Dog & Cat Dental Care: Tips for Great Oral Health [Vet-Approved]

A dog and cat holding a toothbrush, representing dog dental care and cat dental care

Aside from giving your pet a bright smile, establishing great dental care for dogs and cats contributes to their overall health. A dog dental exam and dental cleaning, done regularly, will help keep a dog’s or cat’s teeth intact, contributing significantly to their quality of life. 

Thorough dental care also helps keep periodontal disease at bay, a progressive gum disease that causes pain, tooth loss, and widespread issues such as liver disease, heart disease, and so on. 

At a glance, complete cat and dog dental care consists of at-home pet dental care (i.e. tooth brushing, dental chews) and veterinary dental care (i.e. veterinary dental exams, cat or dog teeth cleaning, & other procedures.)

Read on to learn more about complete dental care for dogs and cats — and when your pet may need them.

What’s in this Guide

A dog dental exam and dog teeth cleaning performed in Sploot Veterinary Care in Denver & Chicago

A. At-Home Routine Dental Care for Dogs & Cats

Great oral health for dogs and cats starts at home. Here are answers to the most commonly asked questions about dog dental care and cat dental care:

1. Should Cats & Dogs Have Their Teeth Brushed? How Often?

Yes, cats and dogs should have their teeth brushed regularly to prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar — which reduces the risk of numerous dental issues in dogs and dental issues in cats (e.g. gingivitis, periodontal disease).

The ideal frequency for toothbrushing schedule for dogs is daily or at least three times a week. As for cats, the ideal frequency for toothbrushing is either daily or every other day. 

Note: Cats often show aversion to toothbrushing. Dogs that have never had regular toothbrushing may also have an aversion to toothbrushing. If training is ineffective in addressing challenges, veterinarians may suggest alternatives such as dental chews, water additives, and a personalized dental cleaning regimen.

2. When Should Toothbrushing Begin for Kittens & Puppies

Toothbrushing can begin early for both dogs and cats. Starting early is not only beneficial for their oral health — but it also helps them get accustomed to regular toothbrushing. 

It is generally recommended for puppies and kittens to start toothbrushing at around 8 weeks of age, using a toothbrush that is designed for pets — and dog-friendly toothpaste or cat-friendly toothpaste, respectively. 

Note: Although 8 weeks is the generally recommended starting time for toothbrushing, each puppy or kitten may have different needs. Make sure to ask the veterinarian for personalized recommendations during your puppy exam or kitten exam. In addition, make use of positive reinforcement techniques to help puppies and kittens form a positive association with toothbrushing.

For more information on complete puppy care and kitten care, please feel free to check out our other vet-approved guides:

3. What Toothbrush is Safe for Dogs & Cats?

Pet parents may wonder, “Can I use a human toothbrush on a dog or cat safely?” 

  • When it comes to cats, NO. Most human toothbrushes are too big for a cat’s mouth and would therefore, have the potential to cause discomfort or injuries. 
  • As for dogs, there is some debate whether they should be using a human toothbrush or not. Some sources say that human toothbrushes with soft bristles are safe to use — however, this depends widely on the size of the dog’s mouth; smaller breeds may not be comfortable using a human toothbrush. 

In addition to the above points, human toothbrushes are NOT designed for a dog’s or cat’s distinctly different teeth structure. It is ALWAYS best to use a toothbrush that is designed for your feline or canine companion. 

4. What Toothpaste Can Dogs & Cats Use?

Human toothpaste is NOT safe for dogs and cats as some may contain xylitol (toxic for pets) as well as other additives that are not safe for fur babies. Make sure to always use toothpaste intended for dogs and cats, respectively. 

Note: To double-check if a product is safe for your pet, please refer to the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s list of accepted products for dogs and the list of accepted products for cats. These lists also cover whether a certain pet dental product helps in removing plaque, tartar, or both.  

5. Are Dental Chews or Dental Treats Good for Cats & Dogs?

Yes, dental chews and dental treats can be beneficial for dogs and cats. These treats are designed to help remove plaque and tartar as the pet chews, promoting good oral health.

Make sure to get dental chews that are species-specific. Aside from having a difference in ingredients, cat dental chews also tend to be smaller than most dog dental chews. 

Note: Dental chews and dental treats do NOT take the place of regular toothbrushing for dogs and cats. To check if a dental chew or dental treat is safe for your pet, check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s list of accepted products for dogs and the list of accepted products for cats

6. Can Certain Foods, Toys, or Items Damage Dog or Cat Teeth?

Yes, excessively hard toys, items, or components in food can cause tooth fractures in dogs and cats. Tooth fractures (or broken teeth) are one of the most common urgent care pet injuries that we see at Sploot Veterinary Care

Note: If you notice your pet’s tooth is fractured (broken) or mobile (moving), make sure to reach out to an urgent care veterinarian or emergency vet. 

B. Dental Exams & Teeth Cleaning for Dogs & Cats

A cat or dog dental exam is a branch of complete preventive veterinary care, involving a thorough assessment of the dog’s or cat’s oral cavity — above and below the gumline. 

In many cases, pet dental exams are followed by cat or dog teeth cleaning, a thorough deep clean that removes plaque and polishes the teeth. 

1. When Should My Dog or Cat Start Having Regular Dental Exams & Teeth Cleaning?

Cats should start dental exams after one year of age, and dogs should start dental exams after two years of age.

However, there are some exceptions — such as smaller breeds that may need dental exams sooner; or brachycephalic (i.e. flatter and wider face) breeds of dogs and cats that may need more frequent dental exams than other breeds. 

