dog dental

Pet Dental Care for Cats and Dogs

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Your pet’s teeth should be checked at least once a year by your veterinarian for early signs of a problem and to keep your pet’s mouth healthy.

Have your pet’s teeth checked sooner if you observe any of the following problems:

  • bad breath

  • broken or loose teeth

  • extra teeth or retained baby teeth

  • teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar

  • abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth

  • reduced appetite or refusal to eat

  • pain in or around the mouth

  • bleeding from the mouth

  • swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth

Some pets become irritable when they have dental problems, and any changes in your pet’s behavior should prompt a visit to your veterinarian. Always be careful when evaluating your pet’s mouth, because a painful animal may bite.


Causes of pet dental problems

Although cavities are less common in pets than in people, they can have many of the same dental problems that people can develop:

  • broken teeth and roots

  • periodontal disease

  • abscesses or infected teeth

  • cysts or tumors in the mouth

  • malocclusion, or misalignment of the teeth and bite

  • broken (fractured) jaw

  • palate defects (such as cleft palate)

Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition found in cats and dogs. Early evidence of periodontal disease begin by the pet is around 3 years old. If effective preventive measures aren't taken, the disease will worsen. Early detection and treatment are critical. Advanced periodontal disease can cause severe problems and pain that extend beyond your pet's mouth—including in association with the kidneys, liver, and heart muscle changes.


Why does animal dentistry require anesthesia?

When you go to the dentist, you know that what’s being done is meant to help you and keep your mouth healthy. Your dentist uses techniques to minimize pain and discomfort and can ask you how you are feeling, so you accept the procedures and do your best to keep still. Your pet does not understand the benefit of dental procedures, and he or she reacts by moving, trying to escape, or even biting.

Anesthesia makes it possible to perform the dental procedures with less stress and pain for your pet. In addition, anesthesia allows for a better cleaning because your pet is not moving around and risking injury from the dental equipment. If radiographs (x-rays) are needed, your pet needs to be very still in order to get good images, and this is unlikely without heavy sedation or anesthesia.

Although anesthesia will always have risks, it’s safer now than ever and continues to improve so that the risks are very low and are far outweighed by the benefits. Most pets can go home the same day of the procedure, although they might seem a little groggy for the rest of the day.



Test yourself.

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What can I do at home for my pet’s oral health?

Prevention of the most common oral disease in pets consists of frequent removal of the dental plaque and tartar that forms on teeth that are not kept clean. Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective thing you can do to keep their teeth healthy between dental cleanings, and may reduce the frequency or even eliminate the need for periodic dental cleaning by your veterinarian. Daily brushing is best, but it’s not always possible and brushing several times a week can be effective. Most dogs accept brushing, but cats can be a bit more resistant – patience and training are important.

There are many pet products marketed with claims that they improve dental health, but not all of them are effective. Talk with your veterinarian about any dental products, treats, or dental-specific diets you’re considering for your pet, or ask your veterinarian for their recommendation.

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Latest in Preventative Dental Health for Dogs


For the month of February we are advocating strongly for dental health awareness for National Pet Dental Health month. To kick off the month, we are offering goodie bags full of a variety of preventative treat options with each dental cleaning done in the month of February. Included in the goodie bag is a new product on our shelves: Prescription Diet Dental Care Chews from Hills.


Clinically proven to reduce plaque buildup in as little as 4 days.


Clinically proven to maintain gingival health.


Superior clinical efficacy in reducing plaque, tartar, stain buildup and occurrence of gingivitis.


Let's put the treat back in treatment. 


Clinical Evidence Report

Feeding a single Hill's Prescription Diet Dental Care Chew per day resulted in:

  • Being awarded the VOHC Seal in the plaque and tartar categories.

  • Clinically proven reduction in plaque and tartar build-up in 28 days.

  • Up to 2.5 times more effective than other dental treats on the market.

Products Studied:

Prescription Diet Dental Care Chews (sold at River Landings Animal Clinic; just ask the receiptionists!)

Study Design

VOHC Seal Studies

Three randomized, crossover studies were conducted to evaluate the efficacy of the Prescription Diet Dental Care Chews in reducing the accumulation of plaque and tartar in a clean mouth model. Each study consisted of two 28 day treatment periods, separated by a 14 day wash-out period. A commercially available dry dog food which met AAFCO nutritional requirements for maintenance of adult dogs was selected as the control food. One small dental chew was fed in two independent studies to dogs weighing 10 kilograms or less while one regular dental chew was fed to dogs weighing over 10 kilograms. A minimum of twenty-eight dogs were enrolled in each study.

Results were quantified by the VOHC whole tooth methodology.


Study Design

Gingival Contour Plaque Index (GCPI) Competitor Study

An additional study was performed utilizing 20 dogs in a crossover design. The Gingival Contour Plaque Index GCPI methodology looks at plaque accumulation at the gingival margin where it is most critical for oral health. GCPI was used to assess plaque reduction achieved with once daily Prescription Diet Dental Care Chews (regular sized) compared to Greenies Dental Care Chews, Pedigree Dentastix, and Milkbone Brushing Chews also fed once per day. Following 4 days of feeding in each crossover period the outcomes were evaluated by the GCPI methodology.


  • Prescription Diet Dental Care Chews when fed as 1 treat per day to the appropriate size dog were clinically proven to significantly reduce plaque and tartar.

  • Prescription Diet Dental Care Chews have met the VOHC testing standard and been awarded the VOHC Seal in the Plaque and Tartar categories.

  • Prescription Diet Dental Care Chews are up to 2.5 times better at reducing plaque than other dental treats on the market.

References: Scherl DS, Bork K, Coffman L, Lowry SR, VanCleave M. Application of the gingival contour plaque index: six-month plaque and gingivitis study. J Vet Dent. 2009 Spring:26 (1):23-7.

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Don't forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for more recipes, articles, and clinic updates delivered to your inbox (here). Or, you can keep up to date by liking and following our Facebook page (here). We also have additional helpful articles under our tips category (here).