Our furry friends often show their affection with wagging tails and wet kisses. Chances are, you have turned away from your adoring pet’s slobbery mouth because of a less than pleasant odor. Can you imagine if humans went their entire lives without brushing their teeth or having professional cleanings? Most likely, humans would lose their teeth and have bad breath, and the same is true for our pets. Dental disease is the most common medical condition affecting our four-legged companions. In fact, more than 80% of pets will have some form of dental disease by the time they are 3 years old. Regular dental care is a critical component of regular preventive veterinary care for your pet. Read our Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital team’s answers to common questions about dental disease and care for your pet. 

What is dental disease in pets?

Dental disease affects the teeth, gums, and structures that support and surround your pet’s teeth that, similar to humans, are affected by plaque buildup. Plaque contains bacteria and food particles that harden and form tartar when left on the teeth. Tartar is easily visible above the gumline, but can only be seen on a veterinary dental exam when below the gumline. Tartar below your pet’s gum can lead to infection, and may damage the surrounding bone in severe cases. The most common dental condition in pets is periodontal disease, which can lead to severe pain and various medical problems without treatment. Oral bacteria can also travel through the bloodstream and cause organ damage and life-threatening infections in the kidneys, liver, or heart. 

What are dental disease signs in pets?

The most common and easily recognizable dental disease sign in your pet is bad breath. Dog or cat breath should not be associated with a bad odor, unless they recently ate something with a strong smell. Other dental disease signs include:

  • Abnormal or difficulty chewing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Dropping food from the mouth while eating
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Blood on chew toys
  • Swelling around the mouth
  • Pain in or around the mouth
  • Behavior changes (i.e., irritability)
  • Nasal discharge

Causes for dental problems may not be obvious, especially if you are not comfortable handling or looking in your pet’s mouth. When possible, carefully open your pet’s mouth to acclimate them to being handled, and help ensure that exams are less stressful. Unlike humans, cavities are rarely a problem for pets, although common dental disease causes include:

  • Broken teeth or roots
  • Infected or abscessed teeth
  • Cysts or tumors
  • Palate defects (i.e., cleft palate)
  • Misalignment of the teeth
  • Broken jaw bone

Why are regular veterinary dental exams and cleanings important?

During your pet’s yearly preventive care exams, your veterinarian will look inside your pet’s mouth. Oral exams may be scary for pets and their owners but, fortunately, our Fear Free certified veterinarians are experts in making examining your pet’s mouth a low-stress experience. If your pet has bad breath or other dental disease signs, a professional examination and cleaning under anesthesia may be recommended. We understand that many pet parents worry about their pet being anesthetized, but our team uses advanced monitoring tools to ensure your pet is always safe under our care. Anesthesia allows your veterinarian to perform an in-depth examination of your pet’s mouth, which may include:

  • Dental X-rays to evaluate bone health, and examine tooth roots below the gumline 
  • A dental cleaning using specialized tools to scale and polish teeth
  • Tooth extraction, or repair of damaged teeth

How can dental disease be prevented in pets?


Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the most effective way to prevent tartar buildup and slow dental disease progression. Brushing may also decrease the need for yearly or more frequent veterinary cleanings. Ideally, brush your pet’s teeth once daily, although three times a week can effectively decrease tartar. Guidelines for brushing your pet’s teeth include:

  • Always use a pet-safe toothpaste approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). A variety of flavors, such as chicken, beef or mint, are available.
  • Never use human toothpaste, which contains ingredients dangerous to pets. 
  • It is helpful to first use the toothbrush as a spoon to feed your pet treats, so they form a positive association with it.
  • If your pet is not used to having their teeth brushed, there will be a slow learning curve for them. Consider this another training opportunity between you and your pet. 
  • Home dental care should be a complement to veterinary cleanings, not a replacement. 

For additional help, check out our video on brushing your pet’s teeth

Some pets may resist tooth brushing, but daily use of dental wipes, pads, and rinses are good alternatives. Our online pharmacy carries a variety of VOHC-approved dental care products for your pet. 

Our Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital team salutes our superhero pet parents who care for their pet’s teeth at home, because we understand that can be a challenge. Call our office if you have any questions about your pet’s dental care, or to make an appointment for a professional dental cleaning.