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5 signs that your pet needs a dental

Informative image: Cat Teeth at Goddard Vet Group

Just like us, dogs and cats get dirty teeth and occasionally need more aggressive dental treatment. However, unlike us, they can’t brush their own teeth or book themselves in at the dentist - we have to do that for them! Regular routine tooth brushing is really important to a pet’s dental health, but sometimes dental problems build up despite our best efforts - and to be honest, some dogs and cats are particularly reluctant to let us clean their teeth...

It is therefore really important that you know what to look for - the signs that your brushing isn’t enough and your dog or cat’s mouth needs professional attention. There are five major signs to watch out for:

Halitosis (Bad-breath)

It is not normal for your pet’s breath to smell offensive! Slightly “doggy” or “catty”, or a slight smell of their last meal, fine, but if it’s making you gag when they try and be friendly, then you really need to get something done… The offensive smell is caused by bacteria growing on and in between the teeth, and along the gum line. If untreated, these bacteria will infect the gum causing gingivitis and dental disease.

Getting this dealt with will also make your pet more pleasant to be around…!


Healthy dog and cat teeth are white or ivory in colour and are smooth. They should not be yellow, brown, black or green; nor should they be covered in thick lumps. This material is called plaque or tartar, and is composed of minerals (from the saliva), bacteria, and food material. If untreated, it will cause halitosis and gum disease. Fresh plaque can be removed with regular, thorough brushing; it can also be prevented with the use of veterinary mouthwashes (don’t use human ones - the mint flavouring is really unpleasant for dogs and cats). However, once tartar has formed and mineralised (becoming hard and solid), the only effective way to remove it is by dental treatment here with us.

Swollen gums

Gum disease, or gingivitis, is sadly a common sight in the mouths of dogs and cats. It is caused by infection creeping under the gum line, resulting in swollen, sore, inflamed and sometimes bleeding gums. Eventually, it will result in periodontal disease, where the ligaments holding the teeth in their sockets become infected and the teeth fall out. It is also associated with kidney infections and heart disease, as the bacteria spread through the animal’s bloodstream. In many cases, by the time gingivitis is recognised, the damage to the teeth is so severe that they may need to be removed - but the earlier it’s picked up, the better.

Occasionally, swollen gums may also be a sign of a mouth tumour or an epulis; these need veterinary attention and often surgical removal.

Broken teeth

Fractured, or broken, teeth are quite common following accidents (such as falls). In addition, many older dogs grind their front teeth down carrying and collecting toys and treasures (like stones). Some fractures don’t enter the pulp cavity (the sensitive “nerve” in the middle of the tooth); these teeth may not need to be removed or have any major work done, just the sharp edges smoothed off. However, if the fracture does penetrate or expose the pulp, normally the tooth needs to be removed surgically - if not, as well as being very, very painful, it will die, allowing infection to become established in the socket (a tooth root abscess). Occasionally, it is possible to use advanced surgical techniques (such as a root canal) to save a damaged tooth - bring them in for us to check and our vets will be able to advise you whether your pet is suitable for such a procedure.

Reluctance to eat

Whatever the underlying cause, this is the end result of any dental disease or injury. As their mouth becomes more and more painful, it will become harder and harder for the dog or cat to eat and even drink. The earliest signs are often of wanting to eat, but then being reluctant - or even running away from the food bowl - because although they’re hungry, they know it will hurt if they do eat. Eventually, they just give up and stop trying - and if they don’t get urgent treatment, they will starve. This is an emergency, and needs treatment as soon as possible - call us to book them in for the first available appointment.

The earlier you notice a problem, the sooner we can fix it - and the more likely your pet will go home with all the teeth they came in with! 

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