Dental Care for Your Pets


The most common disease diagnosed in the consult room is gingivitis, or periodontal disease. Just about every dog and cat in the world will develop tartar and dental disease if they are lucky enough to grow old enough to get it. So do not ever feel like a failed pet owner if the vet mentions that your dog or cat might need a dental, it happens to just about everyone sooner or later! Luckily, dental disease is easily remedied if you act early and manage things properly from an early age. Modern veterinary medicine and comfortable home living has more than doubled the life expectancy of both dogs and cats, which means we have to take care of the chompers for a much longer time than what they were originally designed for.


The simplest thing you can do to help prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar in your pet’s mouth, is to make sure you feed a good quality diet. Most premium brands of pet food have remarkable technologies built into them to prevent and in some cases even treat dental problems. This includes things like specific sugar molecules that inhibit plaqueforming bacteria, to the physical shape of the kibble and the alignment of the fibres in the kibble to clean the teeth as the animal bites into it. Brands like Hills and Royal Canin have off the shelf dental care ranges, but for more serious dental problems, your vet might put your pet onto a prescription dental diet. It is also a good idea to steer clear of wet foods and table scraps, as they promote plaque and tartar amazingly quickly. This does not mean you can’t spoil your pet now and again, but don’t make a habit of it every day.


Both dogs and cats clean their teeth naturally by chewing on things. Unfortunately, we have selectively bred them to have much weaker jaws than their wild canine and feline ancestors, and a lot of them have really badly aligned teeth due to the twisted anatomy we have bred into a lot of our modern breeds. This means that they are not as efficient at keeping their teeth clean as they used to be thousands of years ago. A lot of people will use bones as a natural form of dental care, and some vets even promote the feeding of bones. Whereas chewing on bones does clean the teeth to some extent, it also comes with risks. Dogs who chew on bones frequently will wear down the hard enamel on their teeth very quickly, exposing the dentine underneath, which is much more susceptible to plaque and tartar formation. A lot of dogs break teeth on bones, resulting in a painfully exposed dental pulp. Apart from the effects on the teeth themselves, bones are also associated with a number of other diseases that may land land your dog in the hospital.

These include scary diseases like life threatening polyradiculoneuritis – a neurological disease caused by bacteria on chicken carcasses, and haemorrhagic gastroenteritis – a common and rather bloody diarrhoea that may also become life threatening if not treated properly. So as far as bones and other hard dental chews are concerned, yes, they may help, but there are significant risks. There is a number of safe and far more effective dental chews available on the market. Have a chat with your vet about an appropriate choice, as some of these products are very much superior to others. Some dogs may require daily dental chews, whereas others will maintain fairly clean teeth with a chew once a week or once a fortnight. In general, smaller dogs will require more frequent treats than large ones.


Some owners manage to brush their pets’ teeth on a daily basis. If you are not one of these, do not despair, you are not alone! Most owners do not brush daily. Now, it is absolutely beneficial to brush frequently, but even occasional brushing can help. I usually don’t try to push an owner from zero to one hundred one day. If you have neglected brushing your dog’s teeth, just start with one brush in a week. It is a small victory, but one  that will certainly make a difference! In order to make your life easier, make sure you have the right tools. There is a variety of pet toothbrush designs available on the market. This is not a one size fits all situation. You might have to try two or three brushes to find the one that works for you and your pet. The same goes for tooth paste. One flavour is certainly not to the liking of everybody, so you may have to try a few before you find your pet’s favourite. If the tooth brushes in your local pet store are not to your liking, have a look at the finger brushes sold in the baby section of your local pharmacy. I often get asked if there are other solutions that do not involve brushing. If your pet is less than cooperative with brushing, you might want to consider a mouth wash or gel. These can be applied with a finger or straight from the bottle. This is often the only intervention that is practical to apply to cats in the home environment.

Ask your vet to assess your dog’s teeth at least twice a year. The earlier you address the issue, the cheaper and more effective the solution will be. You don’t have to suffer the torture of dog breath when you hug your pup! 

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