Dental Myth #1: Dogs and cats do not feel pain the way people do. They have a higher pain threshold.

Basis for Myth: Serious dental problems are often detected only as incidental findings during routine examination. Owners may say that they have observed no indication that the pet is uncomfortable. The pet still eats and may even still chew on hard toys.

The Truth: Studies indicate that dogs and cats have the same pain thresholds and tolerances as humans across all categories of pain, including dental pain. They react and withdraw/defend at the same level of stimulation and have the same physiologic reactions to pain as humans.

If a dog has a sore tooth, that is one problem. If the dog allows that sore tooth to keep her from eating, she now has two problems: a sore tooth and hunger. From her perspective, it is better to eat with a sore tooth than to go hungry. Also, dogs live in packs (our families). A pack member seen as weak or distressed will loose social status and may even be cast out as a liability to the pack. Cats, being small animals, are subject to predation. Therefore, nature has taught dogs and cats to mask their pain and pretend everything is fine. Finally, pets have no way of knowing that by complaining, they can increase their chances of getting relief. Therefore, they have no reason to complain and a few reasons not to.

Often, owners will agree that the animal has been showing signs that might well be related to dental disease. There may be a history of a change in preference toward softer food and toys, chewing on one side, bad breath, a general decrease in vigor, drooling, pawing or rubbing at mouth, decreased enthusiasm for food and games, ocular discharge, sneezing.…

Time and again, pet owners state that their pet was showing no obvious signs of pain, but once the problem has been treated, they realize that the pet was indeed suffering. The improvement in attitude and well being after successful dental treatment is often very dramatic.

Recommendation: If you see a condition that would cause pain in your mouth and would cause you to seek dental care for yourself, assume that it is causing pain for your pet and seek treatment.