November 15, 2023

Dental disease in cats and dogs

Written by Dr Nina Bos of Tauranga, Te Puna, Katikati, Papamoa Village Vets

One of the most common problems we see in small animals is dental disease. Most owner do not realise their pet’s teeth are in less-than-optimal condition and we usually pick these problems up during visits for other reasons. It is common for the vet to say something along the lines of “I know this isn’t why you’re here today but Fluffy could do with a dental”.

Animals are very good at hiding dental pain and discomfort and many will continue to eat despite having considerable gum inflammation, tooth infections, or broken or loose teeth. Signs you might see include bad breath, eating on one side, preferring soft food, drooling, or facial swelling. Dental disease can make animals unwell or worsen other health conditions.

The nature of cats and dogs means we cannot just say “open up” – it is therefore quite difficult to get an accurate idea of what is going on in an animal’s mouth, especially at the back. We also cannot see what is going on under the gum line. We therefore use general anaesthesia to fully assess the mouth. At this point, we can take full mouth x-rays and probe the teeth for pockets. These tests can tell us if there is bone loss, leading to loose and painful teeth. As a rule of thumb, we can see one third of the problems in the consult room, one third of the problems with the animal under anaesthetic, and one third of the problems from x-rays.

By the time most animals are presented to us for dentals they are older and have quite bad teeth. This means that they end up needing much longer procedures, up to five hours, which can be hard on their bodies, not to mention hard on the wallet. You wouldn’t go for five years without brushing your teeth or going to the dentist and similarly, cats and dogs need regular dental care to minimize the need for long dental procedures later in life.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the dental health of your pet, please call us on 0800 838 7267.