5 Top Dental Problems in Dogs & Cats
Whether it's a case of persistent gingivitis or baby teeth that won't budge, what's true for human dental health is often equally true for cats and dogs: Dental issues can be a royal toothache to deal with.
Dental disorders are a strikingly prevalent health issue for our pets, though it's common for them to go unnoticed by pet parents. Often, these conditions are missed not because of neglect, but because they're notoriously difficult to spot without the help of a veterinarian or a dental procedure.
Fortunately, most tooth and gum-related discomforts pets may experience can be prevented and allayed with regular dental check-ups and a solid home dental care routine. But by knowing which conditions to stay alert to between visits, you can help nip the most common dental conditions in the bud and ensure healthy mouths for everyone in your household.
#1 Gum Disease
Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is one of the most common dental issues cats and dogs encounter in their lifetimes. One study estimated that 70% of cats and 80% of dogs will develop gum disease by the time they're two years old, though some experts believe that rate is higher (since symptoms can prove difficult to spot).
Veterinarians generally recognize two forms of periodontal disease:
- Gingivitis (reversible) – Just like in humans, gingivitis is caused by plaque—those tiny strains of bacteria that coat the teeth. Gingivitis isn't caused by an excess of plaque, but rather by a shift in the plaque's microbiome. This can lead to inflammation around the gum tissue and teeth, but it can be remedied with proper home dental care and regular teeth cleanings.
- Periodontitis (irreversible) – Periodontitis is the more serious, advanced form of periodontal disease. It's typically divided into three stages, each associated with progressively more severe structural damage to the teeth. While periodontitis can't be reversed, it is possible to prevent it from advancing if it's treated immediately.
If left untreated, periodontitis can result in health issues that surpass the domain of oral hygiene. In severe cases, periodontal disease can lead to eye problems, cancers of the mouth, or even organ damage.
Since periodontal disease is common for pets, you'll want to keep an eye out for symptoms as a regular part of your pet's home dental care routine.
Signs to look for include:
- Bad breath
- Inflamed, red gums
- Bleeding of the gums (especially when brushing)
- Recession of the gums
- Loose or lost teeth
It's important to recognize that periodontal disease is often the root cause of many other dog teeth problems. When you can learn to recognize the dental problem early, your pet will be in the best possible position to achieve not only optimal oral hygiene, but a more robust quality of life overall.
#2 Dental Abscess
Dental abscesses can form when an injury occurs at the root of a cat or dog's tooth and becomes infected. Animals can develop dental abscesses from small injuries, like organic matter stuck in the mouth (e.g. splinters), or more severe ones, like a bite wound.
Symptoms of dental abscesses include:
- A lump beneath the skin
- Apparent pain when the lump is touched
- Pus or oozing at the site of the injury
- Hair loss around the site of the injury
- Foul odor
- Loss of appetite or avoidance of food
If your pet is injured, it's important to clean and treat the area to dispel any unwanted bacteria. Sometimes, an injury may appear healed, but bacteria can still be stuck inside, resulting in an abscess.
#3 Tooth Resorption
Tooth resorptions are a dental condition found across the animal kingdom (humans included), and while they can affect dogs, they're particularly common in cats. Some studies estimate up to 60% acquire tooth resorption in their lifetime, particularly if they're over the age of 5.
Tooth resorptions refer to the erosion of dentin, one of the primary constituents in teeth, which can cause holes in teeth and tooth loss.
Symptoms to look out for include:
- Loss of appetite or avoidance of eating
- Pain upon touching the affected area
- Missing or loose teeth
It's not well understood why cats are particularly prone to developing tooth resorptions, but veterinarians recognize this condition as one of the most painful dental diseases cats can face. Tooth resorptions can't be reversed, so treatment usually includes tooth removal or crown amputations and doubling down on home dental hygiene.
#4 Oral Tumors
Oral tumors are quite common among dental problems in dogs and tend to arise primarily in pets over the age of ten. Rather than being a disease in themselves, they typically result from one of several types of cancers commonly affecting dogs:
- Gum cancer (Gingival squamous cell carcinoma)
- Bone cancer (Fibrosarcoma)
- Skin cancer (Melanoma)
Veterinarians often discover oral tumors in dogs during a routine checkup. They usually develop on the roof of the mouth and tend to grow rapidly, though not all oral tumors will spread to other parts of the body.
You can stay on the lookout for oral tumors by keeping an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Bad breath
- Dropping food or pain while eating, chewing, or drinking
- Asymmetry or swelling around the face
- Lost or loose teeth
- Weight loss
#5 Retained Baby Teeth
Retained deciduous teeth (also known as "baby teeth") are fairly common in both cats and dogs, though they're slightly more common in canines (particularly small breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese, and Pomeranians).
