Dog and Cat Teeth: The Basics

Teeth are an important part of our pet’s anatomy. They are used every day to chew food and play with toys. Teeth are subjected to a lot of wear and tear over your pet’s lifetime. Healthy teeth are essential for a good quality of life.

Here are some interesting teeth facts:

  • Puppies have 28 teeth
  • Adult dogs have 42 teeth- 12 incisors (6 top and bottom), 4 canine teeth (2 top and bottom), 16 pre-molars (8 top and bottom), 10 molars (4 top and 6 bottom)
  • Kittens have 26 teeth
  • Adult cats have 30 teeth- 12 incisors (6 on top and 6 on bottom), 4 canine teeth (2 top and bottom), 10 pre-molars (6 top and 4 on the bottom), 4 molars (2 top and bottom)
  • Puppies and kittens can start teething at 4 months of age and usually have their full set of adult teeth come in by 6 months of age
  • Dog and cat teeth can have either 1, 2 or 3 roots depending on which tooth it is.
  • Many dogs have malocclusions or irregular alignment of their teeth. This occurs more often in the short-nosed breeds like Bulldogs, Shih Tzus and Pugs. Sometimes these have no effect on their ability to live a normal life. Other times, irregularly placed teeth need to be removed to prevent them from hitting the palate or gums and causing pain. Most malocclusions are genetic therefore dogs with severe tooth alignment should not be bred, or they will pass these traits on to their offspring.
  • The teeth in the front of the mouth (incisors and canines) are used for grasping or tugging. The teeth at the back of the mouth (pre-molars and molars) are used for grinding and chewing.
  • Dog and cat teeth have enamel (the outer coating of the tooth) that is thinner and somewhat weaker than with human teeth. This makes them more susceptible to breakage and fracture.
  • 80% of dogs and cats over the age of 3 years old have some degree of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease occurs when there is inflammation and infection of the tissues below the gum line. It starts as plaque and gingivitis but then can progress to affect the roots of the teeth and become very painful.
  • Cats are prone to ‘resorptive lesions’ on their teeth. These are erosions or ‘holes’ in the enamel of the teeth that can be very painful. These ‘holes’ are similar to cavities in humans. We do not currently understand why this happens in cats as it can occur at any age on any diet. Treatment options usually involve extraction of the affected tooth
  • Dogs are prone to fracturing or breaking their teeth. This is usually from chewing on very hard items like bones or antlers. These broken teeth often need medical treatment. Veterinary dental specialists can repair these teeth by doing a root canal to relieve the pain and placing a crown over the tooth to strengthen it. Some fractured teeth are so severely damaged that they need to be extracted (removed) altogether. This can be done by your regular veterinarian.
  • Dogs and cats need preventative dental care too. Tooth brushing, water additives, dental diets and dental chews can help maintain good oral health. Regular professional dental cleanings under anesthesia are also an important part of maintaining dental health. This is where the teeth are probed, x-rayed, scaled and polished just like you would have done at your dentist. Talk to your veterinarian about this procedure today!

Written by Dr Jessica Wilson DVM