I try to go to the dentist twice a year — and more and more pet lovers are respecting the need for proper dental care for their pets as well.
After a routine cleaning, my mouth can be a little sore. When your pet has a dental cleaning or dental procedure, the tenderness in their mouth is usually a bit more intense than ours. Most pets don’t have their teeth cleaned once or twice a year like us, so they generally have more tartar accumulation that must be hand-scaled or ultrasonically scaled.
Most dogs and cats don’t exhibit signs of oral pain, even after an extensive oral procedure — they just want dinner. An animal’s drive to eat generally supersedes any pain they may experience, so it’s up to us to keep them comfortable until their mouth returns to normal.
Dental Cleanings for Pets
Even if your veterinarian describes your pet’s dental cleaning as “routine,” the procedure can be quite extensive. Many “routine” dental cleanings in our pets turn into something more involved.
Pets have quite a bit of gingivitis and other lesions associated with mouths that are not cleaned twice a day, and may require extractions that are not obvious until the animal is anesthetized and dental X-rays are taken. Caring for your pet’s comfort at home the weeks following any dental procedure is very important.
Basic food preparation following a dental procedure is usually pretty straightforward. Soft (canned) food or softened kibble should be served for a week.
Most animals will readily bite down on hard nuggets of food — even when their mouth is still sore — so help them out with a soft diet.
Avoid the typical hard treats for a week, or longer, if recommended by your vet. Feline treats come in a soft version, and your dog will be thrilled by tiny pieces of soft human food or soft dog food given as a “treat.”
Doggie ice cream is also a good idea and feels good on the gums. That goes for a little cream cheese, peanut butter and cooked meats, but don’t overdo it — your refrigerator might be stocked full of “soft” foods, but they may not all agree with your pet.
Home Dental Care
Hard dental chews or a dental diet may have been prescribed after a cleaning, but I don’t usually begin these for a week. This goes for tooth brushing too.
The best time to get serious about home dental care is after a thorough dental cleaning, but wait a week to begin so there’s no discomfort. The last thing you want is to start on an oral hygiene regimen and have your pet associate your attempts with pain.
Pets With Serious Oral Disease
Many pets need extra special care after an involved dental procedure. A complicated extraction of a single tooth requiring a gingival flap, a full-mouth extraction (most often a feline procedure) or extensive gingivectomies can mean delayed healing or prolonged discomfort.
Follow your veterinarian’s discharge instructions carefully and for the prescribed amount of time. Occasionally, a very watered-down or liquid diet is necessary both for healing purposes and for comfort. Some of the prescription diets are the consistency of a pate and can be made into a liquid diet if necessary. Syringe feeding is required rarely.
Watch this kitty get a good teeth-brushing at home:
Humans are given oral rinses to use after oral surgery, but you can’t teach a dog or cat how to swish and spit. They also can’t tell us if they have a piece of food caught in a tooth socket.
Hopefully, your pet will let you inspect their mouth if necessary, but some animals resist this area of exploration. And if the mouth is sore, they may resent you using your hands to “open wide.”
If your pet has been sent home the day of an involved dental procedure, your veterinarian expects them to be eating by the next day. If your pet refuses to eat 24 hours after the procedure, call your vet. Also call your vet if pills for pain or antibiotics have been prescribed and you are unable to administer them.
Remember that your pet may not show signs of pain and beg for cookies, but their mouth might be tender. Help them along with TLC and some homemade doggie chicken soup.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed July 26, 2017.