The importance of a home dental care routine for pets: Pete the Vet on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

Passive dental care - using chews - can be an alternative to tooth brushing

To listen to this week’s podcast click on the link at the foot of this page.

The main topic was home dental care in dogs and cats: given that 80% of dogs over the age of three have dental disease, it’s important to get this right. Toothbrushing is the ideal, but clinically proven dental treats (such as Pedigree Dentastix) are a good alternative.

Dental care in dogs and cats

Our pets need healthy teeth to live life to the full, but the fact is that many from gum disease caused by plaque and tartar build-up around the gum line. This can cause low grade pain and tooth loss. Animals are good at hiding their pain, so owners remain unaware of the issue and the role they can play to help reduce this serious risk to their pet’s health. The fact that the teeth hide behind the lips, making them difficult for owners to see easily, compounds the problem.
As well as this, diseased teeth cause an accumulation of bacterial infection that can spread to the heart and kidneys via the circulation, and studies have shown that dogs with healthy mouths live for longer on average.
Educating pet owners on the need for effective oral care is important, and that’s my aim when talking about this topic publicly.

Oral Health Facts

80% of dogs over the age of three suffer from gum disease, making it the most common disease in adult dogs.
Yet 90% of owners think their dog’s oral health is “good” or “perfect”.
Gum disease starts when bacteria stick to a dog’s teeth, forming a layer of dental plaque, if not treated this will turn into hard tartar. The bacteria in plaque and tartar go on to cause inflammation of the gums, known as periodontal disase.

The Signs of Gum Disease

There are several signs which indicate poor oral hygiene in a dog

  • Bad Breath – persistent bad breath is not normal for dogs, it is very often a sign of underlying gum disease.
  • Red, inflamed or bleeding gums.
  • Receding gum line and tooth root exposure.
  • Loose teeth.
  • Tartar build-up.
  • Subtle changes in eating behaviour – e.g. preferring softer foods or chewing more on one side of the mouth.
  • Gradual changes in general behaviour – e.g. being less sociable, less lively or less enthusiastic to play.

General Advice for Owners

  • Take your dog to the vet for an oral health check-up at least once a year. This can be done as part of the usual annual health check/ vaccine review.
  • Some dogs may need checks twice a year if they are particularly prone to plaque build-up and gum disease.
  • Get your dog used to having their teeth brushed every day. It’s best to start when they are a puppy but it’s never too late. For an older dog, ask your vet to assess if any dental cleaning and treatment is required first, then follow this up with daily brushing.
  • Check your dog’s teeth and gums regularly at home: this is easy when you know how
  • Watch out for bones, stones, sticks, tennis balls, antlers and hard plastic chews as these can all cause damage to teeth and gums. Only use toys that have been specifically designed for dogs: rubber and rope toys work best.
  • Either give your dog a dental chew once a day or a long lasting dental chew twice a week if you cannot brush your dog’s teeth
  • To learn more about brushing your dog’s teeth, watch this video.


Home dental care in cATS

Dental care is similar in theory for cats as for dogs, but with some differences

  • First, they suffer from dental decay, causing toothache, just like humans
  • Second, they do have the same issue as dogs, with periodontal disease, plaque and tartar
  • So again, toothbrushing is ideal, and if you can’t do that (like most people) then special dental cleaning treats are the next best thing


Questions about pets from listeners

  • My dog has a really sensitive stomach – we feed him the sensitive food and never anything else but he regularly has an upset stomach. Is there anything additional we can do to prohibit this being a regular thing?
  • For some time my goldfish has been developing a growth over its eye. Can this be removed by a vet?  Vincent.
  • My 4 year old lurcher has started to catch and kill pigeons. I don’t want her to get into the habit because I would be afraid that she might end up doing the same with another little dog in the heat of the moment. What can I do to discourage this without keeping her on the lead all the time?
  • My dog’s gums bleed when she chews those dental sticks. Is that normal?
  • Does pete have any advice on bad breath in dogs? Is this something I just have to get over?
  • What food And drink should I give a kitten of 8weeks?
  • Is it ok to give our cat a tiny amount of milk as an occasional treat or is milk really bad for cats? Miriam in Wexford
  • We have a rescue dog, a westie, mix for 6 months. He’s about 2 years old but no matter what we give him we can’t get him to eat properly, he’s still only a little heavier than when we got him, he’s a happy little thing but impossible to feed. Why?
  • We have a bichon frise dog. He keeps getting these little sores out around his body What would appropriate treatment be? Deirdre
  • Do dogs have different blood types?
  • My Schnauzer finds the heat very troublesome and pants a lot. She has been checked out for heart problems but is fine. We sponge her down and it works for while. She is 9 and neutered. Please discuss. Pat
  • Our dog Norris a Collie Lab used to love the Dental sticks however recently he just went totally off them. Any alternatives? Cathryn
  • Could you please ask Pete if my German Shepherd’s nail will grow back? She lost one from her front paw. Thanks
  • Can Pete explain Ossification of Humeral Condyle. My Springer is limping and I am reading about it. I hear it is common in the breed
  • Pat, I bought those dentistix for my dogs and they snapped and swallowed them. Isn’t that a waste of time as he never chewed them! Baz
  • I use a woven mesh ball when playing with my cat to help her floss. She also chews on a toothbrush sideways from time to time. Can’t find a cat toothbrush
  • Our indoor cat of two years just had her first kitten which is two weeks old and when our cat was out going to the toilet she was with a male cat and now worried ? plan was always to get her nurtured after her first litter. Is there anything we can do?

To find out the answers to these queries, listen to the podcast below.

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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