Tips for how to spot dental disease in pets

Dental diseases are really common in pets. By the age of three, more than three quarters of cats and dogs have suffered from some form of dental illness.

At Bought By Many, we see hundreds of dental claims every year. Some of the treatments needed can be really expensive, but they could have been avoided if owners had taken preventative action while their pets were younger.

for example, a regular teeth cleaning routine for your cat or dog can help prevent gum disease. You're also more likely to spot problems early if you're paying frequent attention to your pet's teeth.

Not all pet insurance policies cover dental treatment. But our Complete policy does include cover for dental illness and accidents as part of your £15,000 annual vet fee limit.

We spoke to Sarah Dawson, a qualified vet nurse and one of Bought By Many's vet relationship and claims managers, to understand how you can spot common dental diseases in cats and dogs.

Here's Sarah's list of five common symptoms you should be aware of.

1. Plaque build-up on your pet’s teeth

Sarah says: "From my own personal experience of working in veterinary practices, I've found that dental issues can often be missed, especially for pets with smaller mouths."

Some pets don’t like to be handled and owners often shy away from checking their pet’s mouths.

Pets are great at cracking on with life, even if they are in a lot of pain. It’s only when the situation gets very bad that owners start to notice changes in their pet’s behaviour.

Pet owners should regularly check for abnormalities around the teeth and gums.

Cats and dogs can develop plaque on their teeth when saliva, food particles and bacteria come together.

When left untreated, plaque combines with minerals in the mouth to become hard tartar. If you notice your pet’s teeth have a yellow-brownish crust developing around the gums it's likely to be tartar.

The build-up of tartar can lead to inflammation of the gums. This condition is called gingivitis. It's easily treatable but can lead to a more serious condition called periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease can develop into tooth abscesses, which will damage the affected tooth and can lead to an extraction being needed.

Find out more about the most common dental conditions in pets.

2. Bad breath (Halitosis)

A healthy mouth shouldn't smell.

It may not sound like the most pleasant thing to do but you should regularly check your pet’s breath. Bad breath is normally a sign of infection of the teeth or gums.

3. Pain around the mouth

If your pet starts making whining noises of pain or discomfort, it could be a sign of dental disease.

You might hear them whining when they’re eating or when someone touches their mouth.

The big problem with dental disease is that it weakens teeth. Cracked and damaged teeth are painful for pets and can lead to infections if not treated. It’s always best to contact your vet if you notice a damaged tooth.

Look out for a swollen jaw. This might mean an infection in the gums around the tooth root. Any inflammation along the gum line where the gum meets the tooth is a sign of gingivitis.

4. A runny nose

Infections from abscesses (under the gum line) can create a pus pocket and that infection can get into the sinuses and nasal cavities.

If this happens, your pet may start sneezing or have a runny nose.

5. Reluctance to chew food

If you notice your pet isn't showing its normal interest in food, it could be down to a dental issue.

They're most likely finding it difficult or uncomfortable chewing their food. If it's an ongoing issue, you might even notice that they've started to lose weight.

If your pet isn't eating as normal, it's best to check any potential causes before it develops into something more serious like weight loss.

How can I prevent dental disease in my pet?

Your dentist will tell you to regularly brush your teeth to keep them healthy - but actually the same applies to your pet.

Brushing will help you to stop the build-up of plaque and tartar on your pet's before it leads to dental disease.

But we know that's easier said than done. Some cats and dogs make it clear to their owners that they don't like their teeth being brushed.

If you're finding it difficult getting your pet to open their mouth don't give up or get disheartened. It can take time before they become comfortable with it.

If you have younger pets, it's best to get into the habit early. They just need to get used to having your fingers in their mouth and the routine of tooth brushing. Always use positive reinforcement and treats to help get them on side.

Don't use human toothpaste. There are specially designed toothpastes and brushes for pets. You can also find toothbrushes in different sizes depending on the size of your pet's mouth.

Dental chews, bones and toys can help keep your pet’s teeth clean. They'll help remove plaque build-up and tartar but brushing can be more effective. There’s also a wide selection of anti-bacterial mouth rinses available.

You can find out about these and some of the other best pet dental products in our guide.

You could also visit your local vet for a professional dental clean. This involves a scale and polish of your pet’s teeth that will remove plaque and tartar.