H MY GOSH MY PETS TEETH ARE A MESS!  How did this happen? 

This is a common question that a lot of veterinarians hear every day. My sweet dog Boo Radley (now in puppy heaven) had terrible teeth in her old age.  Her breath was even worse. It was so horrible that if you were in a car with her you had to open up a window to get some fresh air. She was the sweetest dog ever, but she had nasty breath.



I admit it, I did not take great care of Radley’s teeth.

It was not because I was a bad dog parent. I just had no idea how to take care of her teeth. I should have started brushing her teeth when she was a pup.  I was not aware that certain chewy treats and toys were damaging her teeth and gums. She did have yearly check-ups at the vet and when she got older she had teeth cleanings and some extractions. Luckily she did live to a ripe old age (14) with amazingly horrible breath.  I going to do a better with Millie Blu.

February is Dental Health Month at my dog’s veterinary clinic. I should have posted this Ask The Vet issue at the beginning of the month, but I did not get my act together. With that said every month should be dental health month!  We gotta take care of our pets teeth every day.

Today I had a great conversation with Dr. O’Hara. She gave me some great tips on how to take care of your pet’s teeth.

— Visit your Veterinarian for Teeth Cleaning. Your pet will need to be regularly evaluated for the presence of dental tartar and disease. The fact is, about 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats over the age of 3 suffer from an oral disease that will require treatment. Such treatment might include teeth being pulled to stop infection and prevent additional health problems. Your vet will look for certain signs of trouble.
—  Reddened gums-yellow
—  Brown tartar
—  And other signs of dental disease
—  X-rays may be taken to look for hidden signs of disease below the gum line and in the bones.

If there is any evidence of dental disease, the veterinarian will likely recommend a dental cleaning for your pet.

You gotta brush your pet’s teeth every day. I would love to say that I brush Millie’s teeth every day… but that would be a lie. But after talking to Dr. O’Hara I am going to try and do it a lot more.  The best thing you can do to at home to promote good oral hygiene is to brush your pet’s teeth daily. Doing it every few days or once a week isn’t enough, because the bacteria that cause dental disease can recolonize on the tooth surface in a period of 24 to 36 hours.

Feed your pet a special diet. Ask your veterinarian if a special dental diet is right for your pet.

I want to give my pet a treat. What are the good ones and which are bad?

Good treats

Look for products that carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal.  The seal signifies products that meet pre-set standards of effectiveness when it comes to controlling plaque and tartar in dogs and cats.

Bad Treats

Treats-like cow hooves, pig’s ears, and real bones can damage your pet’s teeth or cause other serious problems if ingested.

Tennis balls are trouble. The yellow/green balls are notorious for causing mechanical wearing of the tooth surface. If possible, offer your dog nonabrasive balls or toys. Not sure which toys are safe? Check with your vet.

What are the Signs of Dental Disease

— Yellow-brown tartar

— Bleeding gums

— Red, inflamed gums

Bad breath

— Difficulty chewing/dropping food when trying to eat

— Excessive drooling

— Change in eating habits

— Pawing at the mouth or rubbing the face against the floor or furniture


Click this link to view teeth brushing video.

1. Start with a soft-bristled toothbrush (ideally, one specifically for pets)

2. Be sure to use toothpaste specially formulated for pets. Human toothpaste can be harmful to cats and dogs when swallowed.

3. Next, place a small amount of toothpaste on your finger and let your pet sniff and lick it.

4. Hold the toothbrush at a 45º angle to the tooth surface with the bristles pointing toward the gums.

5. Work the toothbrush in a circular motion, concentrating on the outside surfaces of the teeth.

6. Don’t forget the cheek teeth in the back.

7. Go slowly, aiming to spend a total of 30 seconds on each side of the mouth.

8. Be patient. Be calm. Have a sense of humor.

Keeping your pet’s teeth in good shape is a continual commitment but it is worth it. You will thank me down the road when your pet has great breath and a pearly white smile.

Dr. O’Hara and I talk about dental health with  Baxter, the amazing dog.  Watch the video to learn more about your pets dental health.