Dental care

Puppies develop their deciduous teeth at two weeks of age, with their 42 permanent teeth starting to erupt from three months of age.

Kittens develop their deciduous teeth at two to three weeks of age, with their 30 permanent teeth starting to erupt from three months of age.

Oral disease, namely gum disease caused by the build up of plaque and tartar, is one of the most common diseases affecting cats and dogs. It’s estimated that without proper dental care 70% of dogs will show signs of oral disease by the age of three.

Often dental disease has no outward symptoms, but can cause chronic pain and discomfort. You may notice a bad smell around your pets mouth, or red, sore gums. Your vet can quickly perform an oral exam to asses the degree of dental disease present in your dog or cat.

Although there is no magic cure to completely prevent the build-up of plaque and tartar, there are several steps you can take to dramatically slow down progression, and limit resulting dental disease. Dental chews, correct diet, toothbrushing and regular checks will all help. With your commitment, your pets can have healthy teeth and gums throughout their lives.

Good dental health begins with the proper diet

As with people, a bad diet leads to bad teeth. Treats and table scraps will increase plaque production and lead to an unhealthy oral environment. Dry food, rather than wet tinned meat, will reduce build-up of tartar through mild abrasive action. Dry food also provides adequate chewing exercise and gum stimulation. Prescription diets are available which are specifically formulated to reduce plaque; please discuss this with your vet if you feel your pet may benefit from a dental diet.

Brushing your pet’s teeth

Brushing is the ideal preventative treatment for dental disease, as the regular abrasive action eliminates plaque, preventing tartar formation. Dog of any age can learn to accept tooth brushing, however it is often easiest in young puppies who are more open to new experiences. Cats can also learn to accept brushing, with time and patience. Tooth brushing should be introduced gradually, with lots of positive reinforcement (such as praise) to make it a positive experience.

We suggest building up to a brush slowly, as this is more likely to lead to tolerance:

  • Start by dipping a finger in a canine/feline meat flavoured toothpaste and let your pet lick it, until they get used to the taste.
  • Next rub this finger gently over your pet’s gums and one or two teeth, repeating daily until your pet seems fairly comfortable with you extending the finger to the teeth at the back of the mouth.
  • Gradually, introduce a tooth brush rather than a finger, starting slowly until your pet is relaxed with this strange object. You can use either an ultra-soft model designed for people or a special pet toothbrush or finger brush, which is a rubber finger covering with a small brush built in at its tip.
  • Then, you can begin to gently scrub the teeth with a circular motion.

Although brushing with water will still have an abrasive effect, using a pet toothpaste is ideal as they contain chlorhexidine or stannous fluoride. Don’t use human toothpaste as it can upset your pet’s stomach.  Your vet may also advise the use of an antiseptic rinse after brushing.

If dental disease is present

Even when you take all the steps available to protect your dog or cats oral health, often some build-up of tartar is inevitable. If your vet idetifies signs of oral disease on examination, they will usually advise a dental procedure.

A dental involves your pet coming into the hospital for the day, and undergoing general anaesthesia. Once your dog or cat is asleep, the vet will use an ultrasonic scaler to remove all traces of tartar from the teeth, above and below the gum line. If the dental disease is progressed, there may be damage to the gums and periodontal ligaments; these hold the teeth secrely in place. The vet will probe every tooth; if signs of periodontal disease are present the vet will surgically extract the affected teeth. If left in situ, these teeth will become loose, painful, and can become infected leading to dental abscesses.

Often a scale and polish is all that is needed to keep teeth healthy, and may be performed every three to five years at your vet’s advice. If teeth do need exracting most animals recovery quickly and can often eat with even very few teeth remaining.


Throwing sticks for dogs can result in splinters and gum damage.

Never let your pet chew on hard materials like cooked bones or stones; they can wear down, even break teeth, damage gums and lead to infection or be swallowed and lead to blockages.

Further information

Below are links for further information on the British Veterinary Dental Association’s website: