The term “dog breath” exists for good reason, and most pet owners can attest to the fact that it’s a very unpleasant odor.  You shouldn’t just write it off as a normal part of being a dog (or cat), though.  That offensive breath can be a sign of a very serious underlying condition.  It’s such an important issue, in fact, that the veterinary community has devoted an entire month to raising awareness for the importance of our pets’ oral health. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and it should serve as a reminder to schedule your pet’s oral exam and perform routine dental maintenance as directed by your veterinarian.

The American Dental Society reports that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of oral disease by three years of age.  These figures are significant because although this may start as a problem of the teeth and gums, oral disease will begin to have a negative impact on the heart and other vital organs if left untreated.

Signs and Symptoms

Of course, anytime your pet shows any signs of illness or injury, you should speak to your veterinarian right away.  This concept also applies to your pet’s oral health.  If your dog or cat shows any of the following symptoms, schedule an oral exam as soon as possible.

  • Bad breath
  • Broken, loose, or discolored teeth
  • Bleeding from anywhere in the mouth
  • Frequently dropping food from the mouth during meals
  • Apparent reduction in appetite or refusing to eat altogether
  • Whining during meals
  • No longer showing interest in favorite chew toys or other typical chewing habits
  • Drooling more than usual


As your pet ages, some amount of dental trouble is to be expected.  However, there are a lot of things that you can do to prevent dental disease or slow its progression, regardless of your pet’s age.

At minimum, your pet should have a prophylactic dental scaling once per year.  Some pets may require more frequent dental cleaning, particularly small breeds who are more prone to overcrowding of the teeth and dental decay.

In addition to the procedures that are performed in the office, you should also consider making regular dental maintenance a part of your home routine.  For some pets and pet owners, brushing teeth may seem like an impossible feat, but you should at least give it a shot.  Pet owners who are able to manage this task at home are making a huge impact on their pet’s overall long-term health and comfort.  If possible, start brushing your dog or cat’s teeth when they are very young and allow them to get used to this being a normal part of daily life.  Be sure to only use toothpaste that is intended for veterinary use, though, because human toothpaste could make your pet sick.

Talk to your pet’s doctor about other ways to promote good dental hygiene for your pets.  It’s an essential part of your best friend’s overall wellness, and it’s never too late to start.


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