Like humans, dogs and cats start with baby (deciduous) teeth that get replaced by permanent teeth as the animals mature. In some cases, an animal gains a permanent tooth without losing the baby tooth first, resulting in what vets call a "retained deciduous tooth."
Baby Teeth Versus Permanent Teeth
Baby teeth are also known as primary, puppy, deciduous or milk teeth. These early 28 teeth in dogs and 26 teeth in cats are replaced by the permanent teeth by 6 to 7 months of age.
Adult dogs have 42 permanent teeth, and cats have 30 permanent teeth.
Sometimes the permanent teeth come in but the baby teeth do not fall out. This often happens with the canine teeth or "fangs" (called canines in both dogs and cats). Usually, a vet removes any retained baby teeth when he or she spays or neuters a pet to avoid future dental problems.
Left in place, the baby teeth can trap food and debris, leading to early decay, tooth loss or gum disease. They can also distort the bite, affecting the other teeth and gums. Overcrowding leads to weakened teeth, often resulting in tooth decay or loss.
The retained baby teeth are not as large or as hard (mineralized) as the adult teeth and risk being broken during play or chewing, which can lead to pain or infection at the site.
To Pull or Not to Pull
In short, baby teeth that do not fall out on their own by 7 months should be pulled. Most vets check for retained teeth at the time of spay or neuter and remove any additional teeth for a small fee (or free, in some cases) while they have your pet under anesthesia.
If you do not have plans to spay or neuter your pet, please see your veterinarian to discuss removal of any retained teeth before dental problems occur.
Please note: this article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.