Dental Care

We go for routine dentist's check-ups every 6 months, but how often do we look in our pets' mouths?  Animals are very good at disguising bad dental health and often continue to eat with loose teeth or infected gums. 

Owners may be alerted to a problem when their pet has difficulty chewing or develops "awful smelly breath", but by then there may be advanced gum disease. This can act as a source of bacteria which can travel around the body and settle elsewhere, infecting joints, heart valves, kidneys or uterus.  Bones of the jaw can also become infected and thin, putting animals at higher risk of jaw fracture (especially short-nosed breeds of dog).

Start examining your pet's mouth while still very young to get them used to it, rewarding them so it becomes a "fun" thing.  Ask the vet to check their teeth when you go for thier annual booster.  As your pet gets older or develops problems it would be worthwhile having a dental check more frequently.


Most dental disease in dogs is a result of teeth not being cleaned by the modern pet diet - tinned meat and biscuit having replaced the natural diet of whole prey, where bone and skin are also devoured. 

dog teeth

Plaque builds up on the teeth, leading to the formation of hard tartar and inflamed gums.  Gums recede and pockets form where infection festers.  Feeding hide or "dental" chews canhelp to clean teeth.  Dedicated owners with co-operative dpgs find regular brushing helpful (beef flavoured paste and pet toothbrushes are available).  Once tartar has formed, however, the only way to remove it is by de-scaling under anaesthetic.

Dogs do occasionally get tooth-root abscesses which usually present with a facial swelling. X-rays identify the tooth involved, which is then removed surgically.

A video showing the correct way to clean your dog's teeth :


Cats suffer from the same tartar build-up as dogs, but also have 2 unique dental problems.  Firstly, they are prone to chronic gingivitis (inflamed gums) due either to severe inflammatory cell infiltration or associated with feline viruses.  This may be seen more often in pedigree cats but any moggy can be affected.  It can be hard to manage and can be a painful and recurrent problem.  Oral hygiene is very important so regular de-scaling is often part of the treatment programme, along with antibiotic therapy.  In sever cases it may be necessary to resort to chemotherapy or removal of all teeth.

Secondly, cats can get dental "neck lesions".  teeth get eroded at the neck, just below the gum margin, and the gum grows in to fill the defect in the tooth.  The cause of this disease is not, as yet, fully understood.  It is often acutely painful and affected cats may be off their food or show behavioural changes (eg hiding, aggression). Aslesions progress, teeth roots become destroyed and teeth often break off.  Treatment involves extraction of affected teeth, with frequent check-ups to identify further teeth that become affected.


Dental problems are very common in pet rabbits.  Some congenital abnormaliities of tooth gorwth do occur, especially in dwarf breeds, but the great majority of dental disease is acquired and occurs because of deficiencies in the diet.

Rabbits' teeth grow continuously throughout their life.  The crowns of the teeth are worn down by chewing fibrous foods, particularly grass, their natural diet in the wild.  Grass also provides a good calcium intake which keeps the jaw bones hard.  Dental disease usually occurs when rabbits are fed a low calcium, low roughage diet such as mainly cereal mix.  Rabbits are selective feeders so when given a choice, will pick out the cereal nuggets or squashed peas from a mix rather than the grass pellets.  The situation is exacerbated in rabbist kept inside with little exposure to sunlight.  A deficiency of Calcium and Vitamin D results in a soft jaw bone, and a lack of roughage results in inadequate wear of teeth.  The teeth move within the jaw, crowns become too long, and chewing action is altered.  Over time back teeth wear abnormally, producing sharp spus which rub into and damage cheeks and tongues.  Incisors (front teeth) may not meet properly and grow round into soft tissues.  Other signs of dental disease include lumps on the jaw as teeth roots are pushed down, runny eyes as teeth roots kink the naso-lacrimal ducts, a dirty bottom as rabbit stops eatings it's soft droppings (a normal healthy activity), tooth grinding, wet dewlap or front feet from excess salivation, facial swelling, or aggression because of pain.  Advanced dental disease causes root abscesses and infection of th ejaw bone, wheer successful treatment is very difficult. Also, once a rabbit stops eating, the normal passage of food down the intestine is interrupted and intensive nursing and fluids may be required. 

The earlier dental disease in rabbits is recognised, the more likely treatment is to be successful.  An early sign of dietary deficiency can be horizontal ridging of incisor teeth, so check your rabbit regularly or get the vet to check teeth at it's annual myxomatosis/RHD booster.  Diet correction, with possible mineral supplementation is crucial.  Overgrown teeth require regular trimming or removal, sharp spurs should be regularly rasped down.

Prevention is the best approach - feed a high fibre diet from a young age, ideally grass or good-quality hay ad-lib, vary with grees and garden weeds and only offer a limited amount of concentrate, in the form of high-fibrepellets.  Also, provide regular exposure to sunlight.