Dental, Pet Care Basics, Vet Minute
Vet Minute: Cat Dental Care
By Amy Hanson, DVM
January 18, 2021
How do I take care of my cat’s teeth? In this Vet Minute, Revival’s contributing veterinarian, Dr. Amy Hanson, explains why cat dental health is so often overlooked and discusses options for keeping cat teeth healthy. She will talk about professional dental cleanings by your veterinarian as well as cat tooth brushing and non-tooth brushing alternatives for healthy cat teeth.
Do Cats Need Dental Care
Cats like to hide that they have anything going on. It’s in their nature not to show any weakness so sometimes people don’t really realize that anything is going on with their cat. They’ll see the cat eating normally, behaving the same but they can have a lot of things going on in their mouth that you just aren’t cognizant to. Cats have some unique conditions as far as dentistry is concerned that can cause a significant amount of pain and potentially some other systemic issues with there being a lot of bacteria in their mouth. That bacteria can actually get into the bloodstream and go to other organs in their body and cause issues.
Dental Disease in Cats Symptoms
Signs of cat dental problems can be subtle. We see changes in behavior as far as a cat’s eating patterns are concerned. They are not as willing to eat or they are dropping food, eating out of one side of the mouth, or even grinding teeth can be a sign that there’s something going on within the oral cavity of the cat. Also, vocalizing during eating, pawing at the mouth, and drooling are signs that there could be something going on in the mouth of the cat or with their teeth.
How to Prevent Dental Disease in Cats
There are some things you can do to help prevent feline dental issues and brushing a cat’s teeth is one of them. The keys to how to clean cats teeth are consistency and going slow in the beginning. If your cat is not used to having you brush their teeth it’s something that you need to start out slowly and work up to. The great thing about a cat’s teeth and their mouth is that you really only need to worry about the surface that is near the cheek or what we call the buccal surface of the teeth which are the out outer ones. Those are the areas that they tend not to be able to scrape off the tartar when they eat because cats tend to swallow their food whole and not really chew their food so you don’t get quite the benefit of the action of the food actually scraping the teeth. Just go slowly and get them used to you feeling around their mouth. You want to make sure that you’re using a pet safe toothpaste. You can’t use human toothpaste as the fluoride in it is toxic to pets. They make finger toothbrushes that just kind of fit over the tip of your finger, or a pet friendly toothbrush or you can even use just a cotton square even and get that wet with just some water to get them used to that sensation of you actually massaging on their their gums and and around their teeth. Daily tooth brushing is ideal however if you can only do it once a week, do it once a week. Make it a really positive experience so once you’re done give them a treat that they really like.
What if I Can’t Brush My Cat’s Teeth?
If your cat does not allow you to brush their teeth there are several different alternatives. There are a few dental diets out there that are a larger kibble that they have to actually chew. That chewing action will help scrape some of the tartar and everything off the teeth. There are also cat dental treats, cat oral water additives, and oral gels and sprays so there are a lot of other alternatives to brushing cat teeth. Brushing is still the best care that you can give at home to your cat.
Cat Dental Care Tips
Starting them with dental care when they are young is ideal. If you get a new kitten first get them used to you messing around with their mouth. Don’t worry about brushing first off. Just get them used to you stroking around their mouth and and make it a good experience where you massage their face. Most kittens really love that and if you have an older cat again just go slowly. Start with just touching around the outside of the mouth. Don’t worry about getting into the oral cavity itself. Just make it slow and make it very positive. If they like playing with something, do a session then play with them or if there’s a treat a yummy treat that they really like, do a session and then give them a yummy treat. Make it a really positive experience.
How Often Should a Cat’s Teeth Be Cleaned By a Vet?
How often a professional dental cleaning by your veterinarian should be done is a little bit dependent on the cat. It depends on their genetics, environment and everything like that. But a good rule of thumb is cat’s teeth should be cleaned by a vet at least once a year. We have some cats may need a dental cleaning every six months depending on if they have stomatitis or are prone to getting resorptive lesions. Those cats might have to have dental cleanings more often with the veterinarian. A veterinarian dental cleaning really gives us a good chance that we can we can sedate them we can get a good look at the interior of their mouth and we can also take X-rays of their teeth so we can see what’s going on underneath the gum line. A lot of times we’ll we’ll see perfect teeth on the outside but when we take X-rays we find a lot of problems on underneath the gum line that we just didn’t expect. We can also look for such things as oral cancer. Cats do have a tendency to get oral cancers and if we can catch them soon enough we can get them removed and get them on treatment. Sometimes cats that like to eat string and during a cat dental exam we can find it lodged under their tongue, sometimes we’ve found sewing needles embedded in their hard palate.
Cats get tired of you brushing their teeth and so they don’t want you to get those back teeth and that’s where we tend to see a lot of problems in the back teeth as well so the more you can do the better off you’re going to be. However, even if you are brushing every day and you have the additives and you have the treats, some cats it’s just in their genetics that they have some dental issues and again that’s why it’s important to have your cat visit a vet on a regular basis. Some of these things you can do everything right and unfortunately it’s just in the cat’s genetics and makeup that they’re gonna have more problems with their teeth than others.
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Written by: Amy Hanson, DVM
Dr. Amy Hanson is an associate veterinarian at the Cat Clinic of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas. She is a 2010 graduate of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Her special interests include felines, acupuncture and dentistry. Her hobbies include showing cats and she is a judge for the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA).