Dr Christina Snow

Dental disease; no one likes bad breath

Dental disease is the most common disease found in our pets. It has been long known that good dental health has flow on effects to other aspects of health. Certainly in people, a healthy mouth has been associated with an increased life expectancy, and this also applies to our pets.

Why do we need to look after our pets' teeth?

For the teeth: calculus and plaque build up will eventually lead to infection within the roots of your pet’s teeth. This is called periodontal disease and can be very painful. When this occurs the bones surrounding the tooth root rots away, and the only treatment is often removal of the affected teeth.

For the heart: Calculus and plaque in the mouth harbor bacteria. These bacteria are then exposed to the blood supply of the gums, are transported around the body and often lodge on the valves of the heart. This leads to microinfections that are undetectable until permanent heart disease is present.

For the kidneys: Similarly to the heart, the delicate structures within the kidney are often infected with bacteria from the mouth. These microinfections are also undetectable until permanent changes to the kidney function have occurred.

The heart and kidneys are often the organs affected in this way, but potentially the spine, joints and other organs can be affected.

How do we look after our pets' teeth?


If brushing your dog or cats teeth is an option for your family, we would highly recommend it, as often as you can! With some patience it will become an easy and fun part of the daily routine for your pet.

Our top tips are:

Have your pet's teeth check by a Vet first, so we can check for any pre-existing inflammation, tartar or potential pain that could interfere with pet's readiness to accept your increase in dental care. And once you have the go-ahead...

Go slow! Having fingers and brushes in their mouth is quite foreign to most pets.

Make sure lots of rewards are used! This needs to be fun experience for them.

Find a flavor of toothpaste they like! It might be chicken, cheese, beef. It is also important to use a pet toothpaste, free from artificial sweetners that may be toxic to pets but not people.

For each step go slow and repeat it until your pet is comfortable and able to move on to the next stage

1. Introduce the paste, which is often the part they like the most. Let them lick it from your finger and enjoy the taste.

2. Introduce the brush (finger brush or tooth brush)

3. Put the paste they have developed a taste for on the brush. Let them lick it off and enjoy it.

4. Introduce the brush or finger brush to their mouth

5. Smear the toothpaste onto their lips and gums and get used to the sensation.

6. Introduce brushing actions

7. Start with small circles on the teeth and gums. Use the toothpaste. Remember the treats!

8. Work up to brushing all the teeth and the gums. Ideally the teeth brushing routine will include all surfaces of all the upper and lower teeth, and the gums. Small circles are ideal.

Congratulations! Repeat this daily or to be effective at a minimum every second day.


A balanced dry diet that is targetted to mechanically reduce plaque can be very helpful in keeping teeth and gums clean and healthy. There are many options on the market such as the Hills T/D diet. Speak to the nurses and vets in the clinic about which one is best for your pet.

Some people like to feed bones, others don’t. This is a personal choice depending on the family and the pet. If feeding bones for all pets we recommend the raw bone is big enough to chew on, but not to chew up. Often when pets swallow bones or fragments of the bone is when negative issues occur such as impactions or bowel perforations. If giving bones, always give them raw and supervise your pets incase they get them stuck and take the bones away after 48 hours as they will begin to get brittle. Check teeth regularly for any fractures although this is rare.

There are also lots of non-bone chews available depending on your pet. Think about pigs ears, raw hides, dehydrated Kangaroo tails, Ora Vet chews and plastic chews like ‘Kongs’ and ‘Nyla’ bones. These all aim to provide mechanical abrasion without the risk that bones can carry if fed to your pet.

Water additives and medicated gels are designed to coat the teeth with a substance to prevent tartar build up. These, in combination with regular brushing and diet change can all help to reduce dental disease.

Signs of dental diease in the cat or dog:

Does your pet have bad breath? This is just one sign of dental disease you might notice at home.

Others include: discoloured teeth or gums, drooling, bleeding gums, wobbly teeth, receding gums, or in very severe cases not wanting to eat or chew. Sometimes a lump might appear under the skin beneath an eye! And this means that a tooth could be rotting.

If the dental disease is severe enough, we would recommend your pet has a general anaesthetic and clean and or removal of badly affected teeth.

The dental procedure:

A dental cleaning for your pet is very similar to your own dental cleaning with the hygienist. The only difference is they undergo a general anaesthesia.

Many people are concerned by the anaesthesia aspect of the dental cleaning. We understand you are worried about your pets but rest assured that the general anaesthesia used is necessary and managed with utmost care each and every time. Anaestheisa is also good for your pet – the cleaning uses high pitched instruments that can cause stress and without the anaesthesia a detailed cleaning including under the gingiva can not be performed.

Once the pet is safely asleep under anaesthesia we begin the dental procedure.

First a comprehensive dental exam is performed. This includes assessing every tooth for signs of periodontal disease and damage. Next, each tooth is cleaned using first an ultrasonic powered descaler, then hand instruments and lastly is polished to protect the enamel surface. If concerns are present, for example decaying teeth or damage, radiographs can be taken or the teeth removed as needed. For patients who need dental extractions this will then be performed and medications given as needed. For patients who require cleaning only, they are then recovered and spend the afternoon on an intravenous drip before going home to their family.




Glenelg Vet
597 Anzac Highway, Glenelg
South Australia 5045
Ph: 08 82951312
fax: 08 8376 4866

Opening Hours
Monday-Friday 8.00am - 6.30pm
Saturday 9.00am - 2.00pm

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