National Pet Dental Health Month

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

National Pet Dental Health Month

February is National Pet Dental Health Month. The annual event sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and several other organizations, who support the health and well-being of our pet family members. The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) provides information and recommendations about oral diseases including dental and gum disease, which are two of the most common diseases effecting dogs and cats.

Most dogs exhibit some indications of dental disease by the time they are three years old. The conformation of a pet’s face and mouth, as well as the professional dental care and home dental care the family provides for their pet influences the development of oral diseases. The veterinary professionals at the Animal Medical Center in New York City estimate that approximately 85% of dogs will have serious periodontal diseases that need treatment, and 72% of cats will have a cavity called tooth resorption. By the time a pet owner realizes there is a problem with his or her pet, the oral disease has usually progressed to the extent that it is causing serious issues with the animal’s health and well-being.


A common first indication in dogs that there is a problem might be a repugnant breath or body odor emanating from the pet. Most dogs have a characteristic breath odor, as a result of the food they eat or the items they pick up with their mouths. However, periodontal disease will eventually progress to a noticeable halitosis (bad breath). An odor that gets one’s attention! Other indications that your family dog is experiencing oral disease is red or swollen gums, brown or yellowish teeth, bleeding from the mouth, frequent pawing or rubbing at the face and mouth and reluctance to eat hard foods. If you observe any of these signs, you should immediately contact your local animal hospital and make an appointment to have him or her evaluated for oral disease. All dogs should see their doctor at least annually for a physical examination, evaluation, dental cleaning and periodontal therapy if needed. Some dogs will need to be seen by their veterinarian more frequently than others depending on their condition. Periodontitis not only causes problems with eating and digestion, but it also harbors bacteria that eventually transfers to the blood stream and can cause severe heart, kidney and liver disease.


It can be more difficult to discover dental disease in cats than dogs. Veterinary dentists are not sure what causes tooth resorption in cats, but it is often too late to do anything for the cat other than to extract the problem tooth. Cats also get periodontal disease, although with less severity and frequency than dogs. Cats should see their veterinarian at least once per year to have a comprehensive physical examination to detect these difficult and sometimes almost impossible conditions in order to preserve the cat’s health.


There are steps that a family can take to prevent dental disease in dogs and cats. As we do with our own dental care, it is possible to brush your dog and cat’s teeth daily. With some cautions regarding the safety of the family member and temperament of the animal, daily brushing with a tooth brush is considered a major benefit in preventing periodontal disease and maintaining good oral health in your pets. Gentle brushing with a soft bristled tooth brush will help to remove plaque and tartar from the teeth. One can use dog toothpaste purchased from your veterinarian or at the pet store. However, evidence is present that brushing with water has the same effect as using dog tooth paste. It is not recommended that you use human tooth paste as it may contain fluoride and cause kidney problems if swallowed by the dog or cat. There is no need to start brushing a dog’s teeth until they are about one year old.

Choosing the Right Food

Several pet food manufacturers have developed dry dog and cat food that is designed to help scale the plaque and tartar from the teeth of your pets. Extensive research by these companies has found that the kibble size and the content of the food product may have influence on the development of plaque and tartar in your pet’s mouth. It is important that your dog chew this food rather than swallow it whole for best results.

Choosing the Right Treats

Many companies have developed dog and cat treats that help remove plaque and prevent the development of tartar, thus mitigating the cause of periodontal disease. Treats such as Milk-Bone Brushing Chews, Greenies and CET chews are effective in controlling plaque and tartar. There are also water additives, oral sprays, gels and dental sealants that can be purchased from your veterinarian or pet store to aid in this process. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) has listed numerous products that have earned the VOHC Seal of Acceptance in dentifrice products. The list of VOHC products that have received the VOHC Seal of Acceptance can be found at

Invest in Your Pet’s Dental Care

The average cost of preventing oral disease in pet dogs and cats is approximately five times less expensive than treatment for these conditions in most cases. It behooves pet owners to pay close attention to the oral health of their pets. The best resource is a dental checkup at least once a year. A comprehensive oral examination can eliminate gum disease, malformed teeth that cause pain and discomfort to the animal, oral cancers that can be removed if caught in time, and many other possible conditions that are detrimental to the health of your family dog or cat. For those animals that exhibit some stage of periodontal disease, it may be necessary to x-ray the pet’s mouth to fully diagnose the conditions necessary to correct them. Although you may see advertisements to the contrary, general anesthesia is usually necessary for a complete and thorough oral examination by your veterinarian. The plaque that accumulates below the gum line is the culprit in periodontal disease and it can only be properly diagnosed while the dog or cat is under general anesthesia. The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment” certainly relates to dental issues in both dogs and cats.

For more information on oral disease in dogs and cats, go to:

American Veterinary Medical Association
American Veterinary Dental College
Veterinary Oral Health Council

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