Paws Up for Pets: Caring for pet’s teeth now may prevent disease, tooth decay later

Use only brushes and toothpastes designed for use on animals when caring

for your pet’s teeth. Remember: Products designed for dogs can be toxic to cats.

Photo provided 

By Arden Moore

    Many who adore their dogs and cats may deck them out in a new outfit, bring them along on a getaway weekend at a pet-welcoming hotel or shower them with a basket full of new toys.

    Now, I’m all for pampering pets, but not at the cost of ignoring their health needs. That’s why I urge you to call your pet over today and position him in front of you. Now, calmly and bravely, gently open his mouth and take a sniff.

    If you are bowled over by foul breath, I wouldn’t be surprised. Here’s why: according to the American Veterinary Medical Association about 70 percent of cats and 80 percent of dogs by age 3 show some degree of gum disease. You read right: the young age of 3. 

    Many of us brush our teeth at least twice a day and gargle. We book semi-annual visits to the dentist for professional exams and cleanings. We would not even consider going a week without brushing our teeth — yuck!

    Sadly, that’s not the case for our pets. Dogs and cats lack thumbs to brush their own teeth or dial appointments with a veterinarian. Without our intervention, they are at serious risk for developing gum disease, plaque and calculus buildup. Unchecked, they can incur oral tumors, require tooth extractions. Infections can spread to the lungs, heart, liver and kidneys and cause life-threatening conditions, including diabetes, strokes and kidney disease. Delays for treatment for any of the above can take a big bite out of your wallet. 

    In honor of February being Pet Dental Month, I urge you to truly be ‘down in the mouth’ with your pet. If your pet does require professional dental care, this month is the ideal time to book an appointment, because many veterinarians in Palm Beach County are offering discounts up to 20 percent to  25 percent for dental cleanings. You save a little money and your pet will have kissable breath!

    For the health sake of your pet, I hope you vow to begin a regular at-home dental hygiene regiment today.  I offer these tips:

    • Look and sniff. Examine your pet’s mouth daily. Report any swellings, bleeding or sores to your veterinarian promptly. I spotted a fast-growing tumor above the canine tooth of my dog, Chipper, during such an examination. My veterinarian removed it, biopsied it and reported that it was benign. He also praised me for catching it early before the tumor spread and affected Chipper’s ability to chew food. We avoided a costly tooth extraction. 

    • Monitor mealtimes. Pets who eat slower than usual, suddenly spill kibble on the floor or back away from the bowl may be experience oral pain. Again, our pets can’t tell us where or why they hurt. The best pet parents are what I call true pet detectives — always on the hunt to spot anything out of the ordinary in their pets. 

    • Shop smartly. Look for pet food, dental toys, treats, oral gels, toothpastes and toothbrushes that carry the VOHC seal of acceptance. VOHC stands for the Veterinary Oral Health Council, comprised of veterinary dentists who regularly evaluate dental items and determine which products meet their standards. To find which dental items merit being on this list, please go to 

    • Brush regularly. Just as you do for yourself, treat your pet to daily brushings. Only use toothpaste, toothbrushes and finger brushes made for pets. Never use a dog toothbrush on your cat to risk a toxic reaction.  Not sure how to brush your pet’s teeth?  Check out this short video produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association that is posted on YouTube: 

    • Go with Plan B.  If your dog or cat won’t let your mess with his mouth, you can still minimize the accumulation of tartar with dental mouth rinses, gels and water additives. Check with your veterinarian for the one best suited for your pet.

    Remember, doggy breath — even in your cat — should never be dismissed or ignored. Make the daily brushing a fun event for you and your pet. By investing a few minutes each day addressing your pet’s dental needs, you can help prolong his health and his life.

Arden Moore, founder of, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and master certified pet first aid instructor. Each week, she hosts the popular Oh Behave! show on Learn more by visiting


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