Pets Need Dental Care Too

Just as we all have to look after our own teeth to prevent dental disease, our pets need dental care too. While in humans the most common problem is decay or cavities, in dogs and cats the most common problem is gum disease. The gums protect the underlying tissues and bone that anchor and support the teeth in your pet’s mouth. Gum disease is very common in cats and dogs, affecting > 80% of them over the age of 4 years.

If we don’t look after our pets' teeth they will start to develop bad breath and oral pain. If ignored then your pet's teeth will start to become loose and may eventually fall out, not to mention the discomfort and effect this will have on your pet's quality of life.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease, or periodontal disease is caused by the bacterial infection that builds up on plaque. Plaque is an invisible film of food particles and saliva that accumulates on teeth over time. If not removed this plaque will calcify and turn into tartar, which is the yellow material that you may be able to see on your pet's teeth.

How do I know if my pet has dental disease?

Some or all of the following signs may be observed:

  • Smelly breath
  • Discoloured teeth
  • Tartar – a yellow/brown build up of material caked onto the teeth
  • Red gums or bleeding from the mouth
  • Difficulty eating or chewing on one side of the mouth only
  • Excessive drooling
  • Broken teeth

Why is it important to treat/prevent gum disease in pets?

  • Hygiene and reduction of bad breath
  • Tartar has billions of bacteria in it which can relocate to other areas of the body and cause infections in the kidneys or the heart valves. Breathing the bacteria in can cause pneumonia.
  • Gum disease causes dental pain, and if you have ever suffered from that you’ll know it’s not pleasant. 

How do I prevent gum disease?

There are many options available and we need to tailor what we use to suit both your pet and also yourself. As an example some dogs will gnaw on a chew for hours while others will attempt to ingest in one bite – hence not doing a lot for the teeth and risking stomach or intestinal blockage. 

Some of the options are:

Special dental diets:

These are diets designed to either physically rub against the teeth as your pet chews or to break down tartar with added enzymes. Most animals like these diets.

  • Hills Science Diet Vet Essentials biscuits

The pieces of dry food are much larger than average and do not shatter the moment they are bitten into like most dry food. Because they do not shatter they rub against the teeth thus helping to clean away plaque and prevent tartar accumulation.

  • Hills Science Diet t/d biscuits

The “tooth diet” (t/d) from Hills uses the same principles as the Vet Essentials dry food but is even more effective. The individual biscuits act like a toothbrush, scraping the surfaces of the teeth while your pet eats. This is the diet of choice for keeping your pets teeth clean in our opinion, particularly if your pet has needed a scale and polish in the past. 

Things to chew:

There are many products available and we would caution you in regards to the use of several of them. The opaque nylabones are very hard and are not recommended as they can break your pet’s teeth. 

  • Greenies Pet Chews

These are an interesting new product that most cats and dogs really like. Greenies contain natural ingredients including chlorophyll (giving them their green colour) and no synthetic preservatives. They mainly work to keep the breath fresh but will help to slow tartar accumulation. Do not give a larger size or a greater number than that recommended for your pet by the manufacturers.

  • Raw bones

While most animals really enjoy them, bones can cause significant problems such as intestinal blockages, stomach upsets, pancreatitis, constipation and broken teeth. Broken teeth can cause pulp cavity exposure and tooth death and often leads to tooth root abscesses forming. Due to these risks we cannot completely endorse feeding bones as a part of routine dental care.


  • Raw beef strips

In cats, providing ‘stir fry’ style strips of raw beef encourages chewing and can be effective as an alternative.

  • Raw chicken wings and chicken necks

These are suitable for cats to chew on and rarely cause problems in dogs.

  • Tennis balls and kongs

Please do not let your dog chew on tennis balls for extended periods of time, or ideally ever. The fibrous outer layer causes a lot of friction which wears down the teeth. This can occur quite rapidly and wear the teeth right down to the gum line. Kongs are rubber chew toys that will not wear away your pet’s teeth. You can also stuff them with food to keep your pet interested in them. Please use kongs or rubber balls and NOT tennis balls.

Mouthwashes and food additives:

  • Hexarinse

An oral antibacterial rinse applied directly to the gums, which attaches and lasts for about 6-8hours after each use. By killing bacteria it stops the formation of plaque and tartar.

If used long term it will result in a slight brown discolouration of the teeth. This is removable with a scale and polish and it is certainly better to have healthy slightly stained teeth than diseased painful teeth.

  • Mavlab Dental Spray Gel

Very similar to Hexarinse, although is an oral antibacterial spray gel as opposed to rinse. It is the treatment of choice for significant periodontal disease.

