Dental disease is a much more common issue for cats than you might think. In fact, many cats develop gingivitis and even periodontal disease by the time they’re just four years old. Dental disease usually progresses slowly, but it can cause your kitty a lot of pain. It also has a negative impact on their overall health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, cats don’t usually show signs of dental pain until the issues are quite severe. Sadly, they learn to live with the discomfort as the disease develops over time. That’s why caring for your cat’s teeth at home and providing professional check-ups is so important.
What You Need to Know About Caring for Your Cat’s Teeth
There are many things you can to provide proper dental care for your cat. Keeping your cat’s teeth healthy is a crucial part of your job as a pet parent, and it does require consistency and commitment. Since your cat can’t tell you when it’s time for dental care, it’s up to you to be proactive and provide the best preventive care possible.
- Provide a healthy diet and proper nutrition.
- Begin cleaning your cat’s teeth at home when he’s a kitten, if possible.
- Provide a professional dental checkup every six months.
- Pay attention to early signs of a dental issue, such as bad breath.
- Report any unusual behaviors to your vet right away and schedule a visit if needed.
Cleaning Your Cat’s Teeth at Home
If your cat will tolerate it, you can brush his teeth each day with a baby toothbrush and toothpaste that’s made especially for pets. If your cat won’t tolerate having his teeth brushed (many won’t), you can purchase cat food that’s made specifically to soften tartar and help the teeth stay clean. There are also cat treats made specifically for this purpose.
Another option for cleaning your cat’s teeth at home is to use a dental gel that you apply directly to your cat’s teeth each day. You can also put an additive in your cat’s drinking water to help soften and reduce tartar. Dental toys can also be great for massaging your cat’s gums and helping to prevent gum disease.
The Importance of Professional Cleanings
Your cat should also have a routine dental cleaning at the vet once each year. According to the veterinary professionals at Bond Vet, “A routine dental cleaning is part of your pet’s preventive dental care. It’s helpful for removing tartar above the gum line – where the toothbrush can’t fully reach – before it progresses to periodontal diseases and causes irreversible damage.”
Routine dental cleanings at the vet are done under anesthesia for your cat’s comfort and safety. Your cat will have a thorough oral exam and x-rays to diagnose any developing dental issues. Every tooth will be examined and charted to keep track of your cat’s oral health over time. The vet will also examine the tonsils, gums, and tongue for any possible issues.
These exams are crucial because dental disease often begins under the gumline, where you can’t see. Some cats develop cavity-like lesions where their gums meet their teeth, called odontoclastic resorption lesions (FORL). These lesions are extremely painful and often require extraction of the infected tooth. They can only be diagnosed with x-rays and a professional exam.
The vet will also check for issues like cavities, periodontal disease, and gingivitis that may require treatment to alleviate discomfort or pain. Of course, your cat’s teeth will also be cleaned, leaving him with kissable, fresh breath! Annual dental exams are crucial for your cat’s oral health.
The Dangers of Gingivitis in Cats
Over time, gingivitis can spread into your cat’s teeth and become periodontal disease. It can affect both the gums and the portion of the tooth that is underneath the gum line. Periodontal disease is the most common cause of illness in cats that are over three years old. Unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed because many cat parents neglect professional cleanings.
Gum disease develops in stages. Having your cat’s teeth checked by the vet at least once a year can help to diagnose the issue in its early stages before it becomes severe. In fact, it’s often reversible if it’s caught in its earliest stages. Not only that, but gingivitis can lead to heart, liver, and kidney issues over time.
Signs That Your Cat May Have a Serious Dental Issue
Like many animals, cats are very good at hiding pain and sickness. If your cat’s dental issue is in the beginning stages, bad breath is probably the first sign you’ll notice. Bad breath is a clear sign that it’s time for a professional checkup!
However, the following signs of dental issues in cats may indicate a much more serious problem. If you notice one of these behaviors, call the vet immediately:
- Red, bleeding, or swollen gums
- Bloody saliva or nasal discharge
- Pawing at mouth or face
- Difficulty eating or lack of appetite
- Loose, missing, or broken tooth
Don’t be tempted to skip your cat’s annual checkup if he shows no sign of a dental issue. Remember, many issues develop under the gumline, where you can’t see. And, catching these issues early improves the prognosis dramatically.
When it comes to caring for your cat’s teeth, preventing issues before they start is much better than trying to treat them after the fact. Taking the time to keep your cat’s teeth clean is crucial for his overall health, as well. Cleaning your cat’s teeth at home and providing annual dental cleanings is part of being a responsible pet parent, and it will help your cat live a longer, healthier life.
About the Author:
Nicole is a die-hard animal lover who has worked in pet care for years. She is a former vet technician, a dog mom to her two rescue pups, and she grew up living and working at her family’s pet boarding facility. She loves using her writing talents to share the insight she’s learned throughout her career in the hopes that her knowledge can help other pet parents out there!