Small dogs tend to have bigger problems with dental hygiene

Q: We have two dogs: Tiny, a mixed breed dog that weighs less than 10 pounds, and Major, a large mixed shepherd. Major has great teeth and gums, but Tiny has always had dental disease, even though her vet cleans her teeth every year. We have seen this pattern in the past with our other dogs.

Are dental diseases more common in small dogs than in large dogs? If yes, why?

A: Yes. As wolves were domesticated and some dogs were gradually bred as companion dogs, their bodies and jaws grew smaller, but their teeth did not grow proportionately smaller.

As a result, the relatively large teeth of today’s small dogs are crammed into small mouths, and their tiny jaws contain much less bone to support those large teeth.

In addition, small breed dogs retain their baby teeth more often than large breeds. A deciduous tooth and an adult tooth sharing the space allocated to a single tooth increases overcrowding.

If this is not enough, many small dogs are intentionally bred to have a malocclusion that further clutters the teeth and impairs dental health. The most common effect is underbite, with the lower jaw sticking out in front of the upper jaw. Popular small breed dogs with an underbite include the Boston Terrier, French Bulldog, Lhasa apso, Pekingese, Pug, and Shih Tzu.

All of these factors promote dental disease through retention of food in the teeth, increased plaque deposition and inflammation of the gums.

In a recent study of 3 million dogs comprising 60 breeds with an average age of 5 years, periodontal disease was diagnosed in 18.2%. It was more common in dogs under 33 pounds than in those over that weight. In fact, periodontal disease has been diagnosed more than five times more often in dogs weighing less than 14 pounds than in dogs over 55 pounds.

Continue to give Tiny and Major excellent dental care to make sure everyone has a pain-free mouth, smoother breath, and a longer, healthier life.

Q: I am considering adopting Hope, a one year old cat who has tested positive for the feline leukemia virus. She’s healthy now, but I know from your column that she might get sick in the future.

If I could buy pet health insurance for her, I would be more likely to seek the best treatment if her health deteriorates. However, I couldn’t find any insurance that covers the pre-existing conditions.

Should I still adopt it? I believe I am meant to give her a peaceful life and would appreciate your advice.

A: I scanned the internet and also couldn’t find any pet health insurance that covers pre-existing conditions. This is not surprising, given how insurance works.

Still, I’m happy when my clients have pet health insurance because I know financial constraints won’t force them to make tough decisions.

Before purchasing insurance, the buyer should read the policy carefully to avoid unpleasant surprises afterwards. The buyer may also ask the company to review the animal’s medical records before or shortly after the policy is issued and indicate whether the animal has any pre-existing conditions that will limit coverage.

An alternative to buying insurance is to self-insure. Open a savings account for Hope and deposit the same amount each month as you would spend on insurance premiums.

If Hope needs special care, money will be available. If he stays healthy throughout his life, as many cats with leukemia do, you’ll have money to invest for the next cat you save.

Should we adopt Hope? I think the answer is in your question, “I believe I’m meant to give her a peaceful life.” Hope is certainly a lucky cat to have found you. I wish you happy years together.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices pet medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

[email protected]

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