While most cat owners are careful to watch for any signs of illness,
many forget or are unaware of the importance of keeping an eye on their cats dental health as well. A
large number of cats have dental disease and these problems can lead to painful extractions, expensive vet
bills and other secondary conditions such as the build up of plaque in the arteries. Caring for your cats’
teeth can be simple once you and your cat have gotten into a routine.
Cat Dental Diseases
Periodontal disease is caused by a build up of plaque and tartar which pushes food and bacteria up under the
gum line. This causes the gum and bone to become infected. Your cat will suffer from inflamed gums, swelling,
bleeding gums and bad breath. It is the most common dental disease in cats, as in humans, and requires
antibiotics, a professional dental cleaning and extraction for extreme cases to treat.
Feline stomatitis, also known as lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis (LPS), is a very serious condition. It is
thought to be an autoimmune disease in which the body essentially becomes allergic to the plaque around the
teeth and is often found in cats with other conditions such as FIV or feline leukemia. It is also often found
alongside gingivitis. It causes inflammation of the mouth that can extend back into the throat, this
inflammation causes red lesions that look like “cobblestones”. Cats suffering from stomatitis are often in
great pain and it will affect their eating habits. Some cats may even paw at their mouths.
Feline odontoclastic oral resorption lesions or FORL, are painful lesions that begin as shallow pits in the
enamel of the tooth. Plaque accumulates and the tissue around the tooth becomes inflamed. If allowed to worsen,
the pit may extend into the pulp of the tooth and kill the tooth. Extraction is usually the only way to treat
Malocclusion, poor positioning of the teeth, is usually visually apparent and can cause difficulty in eating.
It is often repaired through surgery, if necessary.
By brushing your cat’s teeth, giving them a well-balanced diet that includes kibble, annual exams, and home
exams you should be able to keep your pets teeth much healthier and you and your pet much happier.
Performing An Oral Exam
You should perform an oral exam on your pet two or three times a month. It only takes a couple minutes of your
time and can help you identify many problems early. You may want to have a small penlight, angled dental mirror
and treat available before you begin.
Smell your cats breath. Bad breath can be a sign of gum or bone infection and should be a clue that your cat
may need a trip to the vet for an exam.
While giving your cat some gentle petting and attention, and speaking softly, tip his head back slightly,
gently spreading the side of his mouth open. Be sure you have good light and check for yellowing or darker
material. These are tartar and plaque. Check for cracked, broken teeth and red or angry looking gums.
Repeat with the front teeth and then check the other side.
Check the back of your cats throat. Look for bumps that give the appearance of cobblestones. It may be helpful
to use an angled dental mirror.
Reward your cat with treats, preferably a dental chew
If your cat fights you during this process, stop and try again a different day. Once you both are comfortable
with this, make it a regular practice and follow up with a vet exam once or twice a year.
Brushing Your Cat's Teeth
Dental hygiene is just as important in cats as it is in humans. It leads to a longer, happy life and good,
strong teeth in your cats’ senior years. If possible, you should brush your cats teeth daily. It takes about
five minutes once they are used to it. You will want to have a piece of sterile gauze to begin and a toothbrush
later, and cat toothpaste.
Begin by getting your cat used to having your finger in its mouth. Dip your finger in something tasty, like
tuna juice or canned food, call them with a “Treat!” voice and then let them lick the liquid off your finger.
Rub your finger over their gums and teeth while they do this. After a few days they should be used to this
routine and ready for you to move on.
Wrap a piece of gauze around your finger, dip it in the tasty treat liquid or a flavored cat toothpaste and
gently rub in a circular motion over teeth. Pay close attention to the areas up by the gums; don’t worry about
the backs of the teeth however.
Once the cat is used to this, you can graduate to a child’s toothbrush or a finger brush. You want something
with soft bristles which is why a child’s toothbrush is recommended. Use a cat toothbrush and apply the same
gentle, circular motion.
Do not use human toothpaste to brush your cats teeth. There are special, non-foaming and cat safe products,
many of which are specially flavored to make cleaning time fun. Be sure to offer treats afterwards so that your
cat knows they will be rewarded.
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