relief wil be given. The vet will advise you if a dental is required at your pet’s yearly booster vaccinations or you could make an appointment for a dental check with a nurse.

What to do next:

After the dental treatment, the vet or nurse will advise you on when to start a dental program at home. The home care may include diet change, tooth brushing, using antiseptic wash, enzymatic oral gels or dental chews and it will be designed to suit your animal’s needs and your daily routine.
Chewing specially formulated dry food and treats has been shown to decrease calculus formation in pets. It is important to ask your vet’s advice in choosing products that they trust and that will have the correct nutritional balance for your pet. Toothbrushing is the gold standard for home care. It is important to use toothpaste specially designed for pets. Toothbrushing should be done at least once daily-it only takes a minute or two once your pet has become adjusted to it. We appreciate this will be impractical for some pets and owners so if you are struggling it is important to discuss alternative options.

I hope you have found the above information useful and are encouraged to examine your pet’s mouth regularly. The practice team at Richmond Vets are always there to help and advise you.