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.
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.
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. Because many cats are notorious for their lethargic lifestyles, it can be rather difficult to tell if your cat isn’t feeling well simply by looking at them. In other words, if you don’t check your cat’s pearly whites and they develop an issue, it could go months before any treatment is started. If you notice any of the following signs, you should consult with your veterinarian:
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, cat dental surgery may be required to reach the deeper tooth structures.
You can help prevent periodontal disease in your cat with a combination of at-home and professional dental care.
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. Plus, it may help to keep in mind that brushing your cat’s teeth a few times a week will be much more convenient (and budget-friendly) than having to take your friend in for dental surgery.
To help your toothbrushing journey be a smooth process, check out these dental hygiene tips.
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.
You should never use the toothpaste from your own bathroom. Human toothpaste can contain ingredients like fluoride that is toxic to cats. Cat toothpaste also comes in tempting flavors, like poultry or beef, which can help the process go easier.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It can also be beneficial to begin incorporating dental hygiene into your cat’s routine as soon as possible. If you introduce a new feline to the family, begin brushing their teeth the week you bring them home. If you already have a four-legged family member and you don’t currently brush their teeth, there’s no better time to begin than now.
Do you have a dog in the house? Check out this infographic for tips on caring for your dog’s teeth.
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. You may find that your cat will be more cooperative during these exams if you have someone else hold the cat while you check their mouth. Rewarding your cat afterward with a special treat may also entice them to behave.
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.
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.
After learning about prophylaxis (dental cleanings), some of the first questions that come to cat parents’ minds are, “How much is a dental cleaning for cats?” and “Does pet insurance cover teeth cleaning?” According to our claims data,^ the average cost of a pet dental cleaning is about $250. While some base accident coverage includes treatment for dental issues related to injuries, additional optional coverage can help you get reimbursed for annual dental cleanings.
^Internal Claims Data, 2015-20
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.
title: Dental Care for Cats
author: Dr. Mary Beth Leininger