If you’re like many cat owners, you strive to maintain your feline’s health and well-being. Yet one of the most overlooked problem areas is literally right under your cat’s nose.
For many species, healthy teeth represent a sign of strong overall health, and your cat is no exception. Unfortunately, though, many felines are lacking when it comes to proper dental care and oral health.
According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 70 percent of cats show oral disease by age 3, and it’s the most common health problem treated in small animal clinics today. The buildup of bacteria in your cat’s mouth may cause more than just bad breath – it can also serve as a catalyst of dental conditions and diseases affecting organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys.
While your cat likely dreads going to the dentist as much as you do, it’s important to monitor and maintain your feline’s oral well-being.
Healthy Teeth Make a Healthy Cat
Pristine teeth often symbolize good health. But just like humans, cats’ teeth are prone to plaque buildup. When this plaque combines with saliva and residual food between teeth and gums, tartar is formed.
If plaque and tartar are not removed routinely by your veterinarian, they may cause periodontal disease. Often referred to as gingivitis in its early stages, periodontal disease is caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar below the gum line. This painful and progressive gum disease causes inflammation and can ultimately lead to tooth loss.
The most common signs of periodontal disease include:
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
- Yellow and brown tartar buildup
- Lack of appetite
- Bleeding gums
- Pawing at the mouth
Veterinary Care for Your Cat’s Teeth
Fortunately, veterinary dental knowledge has grown exponentially in the last few years. Dental technology has also exploded, allowing your pet virtually all of the dental care that you receive, including: Dental implants, braces (to enable a comfortable bite), root canals, and tooth bonding.
Veterinary care should include periodic dental exams, which are important in order to maintain good oral health. The frequency with which dental examinations should be performed typically ranges from 6-12 months, depending on your cat’s age.
Your veterinarian can examine your cat’s teeth in the exam room if your pet is cooperative and does not have severe dental problems. Otherwise, use of anesthesia may be necessary. Full mouth X-rays are usually required because 70 percent of the tooth structure is beneath the gum line and thus is invisible to the naked eye.
How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth
In addition to receiving regular dental checkups, your feline’s oral health should be supplemented by homecare. Cat owners can reduce or even prevent dental disease by feeding a crunchy diet and administering daily tooth brushing.
Here are guidelines to follow for brushing your cat’s teeth:
- Brushing should be done daily, with a brush designed to remove plaque from under the gum line.
- Pick a time of day that will become a convenient part of your and your cat’s daily routine. Brushing before receipt of a treat can help your feline actually look forward to brushing time.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and veterinary toothpaste.
- Start by offering your cat a taste of the veterinary toothpaste. Then, next time, have him taste the toothpaste, running your finger along the gums of his upper teeth. Repeat the process with a toothbrush until your cat develops a comfort level.
Even with effective toothbrushing, some cats may still need an occasional professional cleaning, just like humans. But by brushing your cat’s teeth daily, you can furnish him with a healthier smile.
Fractured Teeth in Cats
In cats, tooth fracture can be related to various incidents, including being hit by a car, falling from a high place, facial trauma from an animal attack, or as a result of a fractured jaw. A fractured tooth can occur below the gum line, vertically or horizontally in the tooth. The level (locations or depth) at which the root is fractured helps determine if the tooth can be saved.
Fractured teeth are painful – even if your cat doesn’t show much pain – and should be treated as an emergency. Veterinary care includes diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations, including a strategy for minimizing the risk of infection.
Although it’s impossible to eliminate the threat of tooth trauma for your cat altogether, you should practice preventative measures. Consider keeping your cat indoors, ensure all open windows are securely screened, and monitor your cat during aggressive or interactive play.
Tartar Control Diets for Cats
Some felines – by virtue of their breed, diet, and facial structure – will have a higher incidence of recurring dental disease. Thankfully, your veterinarian can recommend special foods that are designed to help prevent tartar formation. These tartar control diets often eliminate or greatly reduce the number of health-related problems caused by recurring dental disease.
Tartar control diets differ from regular cat food in that they are designed to act like a natural toothbrush for your feline. The size of the kibble is larger, and is designed not to break apart as easily. Natural fiber in the food aids the cleaning action. When tartar is reduced, gum disease is often reversed, reducing your cat’s ongoing dental needs.
Dental Products for Cats
From toothbrushes to finger brushes to gels, the oral health market is flooded with cat-specific products for feline owners to consider. It’s recommended to seek items that are endorsed by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) and to consult your veterinarian for assistance.
It’s important to refrain from using human toothpaste and baking soda, as both can make your cat sick. Additionally, note that toothbrushes for cats are designed a little differently than a child’s toothbrush. They are smaller and single-ended, and have an angled head more suited for a cat’s mouth.
When you make an effort to help your cat avoid periodontal disease, you do more than preserve your feline’s smile. You afford your cat a level of dental health that will serve him well for the duration of his life.
Resources for Cat Dental Health
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