  • Plaque Off

Is a powder sprinkled on your pet’s food daily. It is absorbed through the intestines into the bloodstream and when the unique actives reach the saliva they prevent oral bacteria from producing plaque and the ability of it to stick to the surface of the tooth. 

  • Healthy Mouth Water Additive

This is the newest and most innovative product currently available and is simply added to your pet’s drinking water. There is no alcohol or synthetic ingredients and is safe for pets to ingest. Approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, Healthy Mouth is available in both 250mls and 500mls. It is effective at reducing plaque and tartar build up and is used as a preventative, particularly after a scale and polish has been carried out. 

Brushing your pet’s teeth:

Brushing is the gold standard for keeping your pets teeth clean. It is by far the most effective technique.

Although some pets will not accept you brushing their teeth, most animals will learn to tolerate it, and even enjoy it, because it involves attention from you and a treat afterwards.

Guidelines for brushing your pet’s teeth:

  • Ideally start young, 8-12 weeks of age is ideal. Not because they need the brushing at this age, but by brushing regularly then they will become familiar with the procedure by the time the permanent teeth appear at 4-6 months of age.
  • The first step is to get your pet used to and relaxed about you working in their mouth. Make it fun for the both of you and take things slowly. Handle their muzzle and lips initially and then start rubbing their teeth and gums with your fingers. You can rub some stock or canned food on their gums to keep them happy.
  • Next use a washcloth or gauze swab, wrapped around the end of your finger and flavoured as above, to gently rub against the teeth.
  • Then start using a soft toothbrush to brush the teeth. A soft children’s or a paediatric toothbrush is often fine or use one of our veterinary brushes. Initially you can use a finger brush to help with the training. Hold the brush at a 45 degree angle to the tooth and brush back and forth or from gum to tooth tip. Brushing the tongue side of the teeth is less critical than the outer surface. Use the stock or canned food on the brush. Make it a game and always give a treat after each brush.
  • Finally graduate to regular brushing with a special pet toothpaste and pet toothbrush.
  • Brushing should ideally be done daily or at least every second day.

The manual effect of the brush is the most important factor, so although ideally pet toothpaste should be used it is not critical. DO NOT USE HUMAN TOOTHPASTE, it is not supposed to be swallowed and they hate the taste. Pet toothpastes are available at Cherrybrook Vet Hospital.

It is inadvisable to start brushing if your pet already has dental disease, as this could cause serious damage to the gum and pain. So before starting to brush your pet's mouth it should be checked by one of our vets and any dental disease treated.

By following a consistent home-care program, you will greatly improve your pet’s dental health. This will mean fewer professional cleanings, less tooth loss and a happier, healthier pet. 

How do I know if my pet’s teeth need treatment?

A dental examination by one of the vets at Cherrybrook Vet will determine whether your pet may require a scale and polish under anaesthesia. Although an anaesthetic is required to treat your pet’s teeth, fortunately the drugs available today make the anaesthetic risk less than the risk posed to your pet through dental neglect.

What is involved in having my pet's teeth scaled and polished? 

Proper cleaning of the teeth requires general anaesthesia in pets so that plaque and tartar can be removed properly. Take food away from your pet at 8pm the night before the dental is scheduled, but have water freely available. Bring your dog or cat to us between 8.15am-9am in the morning. A pre-anaesthetic blood test will generally be recommended to determine the health of the liver and kidneys prior to the anaesthetic.

Your pet will be anaesthetised, an oral examination and assessment is performed to differentiate healthy from diseased teeth and then the teeth scaled and polished. Dental radiography and extractions may be required if teeth have advanced periodontal disease and are not salvageable. It is VITAL that you are contactable during the day if your pet is having a dental procedure as we may need to speak to you about the extractions.

Scaling removes the plaque and tartar both above and below the gum line. This is done with sophisticated ultrasonic cleaning equipment and dental instruments.

Polishing smoothes the surface of the teeth, making them more resistant to subsequent plaque accumulation.

Extractions remove rotten teeth that are not salvageable.

Flushing removes dislodged tartar from the teeth and helps to remove the bacteria from the oral cavity.

The extraction sites are usually sutured using a fine dissolvable suture material and pain relief given. If multiple extractions are required, your pet may need to stay in hospital overnight to be kept confined and be given further pain relief to keep him or her comfortable. In some cases, a course of antibiotics will be prescribed to treat any oral infection. A check up is recommended 7-10 days after a dental that has involved any extractions. A dental scale and polish can be scheduled on most weekdays with approximately 1-2 weeks notice. Just phone Cherrybrook Vet on 9980 1800 to book your pet in.