From hospital to home: prevention of dental disease in dogs and cats

The prevention of dental disease in dogs and cats and how to treat it from hospital to the home.

Periodontal disease is one of the most common medical conditions in dogs and cats, with one study showing that 80 percent of dogs over the age of three are affected1. However with a combination of professional veterinary dental work and an individually tailored home dental care plan, the incidence of dental disease in dogs and cats can be greatly reduced.

What is periodontal disease in dogs and cats?

The term periodontal disease describes two conditions – gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis results from the build-up of dental plaque (an invisible biofilm). Plaque forms within minutes but the associated inflammation is reversible with appropriate home dental care. If untreated, disease progresses to periodontitis, with loss of alveolar bone and other supporting structures, ultimately leading to tooth loss. Periodontitis is irreversible which emphasizes the need for intervention early on.

Home dental care for dogs and cats

Home dental care is key to the prevention of dental disease in dogs and cats. Of course it is not a substitute for professional care, and animals with pre-existing disease, will need a dental first. However, the benefits of this dental will be short-lived without suitable home follow-up care.

Every pet is an individual and to ensure good compliance, the temperament of the pet, as well as the commitment of the owner must be considered.

1. Toothbrushing

The mechanical removal of plaque through daily brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush is the gold standard when it comes to at-home pet oral care. A suitable sized tooth brush should be used, taking into account breed and size of the dog or cat.

Top tooth brushing tips

  • Replace the brush every couple of months, or when the bristles become frayed
  • A finger brush can be an effective way to get pets used to brushing
  • Gently hold the mouth closed and insert the brush under the lips
  • Use a pet-friendly toothpaste to help make brushing a positive experience
  • Brush a minimum of once every other day as after this time plaque will start to calcify2 but…
  • …daily brushing is best

Human toothpastes are not suitable for pet use. Firstly they contain ingredients including frothing agents and fluoride which are not designed to be swallowed, and secondly they may contain xylitol which is highly toxic to dogs.

While it is widely accepted that regular tooth brushing is the best option, owner compliance with this is not always great. Keeping clients motivated to persist with brushing can be a challenge. One study revealed that only six percent of dogs and two percent of cats have their teeth brushed daily3.

So what are the other options?

2. Dental wipes

Dental wipes can help control halitosis in dogs and reduce the build-up of plaque. Wipes with a textured surface, such as MAXIGUARD® Oral Cleansing Wipes, will increase the effectiveness of plaque removal and are effective to use in all species, including small pets and exotics.

Owners may find wipes easier to use than a toothbrush, and pets often tolerate them well. As with all home oral care for pets, owners should take care not to get bitten, especially with less willing pets.

3. Oral cleansing gels and washes

  • Chlorhexidine

Chlorhexidine, usually in the form of chlorhexidine gluconate, is an antimicrobial with broad spectrum anti-plaque activity. It is a mainstay of many oral washes for pets but has the disadvantage that its bitter taste means that it is not always readily accepted.

  • Zinc

Zinc as an active ingredient helps to control plaque build-up by oxidising the anaerobic bacteria in the biofilm. It is an effective antiplaque agent that also reduces gingivitis4.

MAXIGUARD® Oral Cleansing Gel is the first home dental care product for pets with neutralised zinc in a hydrogel form. The hydrogel aids mucoadhesion, and a narrow pH range ensures good bioavailability, with excellent permeation of plaque. Unlike some chlorhexidine products, it is usually readily accepted by pets which aids compliance.

4. Dental chews and toys

For pets who are not tolerant of ‘hands-on’ oral care, dental chews can be a helpful solution. In fact dental chews have been shown to reduce plaque accumulation, tartar formation, halitosis and gingivitis5. They are useful as an additional tool in all pets, including those who will accept brushing and other oral care.

5. Dental diets

Dental diets maximise plaque removal when the dog or cat bites into the kibble. There are a number of veterinary dental diets which have been clinically proven to improve oral health, both by mechanical means and through the chemical action of added ingredients such as chlorhexidine or polyphosphates.

Top tips for dental home care plans in veterinary practice

  • Speak to owners of puppies and kittens about oral health care – at this point in their pet’s life, owners are particularly motivated to do their absolute best for their pet
  • Home dental care plans should be used alongside professional dental work in practice
  • Where tartar is present, a veterinary dental indicated
  • Owner education is key, include information sheets and how-to guides in your dental care kit
  • Show owners how to brush their dog or cat’s teeth
  • Have a waiting room dental display with suggested oral health care products including toothbrushes and paste, oral gels and washes and dental diets


  1. Kortegaard, H. E. et al., (2008). Periodontal disease in research beagle dogs – an epidemiological study. Journal of Small Animal Practice 49, 610- 616
  2. Harvey C., Serfilippi L., Barnvos D. (2015). Effect of frequency of brushing teeth on plaque and calculus accumulation, and gingivitis in dogs. J Vet Dent 32(1):16-21
  3. Dog and Cat Owners Challenged to Brush up on Dental Health (2015) Tesco Bank Pet Insurance study
  4. Clarke, D. E. (2001). Clinical and microbiological effects of oral zinc ascorbate gel in cats. J Vet Dent 18(4): 177-183
  5. Quest, B. W. (2013) Oral health benefits of a daily dental chew in dogs. J Vet Dent 30(2):84-87

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