Can you guess the most common medical procedure after spay/neuter performed by the veterinarians at Marin Humane? Many people are surprised to learn it’s dental procedures.

The American Veterinary Dental Society reports that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of dental disease by age 3. The origin of dental disease is actually the same in dogs and cats as it is in people. The disease shows its first signs when bacteria from food accumulate in the mouth. Left untreated, bacteria cause plaque formations on teeth and around the gums. Mixing with saliva, these plaque formations harden and become tartar.

Neglecting plaque and tartar buildup can lead to periodontitis, an irreversible condition involving the inflammation and infection of the gums. Inflamed gums separate from the teeth, allowing bacteria to enter and attack the tooth at the root. At this point, bacteria can also enter the bloodstream and travel to major organs like the heart, liver and kidneys, causing serious complications.

Dogs and cats that find their way to Marin Humane have often had their teeth neglected by former guardians, so dental issues are common. Many of these poor animals are in constant pain, which can often show itself in behavior issues. To remedy most dental issues, the animal must be put under general anesthesia, which makes it possible to perform the procedures with less stress and pain, allows for a better cleaning and X-rays their jaw, if needed.

Veterinarians will remove tartar, check for cavities and growths, extract diseased teeth and finally, give those teeth a good polishing. A final polish will smooth the teeth and discourage the formation of new plaque and tartar. Extraction of problem teeth can provide tremendous relief for suffering animals and most cope well without the missing ones.

The good news is that you can take preventive measures against dental disease for your pets at home.

“It’s important for people to be proactive when it comes to their pets’ oral health,” says Marin Humane director of shelter medicine Belinda Evans. “Start by familiarizing yourself with the warning signs of dental disease like bad breath, yellow-brown crust on the teeth, bleeding gums or pawing at the mouth and commit to a home care regimen. Also, be sure to visit your veterinarian at least once a year for a checkup.”

Along with professional care, your pet will benefit from a home care regimen. Regular brushing is an important part of this routine. Introduce your pets to brushing by putting a small amount of toothpaste on your finger and rubbing it on their teeth. Be sure to use special toothpaste formulated for pets as regular toothpaste can upset your pet’s stomach. Once your pets become comfortable with this, apply toothpaste on a toothbrush and allow them to lick the bristles, then begin brushing.

Ideally, you should brush your pets’ teeth two times a week. Note that it will probably take some time until your pets cooperate. Don’t give up! Your pets will thank you.

Lisa Bloch is the marketing and communications director for Marin Humane, which contributes Tails of Marin articles and welcomes animal-related questions and stories about the people and animals in our community. Go to, find us on social media @marinhumane, or email [email protected].


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