Pet Dental Health: How To Care for Your Cat’s Teeth Like a Pro
Are You Letting Your Cat Down?
As you may already know, February is Pet Dental Health Month. But taking the best possible care of your kitty’s teeth is a year-round responsibility! Read on for tips on how to make sure your cat’s mouth is in good shape and stays pain free.
Regular Oral Care Is Essential
The condition of our cats’ teeth and gums is sometimes overlooked; after all, no one really wants to stick their fingers into a cat’s mouth, and kitty is not that into it either! But regular teeth cleaning and checkups are important for overall health and comfort. Cats are very good at hiding pain and discomfort, including the pain from dental disease.
What About Siamese Cats?
Siamese cats can be especially prone to dental problems. Plus, our pets typically eat manufactured dry and wet food as opposed to birds, rodents, and insects, and this can cause more problems.
All oral disease, if left untreated, leads to tooth extraction. It can also indicate kidney disease or an immune system disorder. Note that while some say that oral disease not only indicates kidney disease but may be one of the *causes* of kidney disease, there is so far no direct evidence for this.
Periodontal disease is the most common, affecting 85% of cats over the age of six. Just as in people, plaque accumulates and hardens on the tooth surface.
Bacterial toxins and enzymes from the plaque eventually cause an inflammatory response in the gums; this can lead to severe inflammation (gingivitis). Ultimately, teeth may need to be removed.
Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion (FORL) is also common and affects 50% of cats. This disease is characterized by plaque-caused lesions that start in the bone tissue just below the enamel. Due to an inappropriate immune-system response, the tissue is unable to rebuild itself, and the lesions can progress rapidly and permanently damage the tooth and its root. Any infected tooth must be removed.
Feline gingivitis/stomatitis syndrome (FGS) is relatively uncommon, occurring in just 1% of cats, most frequently among those with feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), or other viral, nutritional or hormonal conditions leading to compromised immune systems. Antibiotics and steroids may help, but extraction of most or all teeth is usually the only treatment option.
Fractured teeth may occur as the result of trauma or through chewing and must also be removed as soon as possible.
How To Check
You can regularly check your cat’s mouth at home by smelling her breath and looking for red and swollen gums, drooling, loose teeth, pawing at the mouth and refusal to eat hard food. And brush their teeth with toothpaste formulated especially for cats (NOT people) and a cotton swab, gauze, or your finger.
The younger cats are when you start brushing their teeth, the easier it is for them to adapt to the process. Brushing for 60 seconds a few times each week is usually sufficient. Set up regular schedule, brushing teeth at the same time of day. This will help to promote trust between you and your cat, as nobody likes surprises!
Where to Get What Your Kitty Needs
You can find the necessary supplies at Amazon. (Note that some cats prefer the malt flavored toothpaste while others prefer chicken. You may need to experiement to find what your kitty likes).
How to Do It
- Start with a cotton swab or gauze dipped in tuna juice from canned tuna in water and let your cat lick it off for 2-3 days to get her used to the feel of the cotton in her mouth.
- On day 4, while she is licking off tuna juice, try to gently brush one of the canines for a few seconds. Do this for another 2-3 days. If your cat starts to protest too much, stop and try again the following day.
- Continue brushing, gradually adding one tooth at a time until you are able to brush all of them.
- Finally, switch to a toothbrush and toothpaste formulated specially for cats. Repeat steps 1-3 using a brush versus the cotton; add toothpaste in as the last step.
We recommend brushing your cat’s teeth 2-3 times per week. Daily brushings should take no more
than 60 seconds. As you may know, cats like routines… they don’t like surprises.
Your Cat May Be In Pain
Remember, most cats are very good at hiding their pain. Therefore, it is best to take your cat to the veterinarian for an annual dental exam. This does require anesthesia, but it’s the only way to do a thorough check and clean.
As always, consult with your veterinarian about specific concerns for each individual animal.
Personal Note: Petunia’s story
We adopted Petunia from a rescue center in the U.S. – her foster mom is a longtime friend so we knew she was well-loved and cared for.
When we first brought her home she was a voracious eater, though she did turn her nose up sometimes at the high quality food we provided. She preferred those sorts of “Kitty McDonald’s” junk food brands, but that is just not good for her health.
However, after a few months we noticed that Petunia was becoming especially picky. Her breath also smelled very bad – much worse than “normal” kitty breath – and you could even smell residue from where she had cleaned her fur.
We took her in to our vet, who diagnosed her with FGS and said she would need some teeth extracted. In the end, all but the four canines and one molar needed to be removed! This was an extreme case and most likely influenced by genetic factors, as Petunia is a fairly young cat with a healthy immune system.
In any case, it was immediately clear how much better she felt after the operation. She now eats both wet and dry food with no problems, her breath smells better and her fur is cleaner!
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