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Dental Care for Cats and Dogs: Healthy Mouths and Happy Pets

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A mixed-breed dog looks at a toothbrush that their owner is holding.

As pet parents who care about our four-legged friends, we know how important it is to take good care of them. We make sure they get regular check-ups and eat healthy food to keep them happy and healthy. But dental care for cats and dogs is another essential part of keeping them happy and healthy. Just like us, pets can have dental problems that can be uncomfortable, painful, and even lead to serious health issues.

Common Dental Diseases in Pets

Maintaining your pet’s dental health is essential for their overall health. Left untreated, dental disease can cause chronic pain, eroded gums, and deciduous teeth.

According to our claims data*, some of the top dental conditions are:

  • Periodontal disease
  • Gingivitis
  • Fractured Teeth
  • Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions
  • Stomatitis


Gingivitis is a type of gum disease that causes inflammation in the mouth. Gingivitis is typically located at the gum margin (or gingiva). Signs of gingivitis can include red and swollen gums, drooling, and bad breath. You may also notice your pet pawing at their face.

Gingivitis is caused by poor dental hygiene, so it’s important to brush your pet’s teeth regularly and practice proper home dental care. Your pet should also have a yearly teeth cleaning and dental exam at their veterinary clinic.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is an infection that can lead to tooth and jawbone loss. It's not just limited to the mouth though - it can spread to other important organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys, causing serious damage.

Periodontal disease happens when plaque builds up and turns into tartar, creating the perfect environment for infection. Signs of periodontal disease include persistent bad breath, loose or missing teeth, and inflamed or bleeding gums. You may also notice a loss of appetite, difficulty chewing food, and sensitivity in and around your pet’s mouth. It’s important to contact your vet if you notice any of these symptoms.

Dental Disease in Dogs

If your pup is over the age of three, chances are high they’ve developed periodontal disease; 80% of dogs do. Other common canine dental issues include deciduous teeth, gingivitis, and unerupted teeth.

If you observe any of the following signs, it’s important to have your dog examined by the veterinarian as soon as possible to avoid any progression of dental disease.

  • Changes in eating habits or behavior or a reluctance to eat
  • Drooling or dropping food from the mouth
  • Refusal to play with toys
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Sneezing, nasal discharge, or excessive drooling
  • Facial swelling
  • Red swollen gums or any bleeding from the mouth
  • Loose or broken teeth

Dogs should also have a yearly teeth cleaning and exam at their veterinary clinic. Good dental care can help keep their smile bright and their gums healthy.

Dental Disease in Cats

More than half of cats aged three and older suffer from dental issues . The most common problems include gingivitis, periodontal disease, stomatitis, and abscessed teeth.

Since many cats are known for being lazy, it can be hard to spot if your cat is feeling under the weather just by looking at them. If you don't check your cat's teeth regularly, you might miss a problem that could go unnoticed for months before getting any treatment.

If you notice any of the following signs, you should consult with your veterinarian:

  • Bad breath – your cat may not have the most pleasant breath, but it shouldn’t smell foul.
  • Discomfort when examining the mouth area.
  • Loose, broken, or discolored teeth.
  • Inflamed or bleeding gums.

You can help prevent dental disease in your cat with a combination of at-home and professional dental care.

FAQs About Pet Dental Care

Is brushing my pet's teeth important? Though cats and dogs don't eat the wide range of cavity-causing foods humans enjoy, they need regular dental care for many of the same reasons we do. Not only will brushing your pet’s teeth keep their breath smelling fresh, but it also gives you the opportunity to:

  • Keep their teeth free from plaque, tartar, and calculus buildup.
  • Check for and prevent dental diseases like gingivitis.
  • Check for any signs of trauma, like chipped or cracked teeth.
  • Check for any other dental or orthodontal issues.

If you’re having problems getting the job done, talk to your veterinarian for advice on how to brush a pet’s teeth.

Do cats and dogs lose baby teeth? Just like humans, cats and dogs lose their baby teeth. It's a natural process called "teething." As they grow and develop, their baby teeth will start to fall out, making way for their permanent adult teeth. So, if you find tiny teeth lying around or your four-legged friend seems extra chewy during this time, don't worry—it's all part of their normal dental journey.

How do I check for dental issues in my pets? Spotting the red flags of possible dental disease or other issues in your pet is the first step towards a happier and healthier pet. To do so, gently lift the lips of your pet in order to get a clear view of their teeth and gums. Using your sense of sight, smell, and touch, assess their teeth, gums, and breath. Healthy teeth should be a consistent white color. And if your dog has black gums or pink gums with black spots, don't worry. There are some breeds who have an abundance of melanin in their mouths.

If you notice any signs of redness or unfamiliar changes in color on the teeth or gums, or if you detect a foul odor coming from their mouth, it could be a sign of dental issues. If you happen to notice that the teeth are loose or the gums bleed when you touch them, it might be a more serious condition known as periodontal disease.

By making sure you have a regular dental care routine for your four-legged friend, like brushing their teeth and giving them the right chew toys, you can help keep their smile looking great and prevent dental diseases. It's also important to take them for regular check-ups with the veterinarian and get professional cleanings to keep their oral health in top shape. Remember, a healthy mouth means a happy pet, so don't forget to prioritize their dental care for a lifetime of wagging tails and purrs of happiness.

*Internal Claims Data, 2019

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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