Skip to the content

Dental Disease in Cats & Dogs

Dental disease is one of the most common conditions we see in adult dogs and cats. This is without question an extremely painful condition, just think back to the last time you had a toothache! Studies show that most dogs and cats over three years of age suffer from some form of periodontal disease and unfortunately this is often overlooked because many animals resent their mouths being handled and unlike humans will sometimes continue to eat even with severe dental disease and pain.

Periodontal disease begins when bacteria in the mouth form a substance called plaque, which adheres to the teeth. Minerals present in salvia harden this plaque into tartar which is hard and attaches firmly to the teeth, this plaque can extend below the gum line and result in weakening of the supportive tissues that anchor the tooth in place. Left untreated this can result in pain and the loss of the tooth.

By the time advanced signs of dental disease such as halitosis (bad breath), a reluctance to eat or drooling occur, advanced dental disease can be a major procedure. Often involving removal of many teeth and extended courses of antibiotics. By this stage of disease there is very real potential for long term damage to your pets’ heart and kidneys from the chronic bacterial infection circulating in the bloodstream.

Proper dentistry in animals involves general anaesthesia as animals will not lie quietly with their mouths open. This is the part that most owners are understandably worried about. Unfortunately, all anaesthesia carries some risks but we have many steps to make this as safe as possible.

  1. Animals are given a thorough physical examination before anaesthesia
  2. A blood test may first be recommended to check that internal organs such as the liver and kidneys are working well and will cope with the anaesthetic.
  3. The pets are constantly monitored during anaesthetic by a trained nurse and this is supported by equipment that assesses things such as blood pressure, ECG and oxygen saturation. They are monitored right throughout the recovery period as well.
  4. The same anaesthetic drugs used in human hospitals are used on your pet and they are positioned on heat pads and can also be supported with intravenous fluids throughout the procedure to keep parameters such as blood pressure stable. The procedure involves:
    1. Examining the teeth and gums for disease, fractures, periodontal pockets and loose teeth, photos and online records are used.
    2. X-Rays are often taken to assess what is happening below the gum line as most of the tooth sits here.
    3. Hand and ultrasonic scaling equipment is used to clean teeth and any extractions are performed using nerve blocks.
    4. Polishing and flushing removes any residual plaque and leaves a smooth surface on the enamel.
    5. Homecare solutions such as brushing, dental chews, mouthwashes and diets are discussed at the post dental check.
    6. Appropriate post dental pain relief is supplied.

We recommend annual checks for all young cats and dogs increase to six monthly for those over 8 years. As part of the full clinical examination we examine the oral cavity, discuss prevention strategies and assesses and grade the degree of dental disease present which can then be tracked at consecutive visits.


Once a certain level of periodontal disease is present, we may suggest booking the pet for a dental as described above. If caught at the early plaque stage dental disease can be reversed using homecare strategies avoiding the need for an anaesthetic at all.

Consider booking your pet in now for a dental check, it will help to provide a healthier, more pain free existence for your trusted friend.



About the author

North Canterbury Vets are a mixed practice which deals with dairy cows, beef, sheep, deer, horses and alpacas as well as companion animals. Our team has an ethical focus to assist in developing and growing our clients' businesses and providing quality health care to ensure that their livestock and pets live healthy and productive lives.

Our Clinics

North Canterbury Veterinary Clinics operates four clinics throughout the Hurunui region.