Many pet owners are skilled at recognizing when their furry pals are sick or not themselves, especially if they have obvious signs like vomiting or a fever. However, pets, especially cats, often mask signs of illness, and many show only subtle changes in the early disease stages. Dental disease is a common medical condition in pets, but many pet owners are unaware their pets are affected. More than 80% of pets will have some form of dental disease by the time they are 3 years old. Additionally, pets with dental disease have increased risk of inflammation or infection in their kidneys, liver, heart, and brain. Caring for your pet’s teeth requires a team approach with your family veterinarian. Our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center team wants to ensure that pet owners understand what dental disease means for their pet, and the steps they can take to prevent this painful condition. 

Common dental conditions in pets

Pets can be affected by many similar dental conditions as humans—except pets rarely get cavities—and early recognition and treatment is critical to prevent serious dental problems that can lead to painful tooth loss, or surgery. Dental disease can occur in any part of your pet’s mouth, including the teeth, gums, and supporting oral structures. Common dental problems in pets include: 

  • Bad breath (i.e., halitosis) Contrary to popular belief, smelly dog or cat breath is not normal. Bad breath is the most common, easily recognized sign that your pet has dental disease, and is caused by trapped bacteria around your pet’s teeth and gums.
  • Plaque and tartar Tan or brown discoloration on your pet’s teeth is a result of plaque and tartar buildup. Only hours after eating, plaque hardens into a cement-like, harmful tartar that allows bacteria to become trapped in and around your pet’s gumline. Deposits are easily visible above the gumline, but can also be present below, and a veterinary exam and dental X-rays are required to to diagnose and treat this problem. 
  • Stomatitis This painful condition is a result of inflammation of your pet’s oral mucous membranes that causes swollen, discolored oral tissue and bad breath. Stomatitis is more common in cats, especially those who have had a calicivirus infection. 
  • Gingivitis Pets with gingivitis will have swollen gums that are red or purple instead of the normal coral-pink color, because of inflammation caused by plaque and tartar.
  • Retained baby teeth Most pets lose their baby teeth before they reach 6 months of age. However, some pet’s baby teeth (i.e., deciduous teeth), do not fall out on their own. Retained teeth can lead to crowding in your pet’s mouth and problems with their adult teeth, but are easily removed during an anesthetic dental procedure. 
  • Periodontal disease This progressive dental disease is the most common dental disease in pets, with small-breed dogs the most commonly affected. Periodontal disease is painful, and can affect the gums, ligaments, and bones, and lead to bone and tooth loss without treatment. 

Other dental problems in pets include abscesses, broken teeth, cysts or tumors, broken jawbone, tooth misalignment, and palate defects. 

Dental disease signs in pets

Early recognition of dental disease signs and immediate treatment, which may include surgery, are vital for a successful outcome. Most pets affected with dental disease will continue to eat and behave normally, so ensure you monitor your pet for subtle signs. Signs that indicate a veterinary exam is needed include:

  • Bad breath
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Excessive drooling
  • Behavior changes (i.e., irritability, or increased hiding in cats)
  • Nasal discharge
  • Blood on chew toys
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Swelling around the mouth or face
  • Abnormal chewing, or dropping food while eating
  • Reluctance to eat hard treats or food

Dental disease prevention in pets

Yearly, or more frequent, preventive care exams are key to ensuring your pet’s dental health is on the right track. During their wellness visit, your pet will receive a comprehensive oral evaluation, because the same way you visit the dentist twice a year, your pet needs a similar level of monitoring and care. Dental disease often occurs below the gumline, so your veterinarian may recommend yearly anesthetic dental evaluations and cleanings to prevent this progressive disease. General anesthesia allows your veterinarian to perform on your pet a safe, pain-free, and thorough dental evaluation and cleaning , which includes:

  • Dental X-rays to examine the tooth roots and surrounding structures
  • A dental cleaning using specialized instruments to clean and polish teeth
  • Repair or extraction of loose or damaged teeth

Incorporating a home dental care routine is the best way to prevent dental disease in between veterinary visits. Twice daily toothbrushing is the gold standard for home pet dental care, but only three times per week is beneficial, according to the National Pet Dental Health Association. Consistency and patience are critical when establishing a new routine for your pet. Always use a pet-safe toothpaste approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), since most human toothpastes contain ingredients that can be deadly to pets. Never force your pet to accept toothbrushing, and consider giving your furry pal daily VOHC-approved dental chews, treats, or oral rinses if they resist. 

Our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center team is here to answer all your pet dental health questions. Call our office to schedule your pet for a dental health examination and prevent them suffering with painful dental problems.