Kingstonist’s Wizard of Paws: Differences in dental care for pets

February has recently ended and now the rest of the year goes on. In the pet health world, February is often known as Pet Dental Month, but there is no reason that we can’t focus on good dental hygiene for our pets all year round. Let’s dive a little deeper into what can be done for your pets dental health and some of the differences you may hear or read about.

Reflecting on Pet Dental Month (observed annually in February), veterinarian Dr. Ryan Llera explains the processes involved in a veterinary dental cleaning procedure, as well as some of those dental services available for pets that don’t actually get to the ‘root’ of the matter. All photos provided by Dr. Ryan Llera.

The best method of dental care and prevention is to brush your pets’ teeth on a daily basis using a soft bristle toothbrush and an enzymatic pet toothpaste. Now, I understand for some cats or dogs this may not be possible, and that is okay because there are other options. There are a variety of approved dental products that you can find purchase in the market that will also help keep your pet’s mouth healthy.

The ‘VOHC seal of approval.’ Image via VOHC website.

What you are looking for is what is called the ‘VOHC seal of approval.’ The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) is tasked with investigating and determining which products are beneficial and safe, and they can back up those claims. Manufacturers submit their products voluntarily to the VOHC for testing which is important since not all dental chews, water additive, or food supplements are created equal. The packaging of approved products will have the VOHC seal on it, but you can also visit their website which has a list of products (some with links) to the respective company’s website or where you can purchase the products. There is a separate list for cats and dogs.

What if it’s too late for preventative care and your pet needs to see a dentist? Most pets are good candidates for a dental cleaning (other medical issues notwithstanding) that is similar to what you go through at a human dentist, except we have to put our patients under an anesthetic and involve considerably more planning.

Prior to the anesthetic, the pets get blood tests done (to make sure that it is as safe as possible for them to undergo the anesthesia), they receive a full mouth radiographs (x-rays), and the standard cleaning and polishing. During all these steps, a complete exam of the mouth is done, and, in conjunction with the radiographs, it is determined if there are any problem teeth that need to be addressed; most commonly by extraction, but there are other options these days, including root canals, if indicated. Many of these dental procedures also include pain management if needed and, in many cases, a complementary re-check or follow-up with your veterinarian.

I want to address what some people may see or read about called non-anesthetic dentals or cosmetic teeth cleaning (for pets). These all might seem good on the surface; however, they are not getting to the root of the problem, nor are they fully addressing the deeper issues that may exist (in many cases). Cleaning the visible tooth surface is one thing, but it is what’s underneath the gumline (gingival margin) that isn’t seen during these procedures and therefore missed which can lead to oral pain, tooth root abscesses, broken teeth, or difficulty eating.

So, while it may seem like a better deal financially and cost much less than your veterinarian, non-anesthetic dentals or cosmetic teeth cleanings do not provide the complete evaluation and treatment that a veterinarian is trained to provide. It’s not just that your veterinarian charges more for these procedures, it’s that you are getting more of a service for the health of your pet. The American Veterinary Dental College has a position statement on the matter, which explains in more detail the differences and advantages of having a proper dental procedure done with your veterinarian.

In closing, preventative dental care is always the best option. By maintaining a regular course of brushing your pets teeth or the use of dental products to help cut down on bacteria and calculus/tartar in the mouth, we can help to avoid these dental cleanings as often – though some pets may still need them, particularly smaller dogs and, in some cases, cats that may have underlying inflammatory disease. Be sure to ask your veterinarian and animal health care team how you can best help your pets dental health at their next visit.


If there’s something you’ve often wondered or questions you have about regarding pets, let us know by email at [email protected].

*Please note that specific medical questions about your pet cannot be addressed and you should speak with your personal veterinarian.


Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with two cats, two dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can find more of his writing at www.DRRYANLLERA.com, or see what else he is up to on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Disclaimer: All columns are personally written and my opinion, and may not necessarily reflect those of current or former employers.

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