Cats and dogs: an overview

Dental disease is very common in both cats and dogs. It most commonly causes the following symptoms:

  • Changes in behaviour (e.g. not playing as much, being ‘quieter’, feeling ‘grumpy’)
  • Pain
  • Red gums
  • Bad breath
  • Feeling of tiredness/slowing down (often mistaken for signs of ageing)

Dental disease can cause problems with eating but this is quite rare.

If not treated, the bacteria in the mouth associated with dental disease can enter the blood stream and can cause disease in the heart, kidneys and liver (and ultimately, shorten the lifespan of your pet).

The most common dental disease we see in dogs and cats is periodontal disease (often referred to as gum disease). Plaque (an invisible film containing bacteria) builds up on the teeth and gums. This then leads to inflammation of the gums and supporting structures of the tooth, the formation of tartar (or calculus) and, if left untreated, gum recession, loss of the bone supporting the tooth, loss of the tooth or the requirement for tooth extraction.

Maintaining dental health is vital for the health and happiness of your pet.

(Photo Courtesy of Petsmile Month)

What can we do to keep your pet’s teeth healthy?

Come in for a health check with your pet (at least once a year). We will always look at the teeth and give you advice on how to keep the mouth healthy. We can give you advice about preventative dental care such as teeth brushing or encouraging your pet to eat certain kinds of diets or chews.

Further information

Treatment of periodontal disease

If we find that your pet is suffering from dental disease then your pet’s teeth will need descaling and polishing*. The equipment we need to use to do this is identical to that used by your dentist. To allow cleaning of the teeth with an ‘ultrasonic’ scaler, your pet will require a general anaesthetic.

*Please note: It is very important that teeth are polished after the tartar has been removed. Removal of tartar will always leave small scratches on the enamel and if not polished, these scratches will allow tartar to build up again more quickly. Never try to remove tartar yourself. Only Veterinary Surgeons or qualified Veterinary Nurses under the direct supervision of a Veterinary Surgeon should perform dental work on your pet.


Dental extractions may be necessary if teeth are broken or very loose. When teeth break or are fractured in cats or dogs they cause pain exactly as they would if you broke a tooth yourself. The teeth of cats and dogs are very firmly attached to the jaw bones (because they are carnivores) and many of the teeth have more than one root. It is frequently necessary for us to ‘cut’ the teeth into sections to allow us to extract them. When healthy teeth are fractured, they can be diffcult to remove, requiring us to do a ‘surgical extraction’ where we create a ‘gum flap’, remove bone and put dissolvable stitches in the gums to speed up the healing process and reduce pain.

Restorative dental treatment

In some cases, root canal treatment can be offered as an alternative to removal of a fractured tooth. This has the advantage of preserving the tooth and is particularly suitable as an alternative treatment for fractured healthy canine teeth in dogs. Root canal work is usually more expensive than extracting the teeth and requires referral to a veterinary surgeon with further experience in this field.

Specific dental problems in cats

Cats commonly develop ‘dissolving lesions’** in the enamel of their teeth. The enamel dissolves exposing the sensitive parts of the tooth which causes pain. Why these lesions develop is not understood. These lesions are not caused by dental decay or ‘cavities’ (which are common in people) but the effects are the same (i.e. pain). Affected teeth should be extracted but it is recommended that the teeth are X-rayed to check if the roots are also involved in the dissolving process. If the roots are found to be involved in the resorptive process then extraction of the roots may not be necessary (this is why having the facility to take dental X-rays in cats, which we have at Daventry Veterinary Clinic, is so important).

(Photo Courtesy of Petsmile Month)

** The official name for these lesions is ‘FORLS’: Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions.

Please note: The above notes serve only as a brief outline of dental disease in the dog and cat. We strongly recommend talking to one of our Veterinary Surgeons for further information and guidance if you think your pet may have any problems with his or her teeth.