Dental Problems In Companion Animals

Many dogs and cats suffer from halitosis, and with their strong sense of smell this must be very disturbing to them and is one reason why afflicted cats stop grooming themselves. Halitosis, often coupled with excessive drooling and difficulty eating, are cardinal signs of oral disease estimated to affect, in varying degrees of severity, some 80% of dogs and over 70% of cats in the U.S.

Until recently, dental problems in cats and dogs were a neglected aspect of home pet care. These problems include the build- up of tartar or scale on the teeth, gum inflammation or gingivitis and stomatitis, and serious periodontal disease and tooth-root abscesses. Not only do affected pets develop nauseating halitosis and find it painful to eat, the inflammation in their mouths can result in the spread of bacteria in their blood streams to internal organs, along with inflammatory substances called cytokines. These can damage the heart, causing serious and often fatal heart disease, as in humans with severe peridontitis, and also harm the kidneys, pancreas, liver, and other internal organs.

These inflammatory substances are also produced from body fat in overweight and obese animals, just as in humans. Obesity and dental problems are associated with highly processed manufactured pet foods**, especially those high in cereals, and can lead to heart, kidney, liver, and joint inflammation, pancreatic disease and related digestive problems, Type 11 diabetes, and other health problems, including increased susceptibility to infections and allergies because the animals’ immune systems are impaired.

Cat and dog owners must know that their animals are especially at risk because of genetics if they have pushed-in faces, misalignment of teeth/malocclusion, and because they don’t enjoy chewing safe and effective tooth and gum cleaning treats and toys. Many don’t because they are already suffering from dental pain and oral inflammation.

All cat and dog owners and care-providers must also know that on biologically inappropriate diets such as those manufactured pet foods containing high glycemic and glutinous cereal, potato, pea flour and tapioca ingredients promote the proliferation of the wrong kind of bacteria in animals mouths—and digestive systems! Also the texture and small particle size of highly processed ingredients mean the dental spaces and under the gingival gum-line become the depositories for their putrefaction, halitosis being an epidemic consequence and bacterial and inflammatory diseases the result.

It is critically important, especially for older pets and toy breeds, to feed a wholesome diet, provide safe chew-toys, and get them used to regular tooth cleaning. Wrap a moist gauze bandage around your index finger and get your pet used to having teeth and gums rubbed with a veterinarian-recommended pet tooth paste or home-prepared mixture of equal parts green tea, aloe vera gel, baking soda and sea salt.

A few drops of fish oil like Nordic Naturals ( 1 teaspoon daily for a cat or 30 lb dog, 1 tablespoon for larger dogs) in the pet’s food every day will help reduce any gum inflammation.

Cats and dogs with serious oral health issues may benefit from daily treatments of a few drops of various essential oils (which variously have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties) diluted approximately 1 drop in 50 drops of a “carrier” oil such as olive oil, ( or a 50:50 mixture of salmon and olive oil) or aloe vera gel. These essential oils include clove, myrrh, thyme, oregano and helichrysum. Propolis, the remarkable product from bees, may also be beneficial in both treatment and preventive regimens with these oils. More research and clinical trials are called for as well as caution for cats because of their inherent deficiency of certain detoxifying liver enzymes, and especially for cats and dogs with liver and kidney disease.


In my professional opinion the all-natural-ingredient Core dental and oral health care spray and gel for dogs and cats is the missing-link in owner-provided companion animal health and well-being.

Core dental care products are an integrating element of holistic companion animal health care and disease prevention when followed as a routine application to the animals’ gums and teeth: And as a prophylaxis applied for 3-4 days prior to any appointment for dental cleaning and extractions, helping reduce the likelihood of complications and speeding recovery/healing. For details and to place orders go to Natural Pet Products | Core Pet (

Safe chew-toys made of ideally organic rubber (most plastics contain toxic phthalates), knotted cotton ropes, raw beef marrow bones (some dogs chew too hard and damage teeth so only allow short 5-10 min chewings per day!), and organic US certified rawhide strips, are good tooth cleaners, along with strips of scalded beef heart, shank beef, and chicken wing tips. Some pet supply stores have stopped stocking hard dog chews like antlers and horns after veterinarians expressed concern over large numbers of dogs that had fractured their carnassial teeth on the treats, sometimes requiring extraction of the tooth or a root canal. Chews are too hard if a fingernail dug into the chew does not make an impression and if it hurts to whack your knee with the chew, says veterinary oral surgeon Rachel Perry. (The Bark online (33) )

Topping my list for safe and enjoyable dog chews are the No-Hide Dog Chews, in various sizes and flavors from

Cats enjoy chewing on chicken wing tips, chicken or turkey gizzard strips or beef shank or heart slivers.

