If you’re a cat owner, chances are you have other things on your mind than dental care for your cat. But, your kitty needs her teeth cleaned regularly. Even though it might be a daunting proposition to brush your cat’s teeth, it’s something that cat owners should do on a regular basis, along with regular checkups at the veterinarian.
Cats Aren’t Immune to Cavities
Cats in the wild probably don’t get many cavities. That’s because they chomp down on rodents, birds, and anything else they deem prey-worthy. Despite being carnivores, most pet cats don’t get that kind of diet. They get fed cat food, which, unfortunately doesn’t help keep their teeth clean, unless you use dental health type cat food. Even so, cats are most commonly afflicted by four types of dental problems: feline gingivitis/stomatitis syndrome (FGS), feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL), fractured teeth, and periodontal disease.
Feline Gingivitis/Stomatitis Syndrome (FGS)
Of the four cat dental diseases, this is perhaps the most uncommon disorder, appearing in about 1 percent of the cat population. Diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), or other viruses or conditions may cause it. Your cat has severe inflammation of the mouth lining and gums, making it exceedingly hard for your cat to eat.
Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORL)
Often called “cat cavities”, FORL appears in about half the cats. What happens is plaque builds up under the gums and attacks the cementum, the part that covers the tooth root. The FORL may progress into the interior of the tooth, called the dentin, and may attack the root and the crown. The tooth simply starts disintegrating from this dental disease.
A cat’s teeth can fracture from some kind of trauma or occasionally through chewing. The exposed root can become infected if not treated. Even if it doesn’t get infected, it can be very painful.
The most common dental problem, about 85 percent of cats who are older than six years old have this issue. Periodontal disease is caused by plaque build up on the teeth. The gums grow inflamed from this build up and becomes gingivitis.
How to Recognize a Dental Problem
If your cat’s breath smells bad, like stinky socks, chances are she needs to be seen by the veterinarian. Other signs include refusing to eat cat kibble, swollen and red gums, acting grouchy, and pawing at the mouth. If your cat is showing any of these symptoms, you need to bring her to the veterinarian for a full check up, including a dental exam.
Most cat teeth that have issues will need to be extracted. Cat teeth are generally too small for fillings.
Caring for Your Cat’s Teeth
Dental problems with your cat’s teeth don’t have to be an inevitability. You can take measures to care for your cat’s teeth that will help prevent dental diseases. Talk with your veterinarian about what dental diets are recommended for your cat. These are formulated to reduce plaque and help keep your cat’s teeth cleaner.
You will also need to brush your cat’s teeth. As difficult as this sounds, you can train your cat to accept tooth brushing.
How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth
If your cat has never had her teeth brushed before, you need to start gently. Getting your cat used to having her teeth brushed usually takes one to two months. You should first have a veterinarian examine your cat’s teeth and gums to be sure that your cat’s gums aren’t sore from an infection. Once your cat is cleared for brushing her teeth, you can ask your veterinarian to show you, or you can use this guide to help you learn to clean her teeth:
- First, get your cat used to you touching her mouth by using your finger to gently massage her gums. You can also use a cotton swab to gently rub against her gums. Make it a fun and pleasant experience, and your cat will more likely accept having her teeth brushed without complaint.
- Once your cat has accepted having her mouth touched and handled, you need to give her a taste of the toothpaste. You need to purchase a toothpaste for cats – human toothpaste has ingredients that can harm your cat. Most cat toothpastes are specially flavored, and your kitty may find them in tasty flavors such as tuna, beef, or malt. Smear a little on your kitty’s lips and let her lick it off. Chances are she’ll want more once she gets a taste of it.
- You will also need to have a toothbrush for a cat. Cat toothbrushes are smaller and softer than toothbrushes made for people. Some are actually finger toothbrushes, which your cat may prefer over the standard toothbrushes made for cats. Show the toothbrush to your cat, and gently rub the bristles along her gums. Do not press down, as this can cause pain and make it an unpleasant experience.
- Lastly, you’ll want to smear some cat toothpaste on the brush and have your cat lick the toothpaste from the brush. If she likes it, you can gently brush your cat’s teeth with it.
Veterinarians like to see you brush your cat’s teeth every day, but if you can’t, a minimum of twice weekly would help greatly in the battle against dental disease.
Cat Food Made for Dental Health
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is cat food made to promote dental health and clean tartar from teeth. However, according to Jean Hovre, DVM, no one food keeps a cat’s teeth healthy. In fact, dry food can cause many dental problems because it isn’t a diet cats were designed for. However, she’s seen tooth problems in cats with all kinds of diets, including raw diets, natural diets, canned diets, and of course, dry food diets, so unless you go with a tartar control formula, chances are your cat is going need her teeth brushed.
If your cat has tooth problems, chances are she’s going to need dental work. Should this happen, you should commit to dental checkups every six months to ensure your cat’s teeth are healthy.
View more articles written by Maggie Bonham.