The most common dental problems in cats & dogs

4 December 2023 - 7 min read

Here at ManyPets, we handle thousands of claims for dental and oral conditions each year, so we know how much stress and pain they can cause you and your pet.

We’ve investigated the most common dental diseases for cats and dogs, some practical steps you can take to avoid them and how to spot any problems brewing with your cat or dog’s mouth.

The most common dental problems for dogs

We looked back at how many pet insurance claims we handled for tooth and mouth conditions in the 12 months up to 1 November 2023.

Our research showed that these are the most common dental and oral conditions specifically listed in dog insurance claims:

  • Tooth disorder (45% of all dog dental conditions)

  • Tooth structure injury (30%)

  • Gingivitus (12%)

  • Tooth/oral abscess (6%)

  • Retained deciduous tooth (5%)

  • Oral pain (2%)

The most common dental problems for cats

Cats have a slightly different set of tooth and gum conditions to look out for. 

Here are the most common specifically listed dental problems cats experience, according to our cat insurance claims research:

  • Tooth disorder (30% of all cat dental conditions)

  • Gingivitis or gum disease (36%)

  • Resorptive lesion (18%)

  • Tooth structure injury (11%)

  • Oral pain (3%)

  • Oral mass or lesion (1%)

  • Tooth/oral abscess(1%)

A dog having its teeth examinedGingivitis

Gingivitis is one of the most common conditions seen by vets, especially for cats where it accounts for more than a third of all dental and oral claims for cats and more than one-in-10 dental claims for dogs.

Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. It develops because of a build-up of plaque on the teeth and can be painful for cats and dogs. You might notice your pet's gums become red and swollen, leading to bleeding.

Plaque builds up on the teeth because of bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria use the sugar found in food to produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel. As more plaque builds up it can grow beneath the gums, eventually leading to swelling and inflammation.

Thankfully, gingivitis is easily treatable with good home dental care or with professional scaling and polishing at your vet.

But don't leave it too long to get it treated – gingivitis can lead to a more serious condition called periodontal disease.

Average claim paid out for gingivitis: £391

Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is a more serious and advanced form of gingivitis. It’s the most common infectious disease found in dogs and cats, but the right dental care and treatment it can stop it from getting worse.

It affects the tissue that supports the teeth and holds them in place and in the most serious cases, your pet may need to have a tooth removed.

In really severe infections, the bacteria connected with periodontal disease can enter a pet’s bloodstream causing damage to internal organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.

Tooth abscess

An abscess is a collection of pus, usually caused by a bacterial infection. If left untreated it can lead to tooth loss and more serious health problems.

It's not always easy to spot a tooth abscess. Although they can be very painful, your pet might not show obvious signs of discomfort or distress. Look out for them being unwilling to eat their usual food, or only chewing on one side of the mouth.

If you think there might be a problem, look inside their mouth. If there's an abscess, you'll notice swelling and reddening of the gum around the affected tooth.

Average claim paid out for tooth abscess: £470

Worn or broken teeth

Your pet’s teeth can be damaged or worn down through day-to-day activities like chewing, but carrying hard pet toys, balls, bones, sticks, and pebbles can also cause damage.

Because of this, worn teeth and fractures are more common in dogs but cats can also break a tooth, typically in a fall or road traffic accident.

Choose soft toys and dental chews for your dog and try to limit unsupervised play with large stones and sticks outdoors.

Average claim paid out for tooth structure injury: £643

A cat having its teeth examinedResorptive lesions

This condition only affects cats, but it's very common. After gingivitis, it’s the most common dental condition for cats.

Around a third of all adult cats will have resorptive lesions at some time.

It can be extremely painful. The tooth structure in your cat’s mouth will decay and become weaker. When this happens the affected tooth is likely to break and expose sensitive nerves.

It isn’t always easy to spot in the early stages of the condition as the damage is happening inside the tooth.

It’s difficult to correct the damage and in most cases your vet will need to remove the tooth. That can get expensive, because your cat will need a general anaesthetic.

Average claim paid out for feline resorptive lesion: £359

The cost of dental treatment for dogs

Dental treatment for dogs can get expensive because your vet will usually need to sedate your pet to carry out dental work. 

The average cost of dental claims for dogs in the 12 months up to November 2023 was £482.19 and that’s a pretty good guideline – dental treatment for your dog is likely to cost at least a few hundred pounds.

Most pet insurance policies don’t cover dental illness, but our Complete policy includes cover for dental accident and illness, making it one of the few dog insurance policies that can help cover costs.

The cost of dental treatment for cats

The average dental claim for cats was £423.73 – only a little less than the average cost for dogs.

