It’s early. You’re up before the sun, but your loving pup has no concept of time. She’s excited to be awake with you, and for her breakfast, of course. You groggily turn on the coffee maker, thankful that you took the time to prep the grounds and water before bed. The tippy taps and incessant whining makes what to do next—prepare your pup’s breakfast—an easy choice. You reach down for her food bowl, and are completely unprepared for her huge kiss. You grimace at her foul breath, and put your coffee on hold until you’ve washed your face.

Sound familiar? Pet owners commonly complain about their pet’s bad breath, but do nothing because they think it’s normal. In fact, bad breath is one of the first signs of dental disease, which can lead to serious complications like heart and kidney disease. Every pet owner will have to deal with dental disease at some point, because more than 70% of dogs and cats have some degree of dental disease by the time they’re 3 years old. Here’s what you need to know about this common problem.

What causes dental disease in pets?

Millions of tiny bacteria are constantly present in your pet’s mouth, and they can cause a big problem. Bacteria feed on the small pieces of food left behind after your pup’s meal and deposit a substance called plaque that, fortunately, can be removed easily with a toothbrush. However, if not brushed off after about 24 hours, the plaque becomes tartar, an extremely hard substance that can be removed only by specialized dental equipment. If left untreated, plaque builds up and bacteria can grow on the teeth below the gumline. This can cause inflammation and sensitivity, and lead to periodontal disease.

What is periodontal disease in pets?

As dental disease progresses, the periodontal ligament, which holds the tooth in the mouth, becomes inflamed and pulls away from the tooth. As the bacteria advance further down the tooth root, they can cause abscesses, tooth-root infection, tooth loosening, and bone loss.

What are periodontal disease signs in pets?

Pet owners are often surprised to learn their pet has dental disease, because there are few outward signs. Pets are experts at hiding illness, and dental disease is often advanced when they finally exhibit signs, such as:

  • Bad breath
  • Chattering, or teeth grinding
  • Trouble eating
  • Reluctance to eat
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Tooth-root abscess

What can I do if my pet has dental disease?

Once plaque and tartar have set in, a professional dental cleaning under general anesthesia is best, and safest. While your pet is anesthetized, we will clean her teeth, evaluate her mouth visually and with dental X-rays to find problems below the gumline, remove any loose or broken teeth, if necessary, and then polish her teeth, leaving her with a sparkling, fresh mouth.

How can I keep my pet’s teeth clean at home after a professional cleaning?

You must institute a daily tooth-brushing regimen at home to reduce plaque buildup and prevent tartar. You may find brushing your pet’s teeth intimidating at first, but with baby steps, pet-friendly toothpaste and brushes, and positive reinforcement, most pets—including cats—learn to tolerate tooth brushing. If not, many products, including prescription dental diets, chews, water and food additives, and oral sprays and wipes, can help. Use only products bearing the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s seal, because only those are proven to slow plaque and tartar buildup.

Because every dog and cat will develop dental disease during their lifetime, every pet owner must understand dental disease, and know how to recognize it, treat it, and prevent it. Your pet will be happy, healthy, and pain free—and you will find her surprise kisses much more pleasant.

If it’s time for your pet’s dental check-up or professional cleaning, make an appointment at our clinic.