February is dental month! Dental disease has become the number one health concern in adult cats. Your cat needs good dental care just like you do. Without it, cats are more prone to problems associated with poor dental hygiene and can get serious and painful dental diseases. Without good dental care cats can suffer from having a painful mouth and as a result, can even stop eating. Good dental hygiene is as important to cats as it is to humans and contributes to your cat’s overall well being, comfort and happiness. The good news is most periodontal disease in cats is completely preventable with good dental care and annual wellness checks.
Roughly 4 out of 5 cats develop periodontal disease. Why? Partly because dental care in cats is often overlooked and left untreated. Cats hide their pain very well though they may be silently suffering, and many cat owners don’t take their cat for regular annual wellness exams each year. Untreated gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) often progresses into gum infection, chronic disease and can even impact vital organs.
Periodontal disease is caused by harmful bacteria that builds up to form plaque and calculus along and under the gum line. This plaque causes gingivitis that can cause pockets to develop trapping food and bacteria, which can become inflamed and infected. Bacteria from the plaque then enters the bloodstream and damages the vital organs such as the heart and kidney.
Health Problems Associated With Poor Dental Care
Cats that don’t get proper dental care and have periodontal disease can develop more serious health problems. Emerging science has proven a strong link between good oral health and good heart and kidney health. So caring for your cat’s dental health can save you money down the road and save your cat’s health. Some of the health problems associated with cat’s poor dental health are:
- Heart disease and damage to the heart
- Damage to internal organs as cats age – liver and kidneys
- Damage or loss of bone and tissue around the teeth
- Fistulas from oral cavities that go into the nasal passages and cause nasal discharge, weakening of the jaw bone leading to jaw fractures, and bone infections
- Loss of teeth – cats that don’t get dental care can lose their teeth, which is painful and can lead to more serious health issues
- Pain and suffering – cats hide pain and suffering well, so you may not realize the pain they are in, until the problems become more serious
Symptoms of Dental Disease in Cats
There are many symptoms of dental disease that can warn cat owners that it’s time to take your cat to the vet for an oral exam, including:
- Bad breath
- Swollen and bleeding gums or red along gum lines
- Change in eating habits and diminished appetite (eating may be painful)
- Difficulty eating or eating only on one side of the mouth
- Not eating dry food any longer, refusing to eat it and changing to wet food
- Lack of grooming, change in grooming habits or poor grooming
- Losing teeth or missing teeth
Preventing Dental Disease in Cats
Good preventative dental care can be done simply by getting your cat’s teeth checked and cleaned by a veterinarian as often as needed, usually once every 2-3 years, and personally checking your cat’s teeth and gums every 1-2 months. Here are some preventative measures:
- Get a routine annual checkup with your vet once a year – with cats over 12, twice a year – that includes an oral exam
- Home oral hygiene – do a routine home mouth check by checking your cat’s mouth every month or so for swollen or bleeding gums, ulcers, red lines along the gum line, smelly breath, and any other unusual or new concerns
- Brush your cat’s teeth using a special brush made for cats (at your veterinarian’s office) and toothpaste made for cats (not human toothpaste, as it has chemicals and fluoride that is harmful if swallowed). Here’s a helpful video from the Pet Health Network of how to brush your cat’s teeth.
- Have cat’s teeth cleaned by a vet under anesthesia, every 2-3 years or as needed – and have your vet take dental X-rays to check for any hidden problems. Avoid any advertised dental cleanings done without anesthesia, these are completely ineffective, a waste of money, and leave your cat at risk and vulnerable to continued and untreated tooth decay and dental disease
- Give your cat a good quality diet of grain-free wet food (and dry food if inclined)
Painful Dental Diseases in Cats
- Gingivitis – red, swollen gums
- Periodontal disease – loose or missing teeth, bleeding gums, leading to oral infections
- FORLs (Feline Ondoclastic Resorptive Lesions) – Symptoms include bleeding from the gums or teeth, excessive salivation and difficulty eating, broken or missing teeth and bad breath. FORLs is extremely painful and should get immediate treatment. Extracting teeth is the most common treatment.
- Oral Tumors/Cancer – Symptoms include swelling and/or lumps in the mouth and discoloration of the gums. The most common tumors are Squamous Cell Carcinomas (SCC). Cats with tumors need immediate treatment.
- Stomatitis – Symptoms include a diminished appetite and trouble eating, excessive drooling, painful mouth, swollen gums, and weight loss. It can be caused by an autoimmune disorder and these cats often require having all their teeth extracted (roots too), with possible steroid treatment for the cat to regain its health and relieve the pain
Diseases That Can Cause Dental Infection
There are some diseases in cats that have been known to cause or worsen dental conditions and disease, including:
- Feline Panleukopenia
- Feline Viral Respiratory Disease
- Chronic kidney or renal failure
- Liver failure
- Immune disorders
- Nutritional disorders
Treatment of Dental Disease
Dental procedures are always done by veterinarians in their office under anesthesia. Under anesthesia, dental treatment will involve removing dental tartar and calculus, extracting any damaged teeth, taking needed X-rays and polishing the teeth. Your vet will probe to see if there’s any further damage to gums. Following any dental surgery where teeth are extracted, your vet will place your cat on an antibiotic for 7-10 days to be given daily to prevent infection.
Stay far away from advertised “dental cleanings done without anesthesia” often offered in pet stores. These seem like a good deal, but they are worthless, superficial and my advice is to avoid them like the plague! These “cleanings” are not done by veterinarians, but often by inexperienced people, without the proper tools, education or knowledge. This is a complete waste of money and I believe is completely false and deceptive advertising and about profit at your cat’s expense. Your cat’s gums will not be given qualified medical attention, nor do these visits address cavities, root problems, gum disease, inflammation, or any serious oral disorder or disease. You will still need to go to a vet afterwards, because the same issues will be unresolved. My advise is to stay away!
Be careful about over-the-counter remedies that advertise miracle dental solutions. Some are sold on the Internet, some in pet stores, and many claim to reduce plaque and work preventatively but don’t actually deliver the benefits they say they do. Just like with people, good home oral hygiene and getting annual vet exams with dental checks is the best way to protect your cat from painful dental disease and health problems associated with dental disease.
A healthy mouth is a healthy body—so don’t ignore your cat’s dental care—help your cat maintain good health with preventative dental care, annual wellness and dental exams, and checking your cat’s mouth regularly.
Why it’s so important to remove plaque from your cat’s teeth and gums: