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How to Overcome Fear, Anxiety & Stress About Your Pets’ Dental Care

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Even though periodontal disease is the most common disease in both cats and dogs1, many pets don’t get the dental care they need due to the fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) they experience when going to the veterinarian. And that stress affects not only the cat or dog, but the owner, too.

Two things need to happen to turn that situation around. First, pet owners as well as pet health care providers need to adopt Fear Free approaches to making veterinary visits comfortable and even fun for pets. Simple steps like encouraging the pet to see her carrier as a safe spot, a steady supply of treats, and rewards-based training can change getting your pet to the vet from a chore to a joy.

Second, pet owners need to learn the truth about pet oral health, and become familiar with the signs of poor oral health. For example, you may already associate bad breath with dental disease, but did you know that dropping food can also be a symptom? Other symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Loose, broken or discolored teeth
  • Sensitivity to having the mouth touched
  • Drooling
  • Occasional bleeding of gum tissue
  • Decreased appetite2

It’s also important to realize most periodontal disease occurs below the gums, so you may not notice any of these signs. That’s why regular annual dental exams by a veterinarian are essential, detecting dental disease when it’s easier and less costly to treat. Getting early treatment will also spare your pet the stress and pain of dental disease, and make sure bad breath doesn’t interfere with the bond between you and your pet.

In addition to the stress the pet experiences at the veterinary visit, the owner’s fear over anesthesia also presents an obstacle to getting dental care for pets. Anesthesia has never been safer for pets than it is today, because of newer anesthetic drugs and continuous monitoring by trained personnel. But just as important, anesthesia is necessary. The anesthesia process keeps your pet safe by providing medications to keep them pain free and from moving, allowing the veterinary team to conduct a thorough examination and to perform x-rays and other procedures that the pet would find painful and frightening if awake.

What are the consequences to your pet of delaying dental care? They can be serious, causing significant pain and distress as well as negatively affecting the kidneys, liver, lungs and heart.3-5 They can also hit you hard in your wallet, as treating severe dental disease takes more time up to four hours and requires more extensive procedures. In fact, it’s is 2.5 times more expensive to treat severe dental disease than to get your pet’s teeth cleaned by your veterinarian.6

Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about steps you can take at home to keep your pet’s mouth and teeth healthy. You can download tips and information from Zoetis Petcare, and there are also plenty of great resources here on Fear Free Happy Homes to help you with tooth brushing (yes, you can!), dental toys, and functional treats.

Here’s the bottom line: Saying “yes” to a dental procedure performed with Fear Free approaches not only ensures your pet will be handled in a safe and comforting manner, but helps keep them healthy and happy at home.


    1.  American Veterinary Dental College(AVDC). Periodontal Disease. Available at: Accessed October 29, 2018.
    2. American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC). Information for owners. Available at: Accessed October 29, 2018.
    3. Pavlica Z, Petelin M, Juntes P, et al. Periodontal disease burden and pathological changes in the organs of dogs. J Vet Dent 2008; 25:97-108.
    4. Debowes LJ, Mosier D, Logan E, et al. Association of periodontal disease and histologic lesions in multiple organs from 45 dogs. J Vet Dent 1996; 13:57-60.
    5. Glickman LT, Glickman NW, Moore GE, et al. Evaluation of the risk of endocarditis and other cardiovascular events on the basis of the severity of periodontal disease in dogs. JAVMA 2009; 234:486-494.
    6. American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC). Information for owners. Accessed December 17, 2013.

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This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

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