This condition occurs when stubborn baby teeth compete with the development of permanent ones, which can result in:
- Dental overcrowding
- An off-kilter bite
- Accidental self-biting
- Difficulty chewing or eating
- Jaw misalignment
Retained baby teeth are associated with other dog teeth issues like gingivitis, though the severity of the condition depends on the pet affected.
Symptoms that often occur alongside it include:
- Bad breath
- Misaligned adult teeth
- Gum swelling, redness, or bleeding
- Periodontal disease
- An abnormal pathway between the nose and mouth
Treatments for retained deciduous teeth depend on the severity of the condition. In many cases, surgical removal of the baby teeth can help correct complications caused by the condition.
Tips for Providing Pets with Proper Dental Care at Home
While there's no replacement for regular visits with your veterinarian, the foundation of high-quality dental hygiene starts on the home front. If you're intent on prioritizing your pet's oral health, these guidelines can help you protect their smile between visits.
Try a "Dental Diet"
So-called dental diets are dry food feeding protocols, where food is specifically formulated to prevent plaque buildup in two ways:
- By having a more abrasive texture, which may help remove plaque from teeth
- By being a bit larger than typical kibble, which encourages dogs to chew more to break down the food
Research into the efficacy of pet dental diets is still forthcoming, but there is some evidence to suggest they may help reduce the likelihood of dog dental problems. That said, this diet usually isn't sufficient to support puppies or young dogs. Smaller changes, like ensuring your pet is eating adequate calcium, may be just as effective at preventing dental disease through diet!
Use Gauze Instead of a Toothbrush
Regular teeth cleanings and brushing your pet's teeth at home are crucial for keeping plaque in check and ensuring it doesn't turn into tartar. And while most pet parents rely on humans' favorite tooth hygiene tool—the toothbrush—in their pets' dental hygiene routine, this isn't necessarily the most effective method.
Using a gauze square to clean your cat's or dog's teeth may be even more effective by:
- Giving you more control over their teeth cleaning
- Allowing you to clean more surface area
- Enabling you to feel the inside of your pet's mouth to detect tumors or abscesses
Keep in mind that most cats don't love to be touched inside their mouth, so you may want to reserve this method for your dog.
Don't Give Your Dog a Bone
No matter how adorable their face looks once supper wraps up, avoid feeding your dogs bones—especially if they have a history of tooth problems. Chewing on bones can lead to carnassial tooth fractures or "slab fractures," wherein dogs' back teeth crack in half longitudinally.
Carnassial tooth fractures can't be treated, but the affected tooth can be reconstituted with dental crowns. However, this can be an extremely expensive procedure for many pet parents (we recommend saving those chicken bones for your next soup stock instead).
Treat Them to a Special Toothpaste
While humans might love feeling minty fresh post-brush, dogs and cats may not be wild about this zingy flavor. Try kindling their enthusiasm for their oral care routine by treating them to a specially-made animal toothpaste in flavors like:
Plus, the more you can sate their appetite for chicken during their cleaning routine, the less insistent they may be about getting their teeth on your bones at the dinner table.
Protect Your Pet's Dental Welfare with Papaya Pet Care
For humans, going to the dentist is seldom met with fanfare—but your pet shouldn't have to have the same experience.
At Papaya, we're on a mission to change the way we give and show care to our pets. Our clinics were designed from your pet's perspective, staffed by providers who are passionate about giving seamless, compassionate, holistic care to cats, dogs, and the pet parents who adore them.
Papaya is also here to help you out with other pet-related questions, so if you're wondering how to travel with pets, if CBD is good for dogs, and more, make sure to visit our resource center for our answers.
Whether you need a snap appointment for a sudden toothache or an online vet check-in to assess how their new favorite toothpaste is working, Papaya makes it easier to access, finance, and deliver the care our pets deserve. Find out more about our memberships by stopping by our online portal today.
- Journal of Small Animal Practice. World Small Animal Veterinary Association Global Dental Guidelines. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jsap.13132
- PetMD. Periodontal (Gum) Disease in Dogs. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/mouth/c_multi_periodontal_disease
- The Spruce Pets. Abscesses in Dogs. https://www.thesprucepets.com/abscess-signs-and-treatment-2804914
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Tooth Resorption. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/tooth-resorption
- PetMD. Mouth Cancer (Gingiva Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/cancer/c_dg_squamous_cell_carcinoma_gingiva
- PetMD. Dog Mouth Cancer: Symptoms, Treatment and Life Expectancy. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/cancer/c_dg_oral_cavity_tumors
- PetMD. Retained Baby Teeth in Dogs. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/mouth/c_dg_retained_baby_teeth
- The Spruce Pets. The 8 Best Dog Toothpastes of 2022, To Keep Your Pooch Smiling. https://www.thesprucepets.com/best-dog-toothpaste-4167606