Dental disease is an increasingly large portion of our regular surgical load.

This is for several reasons: 


  • Our cats and dogs are living much longer; therefore have an increased risk of dental disease.
  • Dietary changes have not always been beneficial for healthy teeth; while soft food is very appetizing and easy to feed to an animal, it doesn’t help maintain healthy gums and teeth.         
  • ‘Fads’, that cause a breed to become popular, often result in rapid breeding without due notice being taken of things like jaw structure, temperament, hip dysplasia and other problems that involve genetics.
  • As owners we spend more time in close contact with our pets and working animals, so notice things like bad breath, difficulty eating and painful mouths.


Like many diseases, early treatment is best for all concerned. It is preferable for your animal to keep their teeth and not become a ‘gummy’! Left untended, what are initially just dirty teeth will progress to inflamed gums and eventually to loose and infected teeth that require extraction. The diseased gums will increase the risk of bacteria harming internal organs, resulting in chronic diseases.


With modern living and diets, regular dental attention is now the norm. The main differences between human and animal dental care are that animals can’t floss and brush; and vets can’t do a scale and polish without an anaesthetic! (Though if anyone out there can get their animal to say “aaah” I will be happy to do it without!).


There are things that you as an owner can do to help encourage healthy gums and teeth and minimize veterinary intervention:


  • Feed a diet that encourages chewing or is formulated to promote dental health. This will vary depending on the animal and can range from regular bones to chew, feeding large meaty chunks that have to be chewed or buying and feeding one of the dental formula diets. Many people equate biscuit diets with something to chew, but not all biscuits are effective. Try using a screwdriver to ‘cut’ a biscuit - does it fly apart with little pressure, or stay together until the cut has been made? The fly apart biscuits contribute very little to cleaning the teeth, and of course some biscuits can be swallowed without chewing!
  • For the dedicated owner there are specially formulated cleaning products available. These range from specially shaped biscuits and chew toys, to actually brushing your animals’ teeth! This requires a bit more training than just putting down a bowl of food, but is the ultimate tool in ensuring good dental health for your pet.
  • Get your animals’ teeth checked whenever they visit the vet, and if we recommend a scale and polish don’t put it off until next year - next year we may have to pull teeth out!

When, in spite of regular attention or due to an accident, teeth do require extraction, do not despair. Although it is usually preferable for your animal to keep their teeth, if they need removing they are much better without them! Once gums are healed (and often the night of the surgery), your animal will be able to eat much more comfortably, though they may need their food supplied in easier to chew portions.


Poor oral health can affect an animals appetite, heart, kidneys, liver and stomach; an animal receiving routine dental prophylaxis when required will keep its’ teeth until well into old age, and lead a longer and healthier life.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              



Written by: Suzanne Craig BVCs - Small Animal Vet, based at Balclutha and used in the local newspaper (The Leader) in the monthly Pet Corner section.