by Nicole McCray

When was the last time you thought about your pet’s dental care? If you’re like most pet owners, it’s probably been a while, or maybe not at all. And, that’s a big mistake. Providing proper dental care for your pet is just as important for his overall health as exercise, nutrition, and regular veterinary care.

Why Dental Care is so Important for Your Pet’s Overall Health

Just like us, periodontal disease in pets occurs when bacteria, plaque, and tartar accumulate on the teeth and become trapped beneath the gum line. This condition can be extremely painful for your pet. If left untreated, the infection may spread to the socket of the tooth, causing it to loosen or even fall out.

Even worse, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause major damage to your pet’s vital organs, such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys. According to one NYC-based veterinary dentist, “…over 68% of all pets over the age of three have some form of periodontal or dental disease.” 

Early detection improves the prognosis for your pet dramatically, and it may prevent permanent damage to your pet’s teeth, jawbone, and organs. Sadly, most pets adapt to the pain and don’t show any outward signs, so their owners may not realize there’s a problem until the damage becomes irreversible. 

Warning Signs of Dental Disease in Pets

Since dental disease develops gradually, it often goes undetected by pet owners until the vet points it out during an annual visit. But there is one outward sign that’s very obvious and shouldn’t be dismissed. Extremely foul breath is not normal, and it’s one of the most often overlooked signs of early dental disease in pets. If your pet’s breath is so bad it makes you gag, it’s time to get in touch with your vet!

Here are some other signs of dental disease every pet owner should be aware of:

  • Discolored or brown teeth
  • Dark red or bleeding gums
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Sores or bumps in the mouth
  • Refusal to eat hard food, but eating soft food eagerly
  • Rubbing at the face or mouth
  • Loss of interest in chew toys

If you notice any of these signs, call your vet and schedule a dental evaluation right away.

Veterinary Dental Cleaning Procedure for Dogs and Cats

During a professional dental cleaning, the veterinarian will examine your pet’s mouth carefully. He will look for any growths or wounds inside the mouth and note any loose or missing teeth. The vet will also take a set of dental x-rays to evaluate the condition for the teeth and roots below the gumline.

Any accumulated plaque and tartar will be scaled away from the teeth and under the gumline. Then, the vet will check for signs of periodontal disease and gum tissue detachment and evaluate the overall health of your pet’s teeth. If tooth or crown fractures, abscesses, or other signs of infection are found, the vet will treat them as needed. Loose or broken teeth will be addressed, and in some cases, removal of the tooth may be necessary. 

Once medical treatments have been completed, the teeth are polished to make it more difficult for bacteria to stick to the teeth, slowing down future plaque buildup. The entire procedure is done under anesthesia so that your pet doesn’t experience pain or stress. This also keeps the pet completely immobile, allowing the vet to be very thorough in his examination and treatment. 

Your vet may recommend bloodwork and other prescreening tests before the procedure to ensure your pet is healthy enough to receive anesthesia. Most pets should have their teeth professionally cleaned every 1 to 3 years. Your vet will examine your pet’s teeth during his annual wellness visit and make recommendations based on those observations.

At-Home Dental Care for Your Pet

Providing at-home dental care for your pet is crucial for preventing plaque buildup on the teeth. Your pet’s teeth should be brushed daily with a VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) approved toothpaste. (Human toothpaste may contain ingredients that are toxic to pets, so it should never be used on dogs or cats.)

If your dog or cat won’t allow you to brush his teeth, there are alternatives. Your vet may recommend a special kind of pet food that helps to prevent tartar buildup. Water additives, dental treats, and dental chews are also available to help reduce plaque and tartar buildup without brushing. You can find a list of the most effective products for home dental care on the VOHC website.

Keep in mind that at-home dental care techniques can only prevent plaque and tartar from forming on the surface of your pet’s teeth. They can’t remove existing plaque on the teeth or buildup under the gumline. At-home dental care will be more effective if your pet’s teeth have been professionally cleaned first.


Taking care of your pet’s teeth is essential for his health and happiness. If you are unsure about the state of your pet’s dental health or need instruction on how to care for your pet’s teeth at home, give your vet a call.

About the Author

Nicole is a die-hard animal lover who has worked in pet care for years. She is a former vet technician, a dog mom to her two rescue pups, and she grew up living and working at her family’s pet boarding facility. She loves using her writing talents to share the insight she’s learned throughout her career in the hopes that her knowledge can help other pet parents out there!


Bond Vet: //

 Pet Health Network: //

Veterinary Oral Health Council: //