Cats are generally smaller than dogs which means they need a bit less medication and anaesthetic for dental work, which reduces the average cost slightly, but not by a lot.

If you’re surprised to see how much dental work for your cat could cost you, check out our Complete policy. It’s available as a cat insurance policy as well, so it could protect you from high dental bills for your cat in future.

How can I keep my pet's teeth healthy?

Pet insurance doesn’t cover routine dental work so it’s important that owners take good care of their pet’s teeth and gums at home between vet check-ups.

Our Vet Relationship and Claims Manager Sarah Dawson has seen plenty of dental woes in her years as a veterinary nurse. These are Sarah's top three tips for avoiding common dental conditions:

  1. Feed your pet a healthy diet

  2. Brush their teeth and give them regular dental care and check-ups

  3. Choose toys and chews that can combat dental disease

  4. Examine your pet's mouth and gums regularly to help you spot signs of disease.

You can check your dog’s teeth as part of a regular tooth brushing routine.

Like Sarah, veterinary surgeon Kirsten Ronngren strongly recommends regular home care for your dog’s teeth. “Teeth brushing daily is the number one thing owners can do to promote good oral health, followed by using things like dental chews and foods approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.”

Signs and symptoms of dental disease in pets

"From my own experience of working in veterinary practices, I've found that dental issues can often be missed, especially for pets with smaller mouths,” says Sarah. “It’s only when the situation gets very bad that owners start to notice changes in their pet’s behaviour.”

Make a quick oral check a part of your pet’s regular grooming routine so you’re more likely to spot problems early.

These are the eight main signs of dental disease to look out for in your cat or dog:

Signs of dental disease in pets1. Discoloured teeth

Yellow or brown teeth in cats or dogs is a sign of plaque build-up. Cats and dogs can develop plaque on their teeth when saliva, food particles and bacteria come together.

If plaque’s left untreated it combines with minerals in the mouth to become hard tartar which looks like a yellow-brownish crust developing around the gums.

The build-up of tartar can lead to gingivitis, periodontal disease or even tooth abscesses.

2. Abnormal drooling or a runny nose

Your pet might drool if they can’t close their mouth or swallow without pain.

Infections from abscesses (under the gum line) can create a pus pocket and that infection can get into the sinuses and nasal cavities. If this happens, your pet may start sneezing or have a runny nose.

3. Loose, missing or broken teeth

If your pet starts whining when they’re eating or when someone touches their mouth, it could be dental disease.

4. Weight loss

If you notice your pet isn't showing its normal interest in food, it could be down to a dental issue.

They're most likely finding it difficult or uncomfortable chewing their food. If it's an ongoing issue, you might even notice that they've lost weight.

5. Reluctance to chew food

If your pet isn't eating as normal, there can be lots of causes, but don’t rule out dental disease. Check their mouth and see a vet to find the cause before your pet begins to lose weight.

6. Bad breath (halitosis)

Your cat or dog shouldn’t have really bad breath. If they do, it's normally a sign of gum disease or another oral condition that needs investigating by your vet.

The build-up of odour-producing bacteria is often the cause of bad breath. Having your pet’s teeth scaled and polished will help improve bad smells as it will remove the build-up of plaque and tartar that causes the problem.

7. Red gums

Look out for a swollen jaw and heat or redness. This might mean an infection in the gums around the tooth root. Any inflammation along the gum line where the gum meets the tooth is a sign of gingivitis.

Does pet insurance cover dental treatment?

Most pet insurance policies will only cover dental accidents, which might include things like broken teeth and injuries to the mouth. A few pet insurance providers include dental illness in their most comprehensive policies.

Our Complete policy includes cover for dental illness and accidents as part of your £15,000 vet fee limit. You'll need to ensure your pet has an annual dental check up and you follow any vet recommended treatment within six months for claims to be considered.

As you can see from our pet insurance claims data, the cost of treating dental conditions in cats and dogs can easily run into hundreds of pounds, especially if they need sedation with a general anaesthetic. 

Not all pet insurance policies cover dental illness, but our Complete policy has up to £15,000 cover every year.

Another way to save money on treatment is to use online pharmacies to get the same dental medication your vet would give you at cheaper prices.

It can be more convenient because you can order at any time from your phone or computer and have the medication delivered to your door. Find out more about online pharmacies here.

Our Complete policy covers dental illness.

Rodney Dennis
Content marketing executive

Rodney joined ManyPets in 2018 to specialise in pet health and insurance content. He previously worked in the Financial Services sector writing articles, blogs and thought leadership papers on banking regulation and financial technology.