Is Your Pet Hiding a Toothache?

Veterinarian checking dog's teeth

You would think that a cat or a dog who has a throbbing toothache would shy away from the food bowl. That’s not so, says Dr. Donnell Hansen, a specialist in veterinary dentistry and oral surgery at our Minnesota hospitals. Pets eat right through the pain and, for the most part, don’t complain. (At best, you may notice your pet mouthing toys less.) As a survival mechanism, animals are hardwired to hide any weaknesses.

What’s the surefire way to identify an oral issue? Daily brushing of your pet’s teeth and an annual, anesthetized oral exam and cleaning, including dental X-rays. Doing this type of maintenance keeps your cat or dog’s teeth in shiny shape by reducing oral plaque and preventing gum disease. Also, these are opportunities to identify oral masses or lumps and fractured teeth. All of these call for further inspection by a veterinarian.

Growing older is a pain in the mouth

As pets age, they have a higher risk of experiencing periodontal issues. For example, teeth worn down over time are more likely to get infected. Larger dog breeds are also more prone to broken teeth as they grow older.

While you may be concerned about continuing dental care because your older pet has cardiac or kidney disease, or are just worried about his body’s ability to handle anesthesia, Dr. Hansen encourages you to continue with regular dental care. “It’s better to put a pet under for a brief cleaning than to skip it and end up needing a four-hour surgery later.”

If your veterinarian recommends oral surgery for your cat or dog, heed  her advice. Don’t just switch your pet to softer food. Says Dr. Hansen, “If I’m 80 and I have a heart murmur, I certainly hope that someone will help me with my tooth pain rather than putting a Band-aid on it by offering softened food.”