Note: Be sure to consult with your vet during your pet’s puppy wellness exam or kitten wellness exam to know the best timeframe for your pet’s dental visits. 

2. How Often Do You Need to Clean a Dog’s Teeth or Cat’s Teeth?

Generally, it is recommended for dogs and cats to see a veterinarian for a dental exam (+/- pet teeth cleaning) every year. 

Senior pets or older dogs and cats, however, may need a more frequent twice-a-year visit, unless otherwise recommended by the veterinarian.  

3. How Do Vets Check a Cat’s or Dog’s Teeth?

Veterinarians can do a quick superficial check of a dog’s or cat’s teeth during a regular pet physical exam or pet wellness exam. And for a more thorough examination, which includes an assessment of oral health below the gumline, veterinarians typically use specialized instruments and radiography. 

It is also the veterinary gold standard to make use of the safest level of anesthesia for dental exams to ensure a safer and stress-free experience for the dog or cat undergoing the procedure.

4. Is a Dog or Cat Dental Exam & Teeth Cleaning Done in The Same Visit?

In most cases, cat or dog dental exams and teeth cleaning are done during the same visit. Dental procedures can also be done after the dental exam if required. In any case, a preliminary physical exam is always done first.

Visit 1: Physical Exam & Bloodwork 

Veterinary dental exams require the use of anesthesia to ensure a safe and stress-free experience for the dog or cat undergoing it. 

Before pets can be given anesthesia, a physical exam and bloodwork are done to make sure that they are physically healthy for the procedure. During this first visit, the veterinarian will also go over details of the procedure along with cost estimates.  

Note: Around a week to a month after this physical exam is done, the dental exam can be scheduled.  

Visit 2A: Dental Exam Proper 

After the physical exam is done during the first visit, the dental exam proper can be conducted during the second visit. During the cat or dog dental exam proper, the veterinarian will do the following: 

  1. Inspect each tooth for tooth fractures, tooth decay, mobility, and etc
  2. Use specialized instruments (e.g. periodontal probe) to detect issues that may not be immediately visible to the naked eye. 
  3. Inspect the condition of structures below the gumline using a dental x-ray. This is important because periodontal disease or gum disease starts below the gumline and will not be visible on the surface until the disease has already advanced. 

Visit 2B: Teeth Cleaning

After the dental exam, cat or dog teeth cleaning can start. This is still during the second visit Here at Sploot, cat or dog teeth cleaning is done in 2 stages:

  1. Veterinary nurses use tools like manual scalers and ultrasonic scalers to remove tartar, plaque and calculus from the tooth’s surface and in between tooth crevices. 
  2. Then, we polish the dog or cat’s teeth using prophylaxis paste or prophy paste, a gritty material that leaves the teeth clean, white, and glistening.    

During dental cleaning for cats and dogs, the veterinarian will also be able to remove any foreign objects that are stuck between the animal’s teeth. The veterinarian can also assess oral masses (i.e. visible swellings inside the dog or cat’s mouth) if present — and recommend tissue biopsies if necessary. 

Visit 2C. Tooth Extraction & Other Dental Procedures 

After dental cleaning, the veterinarian may also recommend tooth extractions or other dental procedures, if needed. 

Veterinary tooth extractions are usually performed for severe tooth decay, mobile teeth, retained baby teeth, and advanced gum disease. 

Note: Tooth extractions for dogs and cats typically need stitches at the extraction site — with sutures that will dissolve within 10 - 14 days

Alternatives to tooth extraction include tooth fillings and root canals, which are treatments that preserve the function of the tooth. These may only be done for certain degrees of tooth decay. 

In case of gum diseases like gingivitis or periodontal disease, other types of dental surgery may be required: root planing (for gingivitis) and periodontal debridement (for periodontal disease). 

Note: Tooth fillings, root canals, root planing, and periodontal debridement are procedures that require care from a dental specialist. A primary & urgent care veterinary clinic like Sploot Veterinary Care will be able to stabilize the pet’s condition and manage pain before referring the patient to a dental specialist. )

Visit 3: Post-Procedure Check-Up 

Around 14 days after a dental procedure (i.e. tooth extraction and other types of dental surgery), the veterinarian will conduct a post-procedure check-up to monitor the healing of the tooth extraction site or the site of the dental surgery.

5. How Do I Take Care of My Dog or Cat After Teeth Cleaning?

Though specific instructions may vary per case, veterinarians will generally recommend the following after a cat or dog teeth cleaning:

  • A reduced food amount - pets may feel nauseous if they eat large amounts of food soon after being sedated. 
  • A place to rest - both dogs and cats will be tired or sleepy for 12 to 24 hours after anesthesia. It is recommended that they are given a comfortable place to rest. 
  • Medication - the veterinarian may give medications to help with issues like gingivitis in dogs and cats.
Note: Additional instructions will be given if the dog or cat had a dental extraction or other dental procedure aside from teeth cleaning.
 A dog getting a post-dental procedure checkup at Sploot Veterinary Care, a vet clinic in Denver and Chicago that offers dog dental care and cat dental care services

Stress-Free Cat & Dog Dental Care at Sploot Vets

We trust you found this guide on cat and dog dental exams helpful. If you have specific questions or concerns about dog or cat dental care, we are here to help!

Sploot Veterinary Care is a primary and urgent care veterinarian with daily appointment availability. We have multiple vet clinics in Denver and Chicago. At Sploot Vets, you can be sure that your cat or dog will be in good hands for their dental exam, cat or dog teeth cleaning, and other pet dental care needs. Book an appointment here or through the Sploot Vets app

Till next time, we’re with you every pounce of the way!