Periodontal disease in dogs & cats

Dog with periodontal disease
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Are you brushing your dog or cat’s teeth twice a day? Are you brushing their teeth at all? Although the answer is most likely no, you should! As it is often very difficult (or even impossible in some cases) to do so, this answer is not surprising.

Periodontal disease (also called periodontitis) is among the most common conditions seen by veterinarians worldwide today. With this article, we would like create awareness of what will happen if you don’t brush your pet’s teeth and what you should do to keep the teeth healthy.

If you suspect any dental or oral related problem with your pet, make sure to book an appointment with your family veterinarian first!


Like humans, dogs and cats and most other mammals need clean teeth for optimal health. When teeth are dirty, there is always a build-up of plaque (natural bacteria) which, if not cleaned, ultimately leads to bad breath, periodontitis and gum decay. This situation is worsened by the build-up of tartar (otherwise known as calculus) which serves as a hardened artificial protection layer of the bacteria around the teeth. The bacteria, together with the periodontitis, lead to rotting of tooth roots and the abnormal absorption of bacteria and bacterial toxins into the bloodstream.

Signs & symptoms

Periodontal disease is more common is small-breed dogs, but larger and younger dogs can also be affected. Signs start to appear from about three years of age and start off with dirty teeth and reddening of the gums. This disease later progress into visible plaque on and between teeth, regression of the gums, loosening of the teeth and build-up of calculus. Dogs and cats with this condition very often present with degrees of heart and kidney failure, throat infections, poor appetite, irritation and oral pain.

Dental scoring

There are different degrees of periodontitis. After the assessment, dogs and cats’ teeth can be scored on a scale of 0 to 5 (also called the dental score or DS). Perfectly clean(ed) teeth serve as the basis for DS and will receive a score of 0). As periodontitis progresses and gets more severe, the dental scoring will move towards a 5.

Pet tooth brushing

Tooth brushing is a physical thing, meaning there is no right or wrong way as long as you supply some degree of resistance to the teeth in order to remove the disease-causing plaque.

Other dental health options

What else can be done to promote dental health and slow down the progression of periodontal disease?

  • Foods such as Hills T/D (Veterinary Prescription Diet)
  • Refrain from feeding soft foods
  • Dental friendly chews
  • Specialised dental rinses to place in water or squirt onto your pet’s teeth


Plaque is simply a consequence of eating. It’s a normal process. Soft food, compared to dry, harder pieces of dry chunks, can more easily stick onto and between the small areas between the teeth. Additionally, hard food has some degree of friction on the teeth, removing some of the larger, older layers of plaque.

Knowing this, scientific and technological advances bring us a process of producing a slightly harder dog and cat kibble. The main principle is in the layout of the kibble. By interweaving the internal structure of a kibble instead of laying it parallel, the teeth have to bite deeper into the kibble and this has a friction effect on the outside of the teeth. This means by feeding certain foods such as Hill’s Prescription Diet T/D, you can actually reduce the build-up of tartar and prolong the time it would have normally taken to develop periodontal disease.

Dental chews

Dental chews are a popular choice when it comes to both dental health promotion and they double as a fun activity for your pet. Good choices are products such as rawhides, Dental Deli products and rubber chews. Refrain from feeding bones as they can crack teeth! (among other things). Safe pet chews are available from veterinary practices and vet shops.

Dental rinses

Although probably the least effective, specialised pet dental rinses are better than not doing anything at all. Dental rinses are easily administered through your pet’s drinking water. Well-known pet oral rinses to consider are Virbac’s Vet AquaDent and HealthTech’s Chlorhexidine Oral Rinse.

Pet dental scale procedure

At such a time where a dental score of 2 or higher is present, your family veterinarian will most likely recommend a dental scale procedure with or without extractions. The advantages, disadvantages, risks, costs and precautions are all aspects that need to be considered carefully for these procedures. Certain pet medical insurance policies include dental procedures in their wording.


Be vigilant about your pet’s dental health and take action. Ask your family veterinarian more about dental health at your next routine or annual vaccination visit.

About the author
About the author
Renier is a qualified, experienced companion animal veterinarian whose main interests are animal health and strengthening pet-owner relationships.
View all posts by Dr Renier Delport (BVSc.)

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