Nearly 90 percent of cats develop dental problems over their lifetime. Just like us, they can develop plaque build-up, tartar, gum disease, foul breath, infection, and abscesses, all of which can lead to pain and tooth loss. However, with proper feline dental care and the correct type of food, you can help take action against these problems.
If your cat has a tooth problem, it may take a while for you to find out. One reason is that cats instinctively hide their pain to not appear vulnerable to predators, so it may take you a while to figure out that she’s hurting. In addition, many cats with chronic dental disease have chronic pain, which makes them short-tempered or anxious. So if your cat is not herself, consider that chronic dental disease may be to blame.
The Problem with Plaque on Your Cat’s Teeth
Plaque is the film you feel on your teeth when you wake up each morning, formed by saliva, bacteria, and food particles. Plaque can quickly turn into tartar, a hard yellowish deposit on the teeth. It can also cause gum infection (gingivitis), the first stage of periodontal disease. Some 70 percent of cats have periodontal disease by the time they turn two, but other types of gum disease can occur earlier. In addition, bacteria from plaque accumulation can cause infection in the lungs, liver, kidney, and heart.
Check for Tell-Tale Signs of Feline Dental Concerns
Between vet visits, be sure to check your cat for these important warning signs:
- Bad breath: an unusually strong odor may suggest digestive problems, kidney disease, or a dental condition
- Bleeding or a dark red line along the gums
- Gum inflammation: swollen gums can progress to tooth loss or an inability to eat. Gum disease can also signify kidney disease or feline immunodeficiency virus infection.
- Ulcers on the gums
- Excessive drooling or pawing at the mouth area
- Difficulty chewing food or refusal to eat
Take your cat to the vet immediately if you notice any of these warning signs. Your vet may recommend a professional dental cleaning, which begins with blood work to determine if she’s healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. If she is, your vet will schedule a comprehensive cleaning. This includes:
- A complete oral exam and x-rays to identify problems under the gum line
- A thorough cleaning under the gum line to prevent periodontal disease
- Professional scaling to remove plaque and tartar build-up on the crown
- Polishing the teeth to prevent plaque and bacteria from adhering
Preventing Dental Disease by Brushing
The gold standard for cat oral care at home is brushing. If you are willing and able, here is how to brush a cat’s teeth at home:
- Get your cat used to the idea of having her teeth brushed. Keep the sessions short and positive. Gently massage her gums with your finger or a cotton swab.
- Use a toothbrush designed especially for cats; it’s smaller than a human toothbrush and has softer bristles. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger are also available.
- Use toothpaste designed for cats; using your own toothpaste can cause distress and upset your cat’s stomach. Your veterinarian can supply you with toothbrushes and toothpaste.
- If your cat has inflamed gums, brushing her teeth too hard might be painful. Visit the vet for a quick check-up before you begin brushing.
- Also, be sure to reward your cat for being so patient while you brush her teeth with either a treat or play. This will let her know that she did a good job and help make future brushings easier on you both.
Alternatives to Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth
Aside from brushing, here are some additional recommendations to keep your cat’s teeth and periodontal health at their best.
Prescription Dental Diet – Dental diets are formulated to reduce the amount of plaque and tartar that accumulates on the teeth. In some cases, it may even prevent serious oral diseases from occurring. The larger kibble is composed of fibers that actually scrub the tooth’s surface to reduce plaque.
Dental Chews and Treats – Specifically formulated dental treats can slow the formation of tartar and avoid the onset of dental disease. Choose low in sugar treats, as sugar may worsen or increase the chance of periodontal disease. We strongly recommend treats that have been accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (http://vohc.org/all_accepted_products.html) as being proven effective in controlling plaque and tartar. One dental treat per day will keep your cat’s teeth stimulated and blood flowing as it scrubs away tartar and prevents it from building up.
A healthy mouth is essential for overall body health. Consider measures to improve dental health at home and have professional dental cleanings when your veterinarian recommends.