Taking care of your cat’s teeth is about much more than aesthetics. All cats need good dental care to help avoid periodontal disease and other issues that can impact their health and quality of life.
Dental Problems in Cats
While cats are not prone to cavities like humans, they can suffer from other dental issues. The most common dental problem in cats is periodontal disease.
According to the American Veterinary Dental College, most cats and dogs have evidence of periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years old. It occurs when food particles are left behind and cause plaque to build up on the teeth. If it’s not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can lead to an inflammation of the gums called gingivitis.
When tartar accumulates under the gums, it can cause them to recede, which will eventually lead to loose teeth. It also forms pockets where bacteria can invade and cause an infection. If left untreated, the infection can travel through the bloodstream to the heart, liver, and kidneys and damage these vital organs.
Signs and Treatment
Your veterinarian will check for signs of oral abnormalities and periodontal disease during annual check-ups, but you should also look over your cat’s mouth regularly at home. If you notice any of the following signs, you should consult with your veterinarian:
- Bad breath – While your cat may not have the most pleasant breath, it shouldn’t smell foul
- Discomfort when examining the mouth area
- Loose, broken, or discolored teeth
- Inflamed or bleeding gums
Periodontal disease can be painful and cause your cat to paw at their mouth, drool excessively, and have difficulty chewing. You may also notice behavioral changes in your cat, such as acting more irritable or depressed.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the periodontal disease. For minor cases that are caught early, a professional dental cleaning may be enough to remove the plaque and tartar from the teeth and below the gumline. In more advanced situations, periodontal surgery may be required to reach the deeper tooth structures.
Cat Dental Care Basics
You can help prevent periodontal disease in your cat with a combination of at home and professional dental care.
1. Regular Home Brushing
The idea of brushing your cat’s teeth may seem daunting, but it is an essential part of caring for your feline friend. While cats may be resistant at first, they should get used to the idea with a little patience and practice.
Cat Tooth Brushing Tips
Choose the Right Toothbrush
Purchase a toothbrush made specifically for cats, which will be softer and smaller than your own toothbrush. If you prefer, you can use a toothbrush that you wear on your finger or wrap a piece of gauze around it.
Use Toothpaste for Cats
You should never use the toothpaste from your own bathroom. Human toothpaste can contain ingredients like fluoride and Xylitol that are toxic to cats. Cat toothpaste also comes in tempting flavors, like poultry or beef, which can help the process go easier.
Introduce the Toothbrush
Let your cat examine and sniff the toothbrush. You can try dipping it in a bit of tuna water to attract your cat’s attention. You can also offer a small taste of the toothpaste.
Massage the Gums
You can help get your cat used to the feeling of having their teeth brushed by starting with a gum massage. Be careful and massage gently with your finger. You can do this repeatedly until your cat seems comfortable with the experience.
Start Brushing Slowly
When you and your cat are ready, carefully lift the lips to expose the teeth and start brushing gently in slow, circular motions. Do your best to reach the back molars and canines, since plaque and tartar tend to accumulate there.
Heap on the Praise
Talk to your cat calmly as you brush and offer lots of praise for good behavior. Take your time if your cat allows so you can do a thorough cleaning job.
Ideally, you should brush your cat’s teeth every day or at least once or twice a week. It’s helpful to look at it as a time to bond with your cat rather than a dreaded activity. If you are having trouble brushing your cat’s teeth, ask your veterinarian for advice.
Do you have a dog in the house? Check out this infographic for tips on caring for your dog’s teeth.
2. Home Mouth Exams
Take a careful look at your cat’s mouth at least once a week. Pick a time when your cat is calm and gently lift the lips to examine the gums and teeth. You should look for signs of periodontal disease as well as other issues, like broken or loose teeth, discoloration, swelling, or lumps.
3. Annual Dental Cleanings
Even if you are taking great care of your cat’s teeth at home, they still need a regular dental exam and tooth cleaning at the veterinarian’s office. Your veterinarian can closely examine your cat’s teeth and gums, including the areas under the gumline, and safely remove plaque buildup that you can’t brush away at home.
Anesthesia for Dental Cleanings
Cats can’t understand the need to sit still during a dental procedure, which is why the American Veterinary Dental College recommends anesthesia for dental cleanings. Anesthesia does carry risks, but the positives are generally greater than the negatives. It reduces stress and pain for your cat, and allows the veterinarian to safely clean below the gumline and thoroughly examine each tooth in your cat’s mouth. In addition, dental X-rays are often needed to evaluate the roots of the teeth.
Cat Dental Insurance
If you’re concerned about the cost of your cat’s dental care, you should consider an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan. Base accident coverage includes treatment for dental issues related to injuries, such as fractured teeth that can require extraction. You can also add optional coverage to get reimbursed for annual dental cleanings. See the options for your cat.