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Cat advice: looking after your pet's teeth

Problem teeth can cause your cat all kinds of health problems

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Cats are quiet warriors and often struggle with dental disease without showing any outward signs of pain. This can make identifying dental disease difficult at home, especially as cats are not always the best at "opening wide"! 

Here at Vets4Pets we want to help you keep your cat’s mouth as healthy as possible, by helping identify dental disease early, promoting great ways to protect your cat’s teeth, and helping with our veterinary services when home care isn’t enough.  

The normal feline mouth

Cats have 30 permanent teeth, 16 on the top and 14 on the bottom. In a healthy mouth, these teeth are creamy-white in colour, there should be no built up of deposits on the teeth, and gums should be pink. 

Caring for your cat's teeth

Prevention is better than cure. Being pro-active about protecting your cat’s teeth can greatly reduce incidence of dental disease, resulting in a happier cat and fewer vet visits. 

Caring for your cat’s teeth can be done in several ways:

  • Tooth-brushing: This is the gold standard for oral home care for cats, and should be started as early in life as possible, just like for people! 

  • Oral gels: These gels are applied between the cheeks and the teeth daily, and help neutralise plaque and bad breath. 

  • Food additives: These can be added to food or water, and should be used daily to help naturally prevent plaque from forming.

  • Dental diets: Prescription dental diets are specifically formulated to protect the teeth, if your cat is at high risk of dental disease. 

 

Cat dental disease

As cats age, their teeth start to build up tartar and plaque. Gums can become inflamed (a condition called gingivitis), and may recede. Gingivitis is reversible with home care or minor veterinary intervention if treated in time. If not treated, gingivitis progresses to periodontitis, which includes damage to the bone around the tooth root. As this occurs teeth become loose and can fall out or fracture, and infections/abscesses can be seen. 

Cats can also suffer from a specific disease of the teeth called ‘Feline Orthodontic Resorptive Lesions’ or FORL. These are erosions of the teeth where they meet the gum, and can be extremely painful. 

Signs of cat dental disease


Naturally, the development of dental disease is a painful process. Signs are often vague, or non-existent, but can include:

  • Picky eating
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Aggression
  • Food-shy behaviour
  • Bad breath
  • Weight loss 

Some behavioural changes attributed to old age can actually be due to oral pain and can be hard to notice. In fact, some cats may exhibit no outward signs at all! As cats are often poor at indicating health problems, regular dental checks with your vet or nurse are the only way to make sure your cat is not being affected by dental pain. 

It is important to note that not showing any signs does not mean your cat is not in pain. Cats try to hide pain, and can be very adept at this. As well as pain, oral infections are often present in advanced dental disease, and infections that start in the mouth can travel around the body, worsening organ conditions such as kidney, heart and liver disease. This means that dental disease identified in your cat should be treated quickly to ensure their comfort and lasting good general health.

Dental checks are a great way for your clinical team to check your pet’s mouth, but the entire mouth can be difficult to fully examine in a conscious examination. These checks allow us to estimate the level of treatment required, but a full examination of every tooth is undertaken if your pet progresses to dental treatment under general anaesthetic. This ensures nothing is missed.

Treating cat dental disease


Once your cat has had a dental examination, a dental plan will be created, based on both prevention and intervention. The preventative strategies above can be discussed, and recommendations tailored to your cat. 

In some case this will be enough, but many cats will require intervention if their dental disease is more advanced. This involves treatment under general anaesthetic and occurs before the preventative strategies are started. This allows teeth to be cleaned, any painful teeth to be removed, and for all teeth to be thoroughly checked beyond what is possible in a conscious pet. 

To see what goes on when your cat comes into the clinic for dental treatment, follow our behind the scenes link.