You have a special relationship with your cat, Max. Many of your friends’ cats are aloof, requiring only food and a minute of attention from their human, and alone time for the rest of the day. Not Max. You and Max have been together for three wonderful years. You were on your way home from work, had pulled into the gas station, and as you filled your car, a skinny little grey fur ball with a dirty face rubbed up next to your leg. Of course, you took him home.

Since that day, Max has greeted you at the door in his own funny way, always sitting a few feet away, watching for your signal to sit with you.

Today, after you get home from work, Max jumps onto your lap and yawns—and you recoil at his horrible-smelling breath. You immediately make an appointment at Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital with Dr. Clouse.

Why does your pet have bad breath?

While the veterinarian examines Max, you express your concern that Max ate something that smelled “like death,” and about Max’s terrible breath.

“Let me show you something,” Dr. Clouse says, lifting up Max’s upper lip to show you that the gums around several of Max’s teeth are red and inflamed, indicating an infection under the gums.

“That odor you smell is actually the infection,” you are told.

When can dental problems occur in pets?

“Max is only 3 years old. How is that possible,” you ask. “It’s not like Max can brush his own teeth!”

“Unfortunately, that isn’t abnormal at all. About 70 percent of cats have signs of oral disease by the time they are 3 years old,” you are told. “Max might not be able to brush their own teeth, but you can.”

“I never considered that! What do we need to do first?”

Max first needs professional dental care, including cleaning, X-rays, and a check-up under anesthesia, which is performed a few days later. Max needed two teeth extracted because of the infection under the gums.

Why is at-home dental care important for your pet?

As Max recovers from the anesthesia, Dr. Clouse moves onto the next step. “Now we need to teach you how to brush Max’s teeth at home.”

Regular at-home dental care is essential for pets, you are told, because plaque can build up on their teeth only hours after eating. The sticky plaque forms a slimy layer on your pet’s teeth that hardens into cement-like tartar in a few days, trapping the oral bacteria. The bacteria not only cause foul breath, but can also lead to systemic infection by leaching into the pet’s bloodstream, and attacking major organs, particularly the heart. Dental disease can result in life-threatening infection and inflammation, and can cause a pet significant pain.

How do you brush your pet’s teeth?

You listen as Dr. Clouse sets out the toothbrushing steps, and you memorize them.

  • Start by putting a pet-specific, flavored toothpaste on my finger, and giving it to Max as a treat.
  • Slowly progress to putting the toothpaste onto Max’s teeth.
  • When Max is comfortable with that, switch to a baby or pet-specific toothbrush, or a finger brush, apply the toothpaste, and give a light gum massage at the same time.
  • Always reward Max with threats, to make his daily toothbrushing a positive experience.

“Practice every day,” the veterinarian says. “It will take time and patience, but I know you can do it.”

Once you have the routine down, you are told, it is important not to miss a day. However, you can, if necessary, occasionally substitute other pet dental products, such as chews, oral rinses, dental wipes, and food and water additives.

You promise to get started on an at-home dental care routine right away, and ask, “How often do you think Max will need an anesthetic dental cleaning? Will a non-anesthetic dental cleaning suffice?”

Dr. Clouse explains that non-anesthetic dental cleanings can make the tooth surface shiny, but without anesthesia, the gums cannot be cleaned adequately, and compromised teeth cannot be extracted, so any infection cannot be treated.

Why is annual wellness care necessary?

One reason wellness care is important is because the annual exam includes a dental evaluation and monitoring. Depending on how well Max takes to the in-home toothbrushing, the veterinarian says, an anesthetic dental cleaning may not be necessary for several years, unless, of course, that bad breath comes back, and there are signs of infection and pain. Some pets need professional dental cleaning every year, but a thorough at-home routine can help avoid that.

“Thank you for everything,” you say, happy that Max has a healthy mouth again.

A few days after Max’s procedure, you notice Max sitting across the room, staring in your direction. You signal, Max trots over, hops onto your lap—and gives a big yawn. No odor. Relieved, you tell him, “Try a little toothpaste, and tell me what you think.”

If your cat has bad breath, has lost one or more teeth, has reddening of the gums, or is eating less than normal, schedule an appointment at Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital for a dental evaluation. We can clean their teeth, treat any dental disease, and help you come up with an at-home dental care plan that will get their mouth back to health.