Brush Up On Your Pet’s Dental Health


Pet Dental Care 101

Pet Dental Care

Do you know that periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in dogs and cats?  Periodontal disease is the inflammation or infection of some or all of the tooth’s support structures.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), it is estimated that by age three, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease. Can you imagine if you never brushed YOUR teeth?  Yikes.

Luckily, periodontal disease is entirely preventable.  The veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital recommend prevention first and foremost and can provide treatment for those already affected.

The speed at which pets develop periodontal disease and will need periodontal therapy (dental cleanings or oral surgery) depends on many variables including proper home dental care, diet, age, breed, and size of the patient, along with health status and genetic disposition.  Just like humans, some pets are born with better mouths than others.


OK, so Fido has bad breath.  So what?

Nobody wants his or her pet to be in pain or to be sick, right?  Halitosis (bad breath) is not the only repercussion of periodontal disease.  Pets suffering from this condition are sometimes silently living in pain. Additionally, bacteria underneath the gum line can travel to the heart, kidneys, and liver and lead to other serious health problems.  Unfortunately, besides bad breath, there are few signs of the disease that are evident to pet owners.  Here are some things to look for:

Signs of dental disease:

  • Bad breath
  • Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Indications of pain in or around the mouth
  • Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling or dropping food
  • Loss of appetite or refusal to eat

The buildup of plaque can cause gingivitis – inflammation of the gums around the base of the teeth – which can be a constant source of discomfort for your dog or cat.  As the disease progresses, your pet may experience difficulty chewing hard food, as well as drooling excessively, bleeding from the mouth, or difficulty opening/closing the mouth.  Without proper care and treatment, these problems will only worsen.


How is periodontal disease diagnosed?

During your pet’s annual or biannual exam, our veterinarians will check your pet’s teeth and gums for signs of a problem.  Your veterinarian will be to tell you if your pet needs a dental cleaning and polishing.  However, because the majority of the tooth structure lies below the gum line, we cannot fully assess the scope of your pet’s dental disease until your pet receives a full oral exam under anesthesia.


In addition to visual examination, radiographs (x-rays) are an integral part of this full oral exam, allowing your pet’s veterinarian to see if a tooth is beginning to abscess below the gum line or if chronic infection has caused bone loss.  This information allows your pet’s veterinarian to start treatment and spare your pet unnecessary dental pain.  The cleaner the teeth are the healthier the mouth, with less bacteria entering the blood stream and disseminating to the heart, liver, kidneys, and bladder.  Oral health is one of the keys to total body health.


Why does a dentistry procedure require general anesthesia?

When you go to the dentist, while you may not enjoy it, you understand the importance of what’s being done.  Therefore you accept what is happening during a dental procedure.  Our pets cannot understand the benefit of a dental procedure and certainly would not sit still and cooperate.

Anesthesia allows for less stress and less pain for your pet.  Additionally, anesthesia allows us to perform a thorough cleaning because your pet is not moving around and risking injury to him/her or others.  Proper radiographs for assessment by the veterinarian must be taken while the pet is very still, which would be unlikely without anesthesia.

Family Pet Animal Hospital requires blood work for a patient prior to any anesthetic procedure.  This allows our veterinarians to assess the level of risk of anesthesia for your pet and tailor the appropriate combinations of pain relievers, sedatives, injectable anesthesia, and gas anesthesia.  Although anesthesia always carries a degree of risk, modern anesthetics and advanced monitoring equipment greatly minimize this risk.  Generally, the risks to your pet associated with untreated dental disease far outweigh the risks of anesthesia.


What is the prognosis for periodontal disease?

Home oral care for your pet, including daily brushing, can improve his or her dental health, decrease the progression of periodontal disease, and decrease the frequency or even eliminate the need for professional dental cleanings.

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How do I take care of my pet’s teeth?

Daily brushing is the single most important aspect of regular dental care to help prevent dental disease.  In addition to daily brushing, dental treats, toys, and therapeutic diets specifically formulated to help manage your pet’s dental health can be part of your pet’s home care to delay the need for a dental procedure.


Dos and Don’ts of at-home dental care for your pet:

  • DO try to perform at-home dental care at least once daily. (Link to how-to video below.)
  • DO use these tips to teach your pet to enjoy having his/her teeth brushed.
  • DO use the resources listed at the bottom of this page to help you with proper oral care for your pet.
  • DON’T use human toothpaste for your pet. It contains ingredients that are harmful for your pet.  We recommend C.E.T. Enzymatic Toothpaste, which is specifically formulated for pets and comes in multiple flavors.
  • DON’T bother attempting to clean the side of teeth facing inside as natural saliva and friction from the tongue cleans this surface on their own.
  • DON’T let your dog chew on cow hooves or bones as these are too hard and they may end up damaging your pet’s teeth.


We look forward to working together with you in the prevention of dental disease and the maintenance of optimal oral and full-body health for your pet!


More resources on pet dental care:

Pet Dental Care 101

Teach Your Pet to Enjoy Having His/Her Teeth Brushed

Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) – Approved list of products to help control plaque and calculus

Videos – Brushing your cat’s teeth

Video – Brushing your dog’s teeth

Dental Care