Maintaining pets’ dental hygiene, along with good nutrition—where highly processed pet foods leave micro-particles adhering to the teeth and foster dental disease—prevents much animal suffering. Dental problems, closely related to diet, are very common in dogs and cats and are often left untreated for too long, causing much suffering and long crippling, even fatal illness. These include kidney, liver and heart disease secondary to periodontal disease that afflicts, to varying degrees of severity, an estimated seventy five percent of the US dog population. This is the oral equivalent of AIDS that goes from halitosis to toxicosis, and can lead to similar symptoms of immune system impairment associated with chronic oral disease/dysbiosis.

Costly dental surgery under anesthesia that can result in fatalities in animals whose health is seriously compromised by bacterial infection and related problems originating from the oral cavity, can also be avoided.

The exchange of opinions concerning anesthesia-free dental cleaning (1, 2) is instructive. It would seem reasonable to anesthetize a dog or cat not used to being given an oral examination and not amenable to dental probing. That would be more humane for the animals and safer for the veterinary staff. But there may be practice-enhancing ways to avoid this all too often late-in-the-game, first-time dental/ oral examination ( often an oral chamber of horrors) for far too many dogs and cats, many of whom are put at risk and expire when given anesthesia for much needed, major dental surgery.

But cats and dogs can be very amenable to oral examination and professional cleaning when they have come to accept being restrained and having their gums regularly massaged soon after they have been weaned. Such handling and massage, which can provide some relief when they are teething, may also increase animals’ trust and reduce the incidence of people being bitten, especially children in the family and care-givers needing to restrain their animals.

Cradling-restraint, general ( 3) and gum massage, along with the occasional habituating application of a natural oral care product that they would later be given routinely as adults, would seem to be a practice that veterinary behaviorists might wish to consider and promote to help prevent the virtual plague of oral disease currently confronting companion animal veterinary practice.

The use of probiotics (along with a change in diet) may be of benefit for dogs and cats with dental problems related to dysbiosis which can also involve the microbiomes of the digestive tract and integument (skin, ears and anal glands) when symbiotic bacteria are displaced by colonizing, potentially harmful bacteria and fungi.

To reiterate, when harmful bacteria proliferate under the gums and oral health is compromised as periodontal disease becomes established, the bacteria enter the bloodstream and as they are filtered out by the kidneys and liver, can cause micro-abscesses in these organs. Animals with periodontal disease can therefore develop secondary kidney disease—glomerulonephritis and interstitial nephritis, and also hepatitis. When the bacteria lodge in the heart or respiratory system, heart disease— endocarditis and myocarditis, and chronic bronchitis and pulmonary fibrosis can develop.

Wellness therefore includes maintaining healthy oral cavities and bowels. And that entails vigilance and good nutrition to help maintain tissue health and vigorous populations of beneficial bacteria in all body cavities and surfaces. Good dental hygiene and good nutrition go hand in hand as the cornerstones of holistic pet health care maintenance.

  1. Carmichael D T. Concern with anesthesia-free dental cleaning. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016: 248; 601
  2. De Jong J. More on anesthesia-free dental cleaning. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2016 268: 601
  3. Fox MW. The healing touch for cats/dogs New York Harper Collins


Dog and cat care-givers are not generally aware of the risks of putting their animals under a general anesthetic, even when quick acting drugs and inhaled gases are used which generally allow for a rapid post-surgical recovery. The safety of giving a general anesthetic to an animal has been greatly improved over that past two or so decades, but that does not mean there are no risks, for which most veterinarians take due precaution in preparing the animal patient before the anesthetic is administered, and also monitoring vital signs during surgery and post-surgical recovery.

This risk-minimization is the reason why it is so costly to have a routine teeth cleaning done in a healthy animal, many veterinarians preferring to give a general anesthetic in order to do a thorough cleaning and examination and extractions if called for. Some seek to avoid this risk by relying on effective restraint and tranquillization, and giving their clients the advice and basic tools of canine and feline dental hygiene, including VetzLife Oral care Products which I endorse.

I am deeply disturbed by dog and cat owners/care-givers telling me that their veterinarians are now making dental care under a general anesthetic an annual event, —even for one-year old cats and dogs! I see this as ethically (and medically) questionable profiteering and one way to help compensate for income lost from the shift away from annual ‘booster’ vaccinations which I have challenged for the past 20 years.

