Pet Health
dog tooth abscess what to do

Dog Tooth Abscess - How to Recognise and What to Do

Written by Steph McCulloch


While we may carefully address our pets' basic needs, such as feeding, exercise, and grooming, many people often overlook one crucial aspect of their well-being; dental health.
brown dog laying on tiles holding green tennis ball


dog sleeping on brown leather couch

As pet owners, we cherish our pets and strive to provide them with the best care possible. While we may carefully address their basic needs, such as feeding, exercise, and grooming, many people often overlook one crucial aspect of their well-being; dental health

Among the various dental issues dogs can face, an abscessed tooth, is a particularly concerning medical condition that requires prompt recognition and appropriate action.

A tooth abscess occurs when bacteria invade the tooth's soft tissue pulp, leading to tooth infection and the formation of a pocket of infection, also known as pus. Left untreated, this dental disease, specifically a tooth root abscess, can cause severe pain, discomfort, and potentially serious health consequences for our beloved pets.

The clinical signs of a dog tooth abscess include red gums, bad breath, and signs of dental pain. However, we touch upon that in more detail below. The most important thing to note is that prompt identification and suitable treatment options are key when it comes to dental health.

Understanding dog tooth abscess

dog outside wearing orange vest with eyes closed and tongue out

A tooth abscess in dogs is a painful and potentially serious dental condition that occurs when bacteria invade the tooth's pulp, leading to infection and the accumulation of pus. It typically develops as a result of tooth decay, trauma to the tooth, or an underlying mild or even severe infection.

When a dog's tooth is damaged or weakened, bacteria can enter through cracks or cavities and reach the inner pulp, causing inflammation and infection. Over time, the infection progresses, forming an abscess or a pocket of pus, which can lead to severe discomfort and potentially affect the overall health of a dog.

Several factors can contribute to the development of a tooth abscess in dogs:

  • Dental decay, commonly caused by poor oral hygiene and a buildup of plaque and tartar, can weaken the tooth's structure and make it susceptible to bacterial invasion.

  • Trauma, such as a broken tooth or fractured teeth, can provide an entry point for bacteria.

  • Untreated dental infections, such as gum disease or untreated tooth root infections, can progress to abscesses. These underlying conditions create an environment conducive to bacterial growth and the subsequent formation of an abscess.

If left untreated, tooth abscesses in dogs can lead to various complications and risks. The infection can spread to surrounding tissues, affecting neighbouring teeth, the jawbone, and even the sinuses. This can result in further pain, bone deterioration, and potential tooth removal. This can be a costly process. You can read more about the costs of tooth extraction in the UK in our guide here.

In severe cases, the infection can enter the bloodstream, leading to systemic complications and affecting vital organs. The dog may experience difficulty eating, loss of appetite, weight loss, and a decline in overall health.

Recognising dog tooth abscess

black dog holding orange tennis ball in mouth

When it comes to recognising a dog tooth abscess, early intervention is key. Signs and symptoms to look out for in dogs that may indicate an abscess include:

  • Red and inflamed gums: A dental abscess can cause the gums around the affected tooth to appear red, swollen, and possibly bleeding. Healthy gums should have a pink coloration, so any noticeable change in colour or inflammation can be a potential indicator.

  • Bad breath: Persistent and unusually foul breath, even after regular dental care, can be a sign of a tooth abscess. The bacterial infection in the abscess can cause a strong odour that is distinct from typical dog breath.

  • Signs of pain and discomfort: Dogs with a tooth abscess may exhibit signs of pain, such as pawing at the face, rubbing the mouth against objects, or excessive drooling. They may also show reluctance to eat, chew on toys, or show discomfort when touched around the mouth area.

Observing changes in eating habits or behaviour is also crucial in identifying a potential dental issue in dogs. Look out for the following indicators:

  • Changes in eating habits: If your dog suddenly starts avoiding certain types of food, has difficulty chewing, or shows a decreased appetite, it could be a sign of dental discomfort. They may favour soft foods or show reluctance to eat altogether which as a dog owner, can be worrying.

  • Behavioural changes: Dogs in pain or discomfort from a tooth abscess may display behavioural changes. They may become more irritable, restless, or show signs of agitation. They might withdraw from activities they once enjoyed, exhibit reluctance to play or engage with chew toys, and avoid contact with their mouth being touched.

If you observe any of these signs and symptoms, it is important to consult a veterinarian promptly for a thorough examination. This will help to determine if a tooth abscess or another dental issue is the underlying cause. Early detection and appropriate treatment can alleviate pain, prevent complications, and ensure your dog's dental health and overall well-being.

All Waggel members have access to 24/7 online vet provider Joii. Joii vets are available day and night to help provide peace of mind and professional guidance. All you need to do is download their app and sign up!

What to do if you suspect a dog tooth abscess

golden retriever wearing blue face mask

If you suspect that your dog may have a tooth abscess, it is crucial to seek veterinary assistance immediately. Time is of the essence in addressing dental issues, as untreated abscesses can lead to further complications and impact your dog's overall health. 

Reach out to your trusted veterinarian and explain the signs and symptoms you have observed in your dog. They will guide you on the next steps and schedule an examination. During the examination your vet will assess your dog's oral health, including the affected tooth, and may perform X-rays to evaluate the extent of the abscess and identify any underlying issues. 

