Tiger, one of our three cats, had a toothache. I took him to the vet who told me he needed some "dental work." I wasn't surprised. At age 11 in cat years (which has to be, like, 130 in human years), he was getting long in the tooth. So when he started drooling all over the couch and smelling like a dead mouse, I knew it was time for a checkup.

We've been lucky with our cats. Like us, they're approaching their geriatric years and are starting to show their age. But aside from an occasional hairball attack on the living room carpet, they've been healthy.

I don't know how we found ourselves with so many cats -- three, down from four -- but when Sweety ran away, we got Baby. And when we thought Baby needed a friend, we ended up bringing home fraternal twins, Tiger and Max.

We named the first cat Sweety because he looked so sweet. Unfortunately, his personality didn't match his face, and he liked to attack anything that moved, including my feet. We named the second cat Baby because he was so cuddly, like a little newborn, plus he whined a lot. Max was ginormous, so we named him Maximus and called him "Moose" for short. And since Tiger was tiger-striped, we had no choice but to name him Tiger. I have to say, naming the cats was easier than naming our kids, since we based the names on their characteristics. If we'd done that with the kids, we'd have called our daughter "Baldy" and our son "Toothless."


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Even though we raised our cats the same, showing no favoritism, each cat has its own personality. Baby plays fetch like a dog. Tiger still has the energy of a kitten (squirrel). And Max is mainly a doorstop.

But when Tiger started spreading saliva everywhere we knew something was up. The nice veterinarian took one look at him and said, "You haven't been brushing his teeth, have you."

Brush a cat's teeth? I can hardly get my grandchildren to brush their teeth, let alone my husband. And the kids' teeth aren't as sharp as Tiger's.

"Well, they'll have to come out," the vet said.

"All of them?" I asked, stunned. I suddenly had visions of bottle-feeding a toothless cat, or worse, chewing his food for him like that Will Ferrell skit on "Saturday Night Live."

"How will he eat?"

"He'll be fine," the vet said as he took our precious little Tiger down the hall for his "dental procedure."

I spent the next few days looking at cat dentures on the Internet, tasting canned cat foods and wondering why we were spending a month's house payment on our old cat when we could use that money on a trip to the Bahamas or a house payment.

We picked up Tiger a few days later and gently welcomed him back home.

He gobbled up the wet cat food as if it was a gourmet mouse and settled into his old spot on the formerly saliva-soaked couch. No more drooling smelly cat. He really was going to be fine. Now all we have to do is give him medicine twice a day. You know how cats love to take medicine. Well, at least now he can't bite us.

Contact Penny Warner at www.pennywarner.com.