Profit motives aside, the fact remains that the older they get, most dogs and cats develop some form of dental disease/oral pathology, especially when their care-givers are uninformed about proper oral health care and maintenance for their animal companions. These animals need to be given a general anesthetic, and no matter how well the animal patient is prepared and monitored by the veterinarian, death may occur because of the oral infection and inflammatory substances in the oral cavity invading the animal’s body and affecting organ functions which may also be dysfunctional through unrelated disease and genetic anomalies. Prior to performing oral surgery on such animal patients many veterinarians will put them on antibiotics for a few days first and prescribe an oral care product such as VetzLife to address the potentially harmful bacterial ‘dysbiosis’ and inflammatory condition of the oral cavity which if neglected prior to surgery could increase risk.

So PREVENTION is the key, to avoid these complications and the risks and need for a general anesthetic, which can never be justified as an annual event for otherwise healthy animals. Plaque buildup is the main trigger for gingivitis (gum inflammation) and periodontal disease (which involves destruction of the ligament and bone anchoring the teeth) and is the most common health problem in cats and dogs, especially smaller breeds. This issue was addressed in an article by Dr. Urbieta et al in the journal Integrative Veterinary Care ( Fall 2013, p 34-36) showing that prophylactic dental cleaning to remove plaque by a trained technician can be done on an outpatient basis without general anesthesia in dogs and cats to good effect.( For details of this study go to and read—-Professional Outpatient Preventive Dentistry (POPD): Can It Be Done Safely and Effectively Without the Use of General Anesthesia?


Clinical conditions, (in addition to cracked and broken teeth and the now rare pitting of the enamel from distemper infection in dogs), include stomatitis (inflammation of the lining of the mouth), gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontal disease. This involves the accumulation of calculi or scale ( tartar, plaque) on the teeth and infection, including abscesses under the gums with spread to the tooth roots which become loosened in their cavities. Infection can travel into the jaw bones and sinuses. We should add oral dysbiosis, the imbalance of healthy bacteria with proliferation of harmful varieties called anaerobic bacteria. These are all too common dog and cat maladies that left unattended can mean much suffering and heartache, as well as expense. As the diseased oral condition progresses, animals have great difficulty eating, may become anorexic, feverish, drool and even have blood in their saliva. Various diseases affecting internal organs may eventually develop.

In cats, a devastating condition that essentially erodes the enamel around the teeth called feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL), with periodontal disease often being the precursor, is generally incurable but potentially preventable. It usually means extraction of most teeth. For more details see Feline Stomatitis Complex: The Oral Plague of Cats. Treatment & Prevention posted on this website


For more documentation see Association of periodontal disease with breed size, breed, weight, and age in pure-bred client-owned dogs in the United States. C. Wallis and associates, The Veterinary Journal Volume 275, 2021 All small breeds are prone to develop gingivitis, plaque and periodontal disease as well as are greyhounds, Shetland sheep dogs toy and miniature poodles and dachshunds in particular. In another article on this issue the authors conclude: “Unfortunately, within minutes to hours of a thorough professional teeth cleaning, a layer of salivary glycoproteins begins to form on the surface of the tooth which is subsequently colonised by bacteria to form dental plaque (Ray & Eubanks 2009, Holcombe et al. 2014). This means that the benefits of a professional dental cleaning are lost within days of the procedure and should be accompanied by a long-term prevention strategy (Harvey 2005). The key to good oral health is through regular and effective homecare combined with periodic health checks and treatment by a veterinarian. Tooth brushing is considered one of the most effective means of removing plaque (Saxe et al. 1967, Lindhe et al. 1975, Gorrel & Rawlings 1996, Niemiec 2008). However, this is rarely provided due to poor owner compliance, their lack of technical ability or the dog’s non-acceptance of the process (Lobprise 2006, Ray & Eubanks 2009, Gorrel 2013). However, even with effective tooth brushing, plaque management on the lingual and palatal surfaces of teeth or in grooves can be difficult. There are a number of potentially useful adjuncts to tooth brushing such as dental diets and chews, oral rinses (e.g. chlorhexidine), water additives and gels (Harvey 2005, Quest 2013). Appropriate chew toys may also help impede plaque and calculus accumulation (Harvey et al. 1996). Given the huge array of dental products available, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) was established in the USA to review and recognise dental products that achieve their pre-set standards for the prevention of plaque and calculus accumulation. Products are awarded the VOHC Seal of Acceptance providing trials have been conducted according to VOHC protocols and the standard is achieved. This provides a means for veterinarians and owners to select products which have been proven to be efficacious for plaque and calculus prevention.” Quotation from A review of the frequency and impact of periodontal disease in dogs by C. Wallis,L. J. Holcombe Journal of Small Animal Practice 21 September 2020