Oh, My! What Big Teeth You Have!: Canine, Feline, and Rabbit Dental Basics

by | Aug 24, 2021 | Blog

February is National Pet Dental Health Month! To celebrate this year, we’ll be bringing you an interesting and informative series of posts about all things pet and dental! To kick things off on this important but often overlooked topic, let’s talk about the basics of your pet’s teeth.

healthy dog’s mouth has white teeth, pink, moist gums, and no bad smell.

Canines

Dogs have forty-two teeth – the greatest number of teeth seen in any of the animals most companion pet veterinarians see. Tiny little Chihuahuas have 42 teeth and giant Great Danes have 42 teeth. Long-muzzled Greyhounds have 42 teeth and smushy-faced Pugs have 42 teeth. Dogs have four canine teeth (sometimes known as “fangs”) and 12 little incisors. On their maxillary (upper) jaw, they have six teeth on each side meant for shearing, ripping, and chewing. On their mandible (lower) jaw, they have seven of those teeth. Dogs are omnivores, so they do chew their food more than our feline friends, who are obligate carnivores.

While there are some dental issues that affect all dogs, regardless of head size or shape – tartar and calculus build-up, fractures and wear from chewing on toys, etc., there are lots of issues that are more common in certain breeds. Brachycephalic (smushy-faced) dogs like bulldogs, Pugs, and even those with shorter muzzles, like Shih Tzus, tend to suffer more from crowded and rotated teeth. They are also more likely to have underbites than dogs with longer muzzles. Malocclusion, where the teeth don’t line up properly and don’t wear down efficiently, is caused by overbites (where the upper jaw extends past the lower jaw) and underbites (where the lower jaw extends past the upper jaw). That doesn’t mean that a larger dog is always going to have perfect teeth. Poodles are a breed known for higher incidences of dental disease, even with their long muzzles.
The best thing you can do for your dog is start when they’re young – brushing their teeth with an appropriate enzymatic toothpaste, using dental chews, or dental-specific diets (yep, they’ve even got breed-specific ones!), and getting your puppy used to getting their teeth looked at. Your veterinarian should check your dog’s teeth every year at their annual exam, but no one knows what’s going on with your dog better than you, so learn to check out your dog’s teeth so you can bring any issues to your veterinarian as soon as you see them.

He’s got the right idea – daily or even weekly brushing can help keep your dog’s mouth clean and healthy!

He’s got the right idea – daily or even weekly brushing can help keep your dog’s mouth clean and healthy!

The best thing you can do for your dog is start when they’re young – brushing their teeth with an appropriate enzymatic toothpaste, using dental chews, or dental-specific diets (yep, they’ve even got breed-specific ones!), and getting your puppy used to getting their teeth looked at. Your veterinarian should check your dog’s teeth every year at their annual exam, but no one knows what’s going on with your dog better than you, so learn to check out your dog’s teeth so you can bring any issues to your veterinarian as soon as you see them.

Just a sleepy kitty with his canines out!

Felines

Most of us don’t pay too much attention to our cats’ mouths unless they’re using them on us. Cats have got lots of sharp little teeth, and that’s because cats are carnivores. They have four sharp canines, 12 little incisors, 12 shearing teeth, and 2 little teeth way in the back for a total of 30 teeth. Cats don’t have flat molars like humans and dogs do since cats don’t really chew their food – in the wild, they shear the meat from their prey’s bones and just swallow it down. It seems crude, but it works! Not having molars and not chewing may seem like a good excuse to not look too closely at your cat’s teeth, but cats need dental care just like the rest of us. Although most cats won’t tolerate having their teeth brushed, there is the odd cat out who may enjoy the attention and of course, it’s easier to get a kitten accustomed to having its teeth brushed than an adult cat.

If tooth-brushing is out of the question, then talk to your veterinarian about alternatives – dental chews, dental-specific diets, or liquid rinses that can be added to your cat’s water dish.

Herbivores need dental care too! Their big grinding teeth need to be correctly aligned, or big problems can occur.

Rabbits

Here at NSVC, we see a lot of rabbits, which means we see a lot of rabbit teeth and rabbit dental issues. Unlike cats and dogs, rabbits are herbivores. This means that instead of having the teeth meant for ripping and tearing, their teeth are meant for snipping and grinding. Rabbits also have only 28 teeth – two fewer than cats and 12 fewer than dogs. Behind their prehensile (grasping) lips, rabbits have four incisors – two on top and two on the bottom.

Behind the top incisors are two little “peg teeth”. These extra teeth assist the incisors with shearing vegetative matter into little pieces. Rabbits have eleven “cheek teeth” or pre-molars and molars on each side of the mouth – six on the top and five on the bottom. These teeth grind up the plant material before it’s swallowed. Rabbits do not have canine teeth.

Rabbit teeth are hypsodontic – this means that they continue to grow throughout the rabbit’s life. This unique feature of rabbit teeth means a whole set of equally unique dental problems. The most common problem is malocclusion – where the top and bottom jaw don’t align correctly. This means that tooth alignment is incorrect and the teeth won’t wear down efficiently. This can lead to overgrown teeth.

Piggy’s drooling, grinding his teeth or seems painful, it could be a tooth problem – get him to a vet ASAP!

The only way to manage this condition is to get your rabbit’s teeth trimmed – an anesthetic procedure performed by your veterinarian where they use specialized tools to grind down the crown of the tooth. This occurs both at the front of the mouth with a rabbit’s incisors and at the back of their mouth with the molars. This condition can also affect guinea pigs. In both species, symptoms include drooling, not wanting to eat, grinding their teeth, and bad breath. If you notice any of these symptoms in your rabbit or guinea pig, contact your veterinarian right away!

For more in-depth information, keep following us this month as we keep talking more about this important issue. You can also check out the American Veterinary Dental College‘s website.