Kitties Need Dentists, Too! Dental Care for Your Cat

Cat yawning and showing teeth

Did you know that 70% of cats have some form of dental disease by the age of 3?

Dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by our veterinarians. Dental disease gets its start as layers of plaque accumulate on the tooth surface and harden into tartar. Tartar above the gum line can be seen and removed, but it’s the plaque and tartar under the gum line that set the stage for inflammation and infection.

This same bacteria responsible for plaque and tartar can make its way into your cat’s bloodstream to infect the heart, kidneys, and liver. So while we think dental health is all about the mouth, it can actually have a huge impact on your cat’s overall health and well-being.

Cats are unlikely to display signs of pain, but there are signs of dental problems in your cat. These include:

  • Bad breath
  • Reduced appetite
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
  • Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth
  • Irritability
  • Changes in behavior

How can you help keep your cat’s teeth healthy and prevent dental disease? Here are the three keys to optimal dental care for your cat.

Daily Brushing

Regularly brushing your cat’s teeth is the single most effective thing you can do to keep his or her teeth healthy and possibly prevent most of the common oral diseases. While daily brushing is best, brushing several times a week can also be effective.

Unfortunately, your cat may not be a big fan of brushing. While it’s easier to train cats when they are young, even adult cats can learn to accept brushing. You just need to work up to brushing.

Start by touching your cat around the mouth while you cuddle. Gently pull up his or her lip to look at the teeth. As your cat gets comfortable, you can try brushing with a small toothbrush, gauze sponge, or finger brush and pet toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste on your cat.

Dietary Help

We asked Dr. Cynthia Sweet about dietary measures you can take as a cat owner to help keep plaque and tartar to a minimum:

"There are specific dental diets, treats, and water additives that can be fed to your cat to help prevent further plaque and tartar formation. I recommend looking for products with a VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of approval. If you see this seal, it means the company has done research to prove their product works."

Dental Cleanings

The only way to really know what’s going on in your cat’s mouth is to examine his or her teeth under general anesthesia and, if necessary, take dental X-rays. Dr. Sweet explains what’s involved in your cat’s dental cleaning:

"For every dental procedure, the patient is anesthetized and monitored. A detailed oral examination is performed to look for abnormalities of the palate, tongue, and soft tissues. Then, all teeth are scaled above and below the gum line to removal all plaque and tartar.

"Multiple areas around each tooth are probed to look for any abnormal depths and pocketing. Next, your veterinarian performs a thorough examination of the teeth to look for abnormalities -- fractures, discoloration, abrasive wear. If any teeth show abnormalities such as infection or a fracture with pulp exposure, they are then extracted. Finally, remaining teeth are polished above and below the gum line.

"While there are many dental products that can be used to help prevent further plaque and tartar formation, the only way to treat current plaque and tartar is through routine dental cleanings. While every cat is different, I recommend cats get a dental exam and cleaning performed at least annually once they reach adulthood. This thoroughly helps prevent tartar buildup and gingivitis, identify common oral abnormalities cats can get such as tooth resorption, and can help address early periodontal disease before it leads to extensive and expensive damage."

February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Schedule your cat’s dental exam and cleaning with Badger Veterinary Hospital today!