Dental Care

Owning a pet carries many responsibilities, not least of which includes looking after their teeth. Sadly, pets cannot brush or floss their own teeth, so we have to do it for them!


Pet animals have different sorts of teeth – incisors (which nibble), canines (which grip and slice) and premolars and molars (which grind).

A tooth’s outer layer is hard enamel, inside this is a layer of dentine, then the inner pulp cavity containing the blood vessels and nerves. The tooth is attached to the gum by a form of cement and a ligament.

Kittens and puppies start to lose their ‘baby’ teeth from the age of 3 months and they normally have all their ‘adult’ teeth by 6 months (cats) or 8 months (dogs). For permanent teeth, dogs usually have 12 incisors, 4 canines and 26 molars/premolars and cats have 12, 4 and 14 respectively.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is very difficult to age an animal accurately by its teeth!


It is very important to practise good dental care at home, to prevent dental disease from starting. There are several ways this can be done:

 Brushing – this is the best way. Use a special soft toothbrush – a plastic ‘finger’ brush works well on cats and small dogs, and double ended brushes work better on larger dogs. Dogs and cats don’t rinse out there mouths therefor it is better to use a toothpaste made specifically for animals. Gradually get them used to having their mouth opened, and build up the time and frequency of brushing slowly. The earlier in life you start the easier it is!

 Diet – generally, dry foods are better for teeth, as the biscuits, when crunched, scrape across the teeth and help to keep them clean. Hills T/D is a prescription diet with specially shaped biscuits to be even more effective. Certain treats are also designed to help with teeth care.


Food and debris builds up in the spaces between the teeth, and bacteria can invade this to form plaque, a soft, almost invisible substance. Minerals deposit in this, to form calculus (tartar), a hard brown substance.

Infection can then develop in the gums (gingivitis, seen as red gums) and then in the surrounding tissues (periodontitis).

Other signs of dental disease include –
 Not eating or difficulty in eating
 Drooling saliva
 Swollen mouth
 Red gums
 Bleeding from mouth
 Discharge from nose
 Tooth loss
 Bad breath


Some other diseases may have signs of dental disease too, e.g.

Bleeding gums may indicate warfarin (rat poison)
Gingivitis in cats may indicate infection with leukaemia (FeLV), immunodeficiency virus (FIV), calici virus etc.
Mouth ulcers may be due to kidney disease
Swellings may be caused by tumours, abscesses etc.

We may therefore need to investigate and rule out these conditions with blood tests, mouth swabs, x-rays etc. before carrying out any dental work


If we diagnose dental disease, we will normally need to carry out a ‘scale and polish’, much the same as in people. Animals need a general anaesthetic as they don’t sit quietly with their mouths open!.

The tartar is removed with an ultrasonic scaler and the teeth are then polished with a paste to slow down the rate of onset of any new dental disease.

We may also need to remove any diseased or broken teeth. Some teeth, e.g. the canines and molars may have very large or multiple roots, and can be very difficult to extract, and may need drilling out or flaps of bone or gum may need to be removed.

Sometimes, if there is bad infection, pets may need to go home on a course of antibiotics.

Post operatively, feed a soft, light diet for a couple of days. You may notice a slight red tinge to the saliva for a few days too. Avoid hard chews, bones etc. for at least a week.

Sometimes, it may be possible to repair a broken tooth and endodontic dental work, crowns, bridging etc. may be possible, but we would need to refer you to a dental specialist for this.


With many of the recent advances in veterinary medicine and surgery, we are able to do more and more to help your pet. Unfortunately this does come at a price and we strongly recommend pet insurance to provide peace of mind.


It is always worth carrying out regular checks on your pet yourself – checking teeth and brushing regularly, looking for sores, lumps, swellings etc.

We do NOT advise that you allow pets to chew stones or sticks as these very commonly can cause nasty mouth injuries!

Please feel free to contact us if you are at all concerned about any aspect of your pet’s health!