CatsHealth AdvicePets

Cat Dental Health and Care Tips

Studies and surveys have shown that 70% to 90% of all cats have some degree of dental disease. This can lead to bad breath, pain, and loose teeth. The most significant problems can occur when bacteria from the decaying teeth and other parts of the infected mouth enters the bloodstream, creating life threatening illnesses.

Tooth decay in cats is very common, and there are a number of reasons why it can occur. The two most common causes are feline resorptive lesions and periodontal disease. Both of which are very painful. Exposed lesions are very uncomfortable and painful. Tooth decay results in exposure of the nerve endings in the affected teeth. Interestingly, most cats will continue to eat with oral pain. Therefore, we cannot solely assess pain tolerance based on appetite.

These conditions are treated by tooth extraction or dental cleaning, scaling and polishing. In severe cases, antibiotics will be prescribed. Preventative options are aligned with keeping the teeth as healthy as possible using specific kibble diets, dental treats and/or water additives.

Tooth decay  in cats can lead to a number of serious health problems if left untreated. These include:
– Chronic oral inflammation
– Bone infection (osteomyelitis)
– Jaw abscesses
– Tooth loss

Uncommonly, cat tooth decay and dental disease can be fatal. The most common cause of death is the spread of infection to other parts of the body (sepsis). As the liver and kidneys are the main filtering organs in the body, they are often the most affected by severe cat tooth decay and disease.

During your cat’s routine examination, we will examine your cat’s teeth and create an appropriate dental care plan. Educating our clients about preventive dental care is always where we start. Some cats can avoid in-hospital dental treatment if they receive good dental home care. Most cats will need a professional cleaning at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, in some cats, there is a genetic predisposition for dental disease. These cats will often require routine, professional dental cleanings.

Signs of Dental Disease

Since cats tend to hide signs of illness; it can be difficult to detect pain caused by dental disease. This is one of the reasons why an annual assessment by a veterinarian is so important. These signs of severe dental disease need to be addressed promptly:

  • Bad breath
  • Drooling
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Changes in grooming
  • Pawing at mouth
  • Bleeding in or around mouth
  • Facial swelling
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Head shaking
  • More frequent vocalizations
  • Gagging

All cats develop tartar, but some cats have more problems with tartar than others do. The longer tartar accumulates, the greater the chance it will affect the health of the teeth and gums.

The following photographs represent varying degrees of dental disease and the treatment required to resolve the problems. Obviously, cleaning the teeth early minimizes the chance of tooth extractions being necessary.

Stage 1
Cat with mild tartar and gingivitis
Before: mild tartar and early gingivitis
Stage 1
Cat with healthy gums
After: healthy gums and teeth
Stage 2
Cat with gingivitis, inflamed gum
Before: mild tartar and early gingivitis
State 2
Cat tooth extraction
 one tooth removed due to root involvement
Stage 3
Cat sever tarter build-up
Before: severe tartar and advanced periodontitis
Stage 3

 only one tooth removed and remaining teeth appear healthy
Stage 4
Cat with advanced periodontitis
Before: severe tartar and advanced periodontitis
Stage 4
Cat teeth removal
removal of all teeth required

Dental Home Care

Cleaning your cat’s teeth is undoubtedly beneficial to his/her health. Since cats need to be sedated to tolerate the instruments needed in professional cleanings, it’s nice to decrease the need for them if you can. Here are some guidelines to help you get the process of brushing your cat’s teeth at home going. Fortunately, it is almost always possible to get cats to adjust to having their teeth cared for, if you approach the project gradually and patiently.

Week One: At about the same time every day (ideally), put the cat in a position that is easy for you to handle. Pet the cat and give him/her a morsel of their favorite food and give praise. Then put them back on the floor.

Week Two: Do the same thing as week one, but this time also rub his/her face and gently lift the lips as well. Never push the cat beyond his/her comfort level—it is important NOT to get bitten.

Week Three: If all is going well, do as week two but also offer a small amount of toothpaste on the end of a finger—if we are lucky (s)he will like the flavor enough to lick it off. Next, gently rub his/her face to move the gel around. If (s)he doesn’t want to taste it, don’t push. Continue to gently handle his/her face a bit more each day, until you can lift up the lips and massage the gums by rubbing on the cheeks. Remember to praise and treat your cat!

Week Four or Five: You can continue at this level, but you may want to try introducing a toothbrush now, since you will get more benefit from that. Introducing the brush must be done gradually and gently to avoid frightening or hurting the cat.

For more information on cleaning your cats teeth check out Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine’s Brushing Your Cats Teeth videos.

The entire process should only take a few minutes each day. If you can’t do daily, then try to do at least 3 times a week. Otherwise, you’ll lose the training effect that has built the cat’s cooperation. Also, research shows that treatment must be done frequently to have a measurable benefit.

Call our clinic 417-876-5717 if you have concerns about your cats dental health.

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