Signs of dental disease in dogs and cats

Post Date: July 1, 2018 By: Dr. Buelow

When it comes to signs of dental disease in dogs and cats, please think about the following:

1st Cats and dogs are notoriously good at hiding signs of pain. That is their nature! They rarely show obvious signs of dental disease.

2nd Eating is an incredibly strong drive for all animals, and our domestic dogs and cats are no exception. If they stop eating altogether, it is often a serious issue. Dental problems rarely cause a loss of appetite, and we cannot use the fact that they are eating as a reason to ignore dental disease.

3rdMy patients can’t tell me what hurts, what is sensitive to hot/cold, where the toothache is, etc… For that reason, I (as a veterinary dentist) am here (and so are you!) to be an advocate for them and to make sure they don’t suffer from unrecognized pain. What is uncomfortable/painful for a person (broken tooth, periodontal disease, etc…) would be uncomfortable for our dogs and cats.


This sketch of a happy dog shows it all. Dogs and cats can be suffering from severe disease and never give us any indication of this. We need to be vigilant and check our furry favorites for dental disease.

Things that every pet parent can be looking for as a visible sign of a problem include the following:

  • Broken tooth
  • Halitosis
  • Red/inflamed gums
  • Tartar/calculus build-up
  • Facial swelling
  • Oral growths
  • Discolored teeth
This is a picture of a broken 4th premolar of a dog. The pulp (vessels and nerves of the tooth) is clearly exposed. This is very painful, but dogs rarely stop eating or playing when this happens. But clearly this is an issue that needs to be addressed.


This is a picture of severe periodontal disease and tooth resorption in a cat. Believe it or not, this cat was eating well and acting normally despite the obviously severe oral disease. This cat required nearly full-mouth extractions and is now feeling much better!


While rare that animals show signs of disease in their mouths, here are some behaviors you can watch for that might indicate dental problems (they are often severe is these signs are obvious):

  • Excessive salivation (this is more often attributed to nausea or GI discomfort, so a general exam is in order if your dog or cat is having this problem)
  • Difficulty chewing/change in chewing behavior
  • Change in food preference (dry vs canned or vice versa)
  • Dropping food
  • Change in play behavior/preference for toys
  • Pawing at the face
  • Vocalizing while eating, hissing at the food bowl (cats)
If your dog stops playing with toys that he/she has always loved in the past (like Noodles here with her little orange squeaky balls), that might indicate that there is pain in the mouth.


A change in food preference or dropping of food could indicate that there is an underlying dental problem (or in this case, it could indicate that your cat is an extremely messy eater!).