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Ask the Vet: Xylitol Artificial Sweetener Toxic to Dogs

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: Omar, our 6-year-old tabby, has gross teeth and red gums. He refuses to eat the dental diet his veterinarian prescribed, and the vet feels Omar is too feisty for me to brush his teeth.

Omar's veterinarian recommended professional dental cleaning under anesthesia, which is pricey. However, I don't want the problem to worsen, so shouldn't I try to brush his teeth?

A: You certainly can try brushing Omar's teeth, though I suspect neither of you will enjoy the experience. His reddened gums suggest he has gingivitis, a tender inflammation that makes brushing painful. If he is feisty, you may even get bitten in the process.

As a temporary measure, you can try a water additive or oral gel recommended by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, or VOHC, at These products help prevent further plaque buildup, but they won't get rid of the tartar and gingivitis that are troubling Omar now.

For that, you'll need to have your veterinarian clean his teeth and take dental X-rays, because 60% of dental disease occurs below the gum line. Anesthesia is necessary to keep Omar still throughout the procedure.

After Omar's teeth have been professionally cleaned and his gums no longer hurt, reintroduce the dental diet your veterinarian prescribed. It and VOHC-recommended dental treats will keep his teeth cleaner than regular cat food and treats.


When his gums feel better, you may be able to accustom him to having his teeth brushed. Start by encouraging him to lick seafood- or poultry-flavored pet toothpaste from a child-sized toothbrush. Then gradually introduce him to having his teeth brushed.

Your tabby with teeth trouble is in good company, as 70% of cats over age 2 have dental disease. With professional treatment and follow-up home care, Omar will enjoy improved oral health.


Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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