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Recognising, solving and preventing dental problems in dogs and cats

From dental plaque to tartar, breaking teeth and inflammations. More than sixty percent of dogs and cats over three years of age has dental problems. Here is how to recognise, solve and prevent dental problems in dogs or cats.

Dental plaque

Almost all problems have humble beginnings, which goes for dental problems in dogs and cats just the same. These issues are often caused by dental plaque, which forms a soft, visible, white layer or yellow deposit on the teeth. Dental plaque consists of bacteria, calcium and phosphorus from saliva and food. It is easy to prevent by brushing the teeth of your dog or cat on a regular basis.


Tartar is calcified plaque. It forms a yellow/brown (hard) layer on the teeth, often reducing blood flow in the gums around the tartar deposit. Tartar cannot be removed by brushing. A vet will have to anesthetise your pet to get rid of it.

Consequences of dental plaque and tartar

Dental plaque and tartar deposits on your pet’s teeth may cause cavities or inflammation of the gums and ultimately even of the jaw bone. These inflammations can lead to brittle teeth that tend to break, and may even cause tumours. Your pet will suffer and eating will become increasingly difficult. In addition, poor dental health has been linked to kidney, liver and heart issues, so preventing dental problems can literally save your pets life!

Mind your toys

A poor choice of toys is another common cause of dental problems in addition to plaque and tartar. Dogs love to play with tennis balls, for example. But those tend to wear out their teeth, causing the dental nerve and therefore the tooth itself to die. A rubber ball is a much better alternative; it will leave your dog’s teeth completely unaffected. With branches, be mindful of dangerous splinters that can end up in your dog’s throat, stomach and intestine.

How to identify dental problems in dogs and cats?

Dogs and cats aren’t likely to show their pain and they do not exactly appreciate it when you try to examine their mouth. This makes dental problems difficult to identify. And yet, there are a couple of giveaways for you to pay attention to, such as when they salivate excessively, use only one side to chew or swallow their kibble whole. Another indicator of dental problems or poor dental hygiene is bad breath. An (old) pet doesn’t necessarily have bad breath. By the time your dog or cat starts to refuse food, its dental problems have reached an advanced stage and a visit to the vet is unavoidable.

Preventing dental problems in dogs or cats

Dental problems in dogs and cats are often underestimated. But considering the consequences, it is very important to take proper care of your pet’s teeth. In addition to picking the right toys, the only way to prevent dental problems is to brush your dog’s or cat’s teeth routinely (preferably every day). A regular toothbrush will do. Read on for a step-by-step instruction on how to get it done. Another important element is to have a vet perform a dental exam each year to catch potential dental issues early on.

Good food for chops

Food affects your pet’s dental health. For example, feeding your dog or cat kibble on a regular basis will strengthen its teeth. Ingredients matter as well; food containing lots of sugar will cause problems. Though some foods are better than others, no solution exists that will prevent dental problems in dogs and cats altogether; it might affect the degree of any issues at best. Yarrah’s chicken necks, for example, help remove dental plaque by grinding the teeth. In the end, good food combined with proper dental care is the best approach.

What do healthy teeth look like?

Good dental health means white teeth and pink gums due to proper blood circulation. An adult dog has 12 incisors, 4 canines, 10 premolars and 4 molars. Puppies and kittens shed their primary teeth in exchange for adult teeth around the age of three months.

Step-by-step instruction: brushing the teeth of a dog or cat

  1. Positive reinforcement: touch its face, start with the jaw. Reward a positive response with a healthy dog or cat treat.
  2. Expand the touching until you can carefully grab the snout. If your dog or cat is startled, take a step back and try again the next day.
  3. Lift up the lip and examine the teeth. Just a quick look at first, once or twice a day.
  4. Once your pet is comfortable with step 3, the time has come to brush. First, ‘brush’ the teeth with your finger.
  5. Got the hang of it? Grab a toothbrush and brush your pet’s teeth once a day. Go for a small, soft toothbrush and keep one finger on the brush itself rather than holding it by the handle alone.
  6. Reward your pet with a treat or a game to make the daily toothbrushing session an activity to look forward to.

Tip: don’t wait until your dog or cat gets old before you start brushing its teeth. The earlier you start the habit, the more pleasant the experience will be for the both of you and the fewer dental problems you’ll have to worry about!

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