The most common dental conditions in pets and how to avoid them

Here at, we know how much stress and pain dental issues can cause your pet and you. We see hundreds of claims relating to dental conditions every year.

To find out what the most common dental conditions in pets are, we looked at our claims data and spoke to our Vet Relationship and Claims Manager Sarah Dawson.

Sarah's also a qualified vet nurse, so she has plenty of experience of these common cat and dog oral health issues and what you can do to avoid them in your pet.

What are the most common dental problems for pets?

The most common dental conditions in cats and dogs are:

  1. Gingivitis
  2. Periodontitis
  3. Bad breath (halitosis)
  4. Teeth abscess
  5. Worn or fractured teeth
  6. Resorptive lesions (usually cats)

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is one of the most common conditions seen by vets. It's inflammation of the gums and you'll notice your pet's gums become red and swollen, leading to bleeding.

It develops because of a build-up of plaque on the teeth and can be painful for cats and dogs.

Plaque builds up on the teeth because of bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria use the sugar found in food to produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel. As more plaque builds up it can grow beneath the gums, eventually leading to swelling and inflammation.

Thankfully, gingivitis is easily treatable with good home dental care or with professional scaling and polishing at your vet.

But don't leave it too long to get it treated - gingivitis can lead to a more serious condition called periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is a more serious and advanced form of gingivitis.

We found that it costs over £450 on average to treat periodontal issues.

It’s the most common infectious disease found in dogs and cats, but with the right dental care and treatment it can be prevented from developing further.

It affects the tissue that supports the teeth and holds them in place and in the most serious cases, your pet may need to have a tooth removed.

In really severe infections, the bacteria connected with periodontal disease can enter a pet’s bloodstream causing damage to internal organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.

Bad breath (halitosis)

Your cat or dog shouldn’t have really bad breath. If you notice an unpleasant smell, check their teeth and gums and arrange a visit to your vet.

The build-up of odour-producing bacteria is often the cause of bad breath. It's normally a sign of gum disease and there may be other issues that need to be addressed concerning your pet’s teeth and gums.

Having your pet’s teeth scaled and polished will help improve bad smells as it will remove the build-up of plaque and tartar that causes the problem.

Tooth abscess

An abscess is a collection of pus, usually caused by a bacterial infection. If left untreated it can lead to tooth loss and more serious health problems.

It's not always easy to spot a tooth abscess. Although they can be very painful, your pet might not show obvious signs of discomfort or distress.

One clear sign that your pet has an abscess is being unwilling to eat their usual food, or only chewing on one side of the mouth.

If you think there might be a problem, look inside their mouth. If there's an abscess, you'll notice swelling and reddening of the gum around the affected tooth.

Worn and fractured teeth

Worn teeth and fractures are more common in dogs but cats can also experience fractures.

Your pet’s teeth can be damaged or worn down through day-to-day activities like chewing and carrying toys or sticks.

Hard pet toys or balls can lead to tooth fractures. Bones, sticks, and pebbles can also cause damage.

Choose soft toys and dental chews for your dog and try to limit unsupervised play with large stones and sticks outdoors.

Resorptive lesions

This condition only affects cats, but it's very common. After periodontal disease, it is one the most common dental conditions for cats.

Around a third of all adult cats will have resorptive lesions at some time.

It can be extremely painful. The tooth structure in your cat’s mouth will decay and become weaker. When this happens the affected tooth is likely to break and expose sensitive nerves.

It isn’t always easy to spot in the early stages of the condition as the damage is happening inside the tooth.

It’s difficult to correct the damage and in most cases, the affected tooth will need to be removed by your vet.

Does pet insurance cover dental treatment?

If your pet does need vet care for dental conditions, you might find that your pet insurance doesn't cover it. Many companies only include dental illness in their most comprehensive policies.

But our Complete policy includes cover for dental illness and accidents as part of your £15,000 vet fee limit.

How can I keep my pet's teeth healthy?

Sarah's top three tips for avoiding common dental conditions are:

  1. Feed your pet a healthy diet
  2. Brush their teeth and give them regular dental care and check-ups
  3. Choose toys and chews that can combat dental disease

It's a good idea to examine your pet's mouth and gums regularly to help you spot signs of disease.

you can do this as part of a regular tooth brushing routine.

A lot of pet owners don't always realise that brushing their pet's teeth is something they should be doing.

Admittedly, it isn't always the easiest thing to do, but it's worth persevering as tooth brushing can prevent the build-up of plaque and tooth decay.

As well as checking your dog’s gums and mouth for any signs of dental disease, you should arrange regular dental check-ups with your vet.

Lots of pet insurance policies don't cover routine dental work so it’s important that owners take good care of their pet’s teeth and gums at home.

And if you do need to visit the vet, find out what a dog or cat scale and polish entails - and how much it could could cost.