Did you know that the health of your cat's mouth can have an effect on their overall health? Our Westport vets discuss cat dental health and everything that you need to know about caring for their oral hygiene.
The Dental Health of Your Cat
Cats are stoic creatures that are adept at hiding their pain. They may be suffering from a painful oral health issue without ever letting on that they are uncomfortable. Because of this, owners need to be conscious of their feline companion's oral health and keep their furry companion's teeth clean. By monitoring and regularly cleaning your cat's teeth, you will be able to detect any oral health issues early and help your cat avoid pain and expensive treatment.
Dental Disease and How it Affects Cats
While your cat's teeth are ideally suited to the task of ripping and tearing meat, they are also prone to trapping food and bacteria between the teeth and under the gumline. When leftover food particles combine with saliva and the bacteria in your cat's mouth, plaque is the inevitable result.
Plaque sticks to the surface of your cat's teeth resulting in gingivitis, which is an oral health condition characterized by swelling, redness and pain along the gumline. Over time, the plaque on your cat's teeth will gradually harden into tartar and painful periodontal disease will result.
Left untreated, periodontal disease in cats can quickly lead to feline tooth resorption. Tooth resorption is a very painful dental condition seen in cats, affecting an estimated 75% of cats over the age of 5 years. When tooth resorption strikes, your cat will need to have the affected tooth extracted in order to restore their good oral health.
As with people, bacteria from oral health issues can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout your cat's body possibly leading to heart, liver or kidney damage.
Symptoms of Dental Disease That Cats May Experience
As previously mentioned, cats are very good at hiding signs of pain, so symptoms of dental disease can easily be missed. That said, once your cat's dental health problems become more advanced you will likely notice one or more of the following signs:
- Tooth Discoloration and visible tartar
- Bad Breath (halitosis)
- Excessive drooling (may contain blood)
- Weight loss
- Difficulty eating or slow eating
- Missing or loose teeth
- Exposed tooth roots
- Bleeding, swollen or noticeably red gums
- Poor grooming, unkept appearance
- Pawing at their teeth or mouth
If your cat is showing signs of dental disease it is likely that their oral health issue is advanced. Contact your vet to arrange a dental examination as soon as possible. The sooner your cat's dental disease is diagnosed and treated the better for your cat's long-term health.
How Dental Disease is Treated in Cats
Once your cat is experiencing the symptoms of dental health disease treatment will be necessary to relieve pain, prevent their oral health from deteriorating further, and restore your cat's good oral health.
In some cases, a thorough professional cleaning including removing plaque and mineral buildup by scaling and polishing the teeth is all that is needed to get your cat's mouth healthy again. In more extreme cases, your vet may need to perform oral surgery in order to extract one or more of your cat's teeth.
How You Can Help Prevent Dental Disease in Your Cat
Caring for your cat's oral health is much like caring for your own smile - there are 3 basic elements - good nutrition, thorough at-home oral hygiene and regular professional dental care.
Ensuring Proper Nutrition For Your Cat
A healthy diet that meets all of your cat's nutritional needs is essential when it comes to keeping your cat's teeth and gums healthy. Good nutrition helps to build your cat's immune system so that they are able to fight disease and heal quickly.
Your vet may recommend a dental food designed to help reduce the growth of bacteria and plaque. These specially formulated cat foods have larger pieces to encourage chewing which can help to scrape and clean the surface of the teeth.
Supplements can also be helpful in the fight against dental disease in cats. Oral rinses can help to protect your cat's teeth and sea kelp can be an effective additive to help fight oral bacteria and tooth decay.
At-Home Dental Care For Your Cat
Maintaining a daily dental hygiene routine for your cat could help to keep your feline friend's teeth and gums healthy throughout their lifetime. To make cleaning your cat's teeth at home as easy and stress-free as possible, begin establishing a daily oral hygiene routine for your cat while they are still a kitten. This way, your cat will be accustomed to having its teeth brushed and mouth touched from a young age.
Strive to make brushing your cat's teeth a stress-free and easy part of your kitty's daily routine. Start by waiting until your cat is calm and relaxed, then follow these steps:
- Gently lift your cat's lips, then use your finger to massage their teeth and gums for just a few seconds.
- Don't expect too much from your cat at first. You may only be able to reach a couple of teeth the first few times your try this process. That's okay though. This is about building trust in your cat to help prevent them from becoming agitated.
- Remain calm and be sure to give lots of praise and a yummy treat after your teeth-and-gum massage. You're trying to build your cat’s tolerance to the experience, gradually increasing the length of time you spend on the task each day.
- Once your feline friend is used to you massaging their gums each day, you will be able to gradually introduce a soft-bristled toothbrush you can acquire from your vet and some special cat toothpaste. Toothpaste can come in a range of excellent flavors for cats like beef or chicken.
- Begin using the toothbrush as gradually as you did the teeth-and-gum massage; your cat may begin by licking just a small dab of toothpaste from your finger.
Teeth Cleaning Can Take a While For Your Cat to Get Used To
The level of success you achieve when it comes to cleaning your cat's teeth will largely depend on your pet's temperament. Make sure you are calm, relaxed, flexible, and willing to adapt your approach to your cat's level of tolerance. Many cat owners have a very easy time cleaning their pet's teeth with some gauze, others find a finger brush works well and others apply a dental gel with their fingers that they allow to do the work for them.
When you finally begin brushing your cat's teeth successfully, move along the gum line, working quickly but stopping before your cat becomes irritated. It could be weeks before your kitty tolerates having all of its teeth cleaned during a single session.
If your kitty is stressed or alarmed by the teeth-cleaning process they may react by scratching or biting. So if brushing your cat's teeth is too difficult for you and your kitty consider adding plaque remover additives into their drinking water, getting them specially designed chew toys, or providing your cat with tasty dental treats.
Bringing Your Cat in for Annual Dental Exams
To help ensure that your cat's mouth stays pain-free and healthy, our vets recommend annual professional dental care as a part of your kitty's preventative healthcare routine. Taking your cat for a dental appointment is like a visit to the cat dentist. Your vet will evaluate your cat's oral health, take x-rays if required, and do a thorough cleaning. If your cat is suffering from a mouth injury, tooth loss, or severe decay, your dentist will provide you with recommendations regarding care or surgery to treat your cat's oral health issues.
To find out more about dental care for cats available here at our Westport animal hospital check out our dentistry page.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.