Basic information about pet dental health

Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital

2135 Jericho Turnpike
Garden City Park, NY 11040



Or, What You Should Know About Your Pet's Teeth.

A quick look into our pet dog or cat's mouth will illustrate just how different their teeth are from each other as well as from us.  Dogs have 28 primary or baby teeth and 42 adult or permanent teeth.  Cats have 26 primary teeth and 30 adult teeth.  In both cases, these teeth are specialized to accommodate the preferred diets of these species.  While herbivores have heavy, rough flat teeth for grinding plant based diets, the teeth of our domestic pets are designed to cut and tear the primarily meat based diets that they prefer.  Dogs do have flat surfaces on their molars for grinding and crushing, since we do know that they will eat some non meat foods and love to crunch on a big bone now and again.  Cat's however, have mostly sharp slicing dentition, adapted for a carnivorous diet in the wild.
Both species have adapted well to commercial diets and seem to have no trouble chewing processed foods.
Primary teeth start to erupt in both puppies and kittens when they are a few weeks old and are pretty much complete by the time of weaning at 6 weeks.  These will be replaced starting around 4 months of age, starting with the incisors in the front and ending with the large canines at around 6 - 7 months of age.  Extra teeth or missing teeth at this age are abnormal.  While spaces in  your pet's smile are normal, missing teeth need to be investigated.  Dental x rays should be taken to make sure that missing teeth are really not there, rather than simply hiding.  Unerupted teeth can cause serious pathology later in life.  Dentigerous cysts can form causing pain while eating and even jaw fractures if left untreated.  Retained deciduous teeth should be extracted to prevent malocclusion and increased risk from periodontal disease and infection.  
Once your pet is through the adjustment period of early childhood and training, say at around 3 - 4 months of age, it is time to start a program of home dental care.  Regular brushing with a soft tooth brush and a pet tooth past is the best way to insure dental health.  Your veterinarian can help you pick a home dental care program that will suit your pet's needs and temperament as well as your schedule.
Dental examinations should be part of your pet's annual wellness visit.  Your veterinarian will let you know when it is time for a professional cleaning.  Remember, most dogs and cats will need to have their teeth cleaned, with anesthesia, periodically.  The interval will depend on several things, including how much home care you are able to do, your pet's diet, genetics, and anatomy.  Cleaning teeth before there is a problem, a true "prophy" cleaning, similar to what we have done in our mouths, is the best way to prevent serious dental problems in the future.