Treatment for a tooth abscess may involve a combination of approaches, such as a dental cleaning, extraction of the affected tooth, and administration of antibiotics to address the infection. It’s vital you follow your vet’s recommendations closely as they’re the only one who can provide a definitive diagnosis and subsequent treatment plan.

Costs of dental treatment for dog tooth abscess

dog wrapped up in orange blanket

The cost of dental treatment for a dog tooth abscess can vary based on several factors, including the size, age, and overall health of your dog. Treatment expenses can also be influenced by the severity of the abscess, the need for additional procedures, and the location of your chosen vet clinic.

In cases where a tooth abscess is severe or has caused significant damage, extraction of the affected tooth may be necessary. The cost of extraction can increase if a general anaesthetic is required to ensure the comfort and safety of the dog during the procedure. Anesthesia adds an additional layer of care and monitoring, which contributes to the overall cost. 

Furthermore, diagnostic procedures such as X-rays may be necessary to assess the extent of the abscess, identify any underlying issues, and aid in treatment planning. These additional diagnostic tests can incur separate charges so it’s best to speak directly to your vet.

Some vets also charge for consultations and assessments. We know how stressful the thought of veterinary bills can be which is why we exist. Taking out a pet insurance policy can help to alleviate worry during an already upsetting time.

At Waggel, we cover dental care meaning our policies will give your pet something to smile about! Unlike most pet insurance companies where dental treatment is either not included or is an additional purchase, all our policies include dental cover, covering tooth extractions and fractures. 

Please note, we require your pet to have had a dental checkup in the past 12 months so we can clearly see that there are no pre-existing conditions or symptoms. This dental checkup must detail your pet’s oral health and state that there are no further steps to take.

Like most pet insurers out there, we don’t cover routine procedures like a scale and polish. However, if extractions are required and relate to illness, accident, or injury then we’ll cover it. Simply put, we cover the serious stuff and not the cosmetic.


black dog eating from food bowl

Recognising and addressing dog tooth abscesses promptly is of the utmost importance for many reasons. Not only can tooth abscesses cause significant pain and discomfort for dogs but they can also affect their overall well-being and quality of life. By promptly recognising the signs and symptoms, you can ensure your pet receives the necessary care and relief from pain.

Seeking veterinary care and professional treatment is crucial for the effective management of tooth abscesses. Veterinarians have the expertise to accurately diagnose the condition, assess the extent of the abscess, and develop a tailored treatment plan. Taking immediate action means you can quickly identify the underlying infection, prevent complications, and provide appropriate pain management.

Regular dental examinations can help detect dental issues, including tooth abscesses, at an early stage. Practising good oral hygiene at home, such as regular brushing and providing dental-friendly toys or treats, can also contribute to maintaining healthy teeth and gums.

Don’t forget - most pet insurance policies offer dental coverage, but often require proof of regular dental check-ups and maintenance. Keeping a record of annual dental check-ups can be beneficial for insurance purposes, ensuring that you can successfully claim when you need to!

Our blog exists to help you on your pet ownership journey by answering all of your weird and wonderful questions. Whatever your concern, we’ve probably got the answer. Check out our other posts such as ‘why is my dog licking his lips?’, and our guides to ear mites in dogs and tick removal care.


How is a dog tooth abscess diagnosed?

Tooth abscesses are diagnosed through oral examinations or oral exams following identification of certain symptoms such as red, swollen gums, bad breath, and signs of dental pain. An infected tooth can be examined by a vet, which often includes a closer look at the oral cavity. Additionally, the vet might also evaluate the white blood cells count and the condition of blood vessels to rule out systemic infection.

Can a dog tooth abscess be treated without extraction?

Although pain medication and antibiotics can be prescribed to help manage pain and fight the infection, they do not cure tooth abscesses. Instead, they’re often treated through dental extraction or surgical extraction. In some cases, such as for larger teeth or the largest molar, some vets may recommend root canal treatment or Endodontic treatment, which involves intraoral radiographs. These require general anaesthetic so it is unlikely your vet will recommend this form of treatment unless the tooth abscess is severe and the dog is a suitable candidate for root canal.

How long does it take for a dog to recover from tooth abscess treatment?

Once a diseased tooth has been extracted, your dog’s gums should heal in around 10 to 14 days. Depending on the severity of the tooth abscess, your dog could take up to one month to fully heal. During this time, feeding your dog soft foods can make eating less painful and easier for your pet.

Can a tooth abscess kill a dog?

Sadly, yes. If a severe tooth infection isn’t treated, they can spread around the body causing septic fever, also known as septicemia. Septic shock is a very painful and fatal condition, therefore it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as you suspect your dog’s oral health is declining.

Are there any home remedies for dog tooth abscesses?

Unfortunately there are no home remedies that can help your dog’s tooth abscessation. Attempting to treat it at home can often irritate your dog’s sore mouth even more so it’s recommended you always consult with your vet to receive a professional diagnosis and treatment plan. 

Proper oral care and attention to subtle signs or outward signs of discomfort in your dog can help prevent severe dental issues in the future.

Waggel Pet Insurance

Need more help? You're in luck if you're a Waggel Pet Insurance member. Along with our excellent coverage, we offer access to a 24/7 online vet to answer all your sticky questions, especially if you need grooming assistance.

Not a member? Why not get a quote now and cover your furry friend for a range of illnesses, all while enjoying our amazing perks and rewards.

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