Kingstonist’s Wizard of Paws: Before you smooch your pooch…

Photo by Patrick Hendry.

It’s that most magical time of the new year, when people endlessly proclaim their love for one another, or in my world, their pets! Yes, Valentine’s Day is upon us and while your pets shouldn’t eat chocolates or flowers that doesn’t mean that they can get or give just as much affection with you. Who doesn’t love a sloppy kiss from a bulldog or the gentle sandpaper feel of their cat’s tongue?

Before you lean in for that expression of affection, you notice a smell. Yep, just as you thought, it’s coming from your pets’ mouth. Think about it. You pet licks themselves, might eat poop, and they don’t brush their teeth or gargle with mouthwash. That odor means your pet has dental disease.

Dental disease is one of the major health problems affecting pets (somewhere in the top three, along with skin problems and weight control). The smell is due to the bacteria living in between the teeth, under the tongue, and under the gumline. That same bacteria ultimately leads to the buildup of tartar (or calculus) covering the teeth. Over time, it can cause destruction of the ligament holding the teeth in the jaw, as well as destroying the bone, leading to loose or missing teeth. During this process, the risk of abscesses and pain are present.

So what are supposed to do about this? For many pets, they don’t get the dental care that they need until it’s too late. What this typically means is that your veterinarian has recommended a dental cleaning which will involve anesthesia, cleaning & polishing of the teeth, dental x-rays, and very possibly some extractions. Sadly, I once removed 23 teeth from a dog at once; they normally have 42. If we, as pet owners, can take a more proactive approach to our pet’s dental health, we can avoid these major procedures, along with the smell, discomfort, and cost associated with dental disease.

Here’s some options of ways you can help:

  • Brush your pet’s teeth – This is the best overall way to help improve oral health. Ideally, you would do this once daily. I recommend using an enzymatic pet toothpaste and a soft bristled toothbrush (yep, just like the kind your dentist recommends). Brush the teeth in a circular motion as you would your own.
  • Use a dental diet – Dental or oral health care diets are often recommended by veterinarians because they work. They tend to be a larger, harder kibble that create a mechanical scraping action of the teeth. If brushing teeth isn’t your thing, a dental diet can help keep your pet’s teeth clean.
  • Dental treats – Not all dental chew treats are created equal. Bones and antlers can actually be damaging to the teeth and gums. Think of it this way, it you whack your kneecap with it and it hurts, don’t let your pet chew on it. Check for dental chews that are digestible, have the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal, or ask your veterinarian for a specific product recommendation. Also, when adding in dental chews, don’t forget they add calories to your pet’s food intake.
  • Earlier dental cleanings – It’s far easier (and less costly in the long run) to get dental cleanings done periodically throughout your pet’s life. In this manner, you can work together with your veterinarian to take a more active approach to cleaning and preserving the teeth before they reach the point of no return.

So this Valentine’s Day, show your pet some love and take some steps to clean up their mouth. No matter what, they’ll share their unconditional love with you, and you could probably let them give you a kiss anyway!


Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with two cats, two dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can find more of his writing at, or see what else he is up to on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Disclaimer: All columns are personally written and my opinion, and may not necessarily reflect those of current or former employers.

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*Please note that specific medical questions about your pet cannot be addressed and you should speak with your personal veterinarian.

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