While cats are generally healthy and robust creatures, diseases of the teeth and gums are very common. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, somewhere between 50 percent and 90 percent of cats over the age of four experience dental disease.
In this article, we’ll look at why oral health is important, how you can identify if your cat has oral health problems, and some of the available treatment options from which your furry, fanged friend can benefit.
Why Is Feline Oral Health Important?
Sure, humans need clean white teeth. But is a gleaming smile so important with cats? The short answer is, yes!
Bad teeth and gums can cause considerable and long-lasting pain. Moreover, painful teeth will eventually cause your cat to eat sparingly, and your cat’s resulting poor nutrition can spiral into many other health problems. Early treatment for feline dental disease will save your furry friend both considerable discomfort, prolonged infection, and the risk of additional health challenges further down the line.
Signs of Feline Oral Health Disease
There are a few possible causes of feline dental disease. The three most common types are gingivitis (a condition affecting the gums), periodontitis (affecting the tissues attaching the teeth to the gums) and tooth resorption (a breaking down of tooth structure). Complicating matters, these conditions may overlap.
The best rule of thumb (or should that be rule of gum?) is to take your cat to the vet if you notice any of the following symptoms. Your vet can make an accurate diagnosis and talk about next steps.
Swelling and Bleeding in the Gums
Gum problems can be tricky to observe directly. Swelling is often hard to identify yourself, because let’s face it, you’re probably not staring intently into your cat’s mouth on a daily basis! Bleeding is often a little easier to identify, but it can still be tough.
A sure tell is to watch your cat eating. If they turn their head at an unusual angle, appear hesitant to take food into their mouth or drool while eating, they may be dealing with gum or tooth pain. Your cat may also start to eat only soft food, avoiding the crunchy stuff entirely.
Now, this is a slightly delicate subject! As scrupulous as our catty overlords can be about personal grooming, they will often have at least mildly whiffy breath. We humans would probably be in the same boat if we maintained a steady diet of pungent meat, with zero access to breath mints or toothpaste!
However, bad breath caused by feline oral disease is usually noticeably awful. Your eyes may water when they sneeze or come in close for a cat kiss. If you’re dealing with truly heinous bad breath, it might be time to get your foul-breathed cat to the vet for a checkup.
Hopefully this goes without saying, but never attempt to deal with your cat’s dental problems yourself. You can cause a lot of damage! After a thorough examination (possibly involving a x-ray under general anesthesia), your veterinarian will walk you through your options.
- After performing an in-clinic cleaning, your vet may prescribe a cat-friendly toothbrush and feline toothpaste. Note that human toothpaste should never be used on cats.
- Diet changes may also be prescribed. A steady diet of soft food is thought to accelerate the onset of some oral health problems. Provided your cat is able, your vet may suggest specially formulated kibble to improve abrasion around the teeth.
- Finally, your vet may suggest a course of antibiotics and one or more oral hygiene products to keep your cat’s mouth clear of harmful bacteria. These cleansing products are usually administered in gel form, but may also be available as a liquid.
Feline dental disease is remarkably common in adult cats. Thankfully, treatment options are available, and your vet will be able to give you a quick and accurate diagnosis. Properly cared for, your cat will be able to thank you with a big (hopefully non-pungent) cat kiss!
- [Feline Dental Disease | Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine](https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-dental-disease)
- [Dental Disease in Cats | VCA Animal Hospital](https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/dental-disease-in-cats)
- [Dental disease in cats | International Cat Care](https://icatcare.org/advice/cat-health/dental-disease-cats)
- [What You Need to Know About Stomatitis in Cats](http://www.vetstreet.com/care/feline-stomatitis)