Did you know that cats get cavities? That they develop gingivitis? And periodontal disease? That they need routine dental care to retain their overall good health? Read on!!
Kittens have 26 temporary (baby) teeth, which start to appear at 2-3 weeks of age. These teeth are replaced by 30 permanent teeth by the time the kitten is 6 months old. Just as people need routine dental care and daily oral hygiene to help their teeth and gums remain healthy, so do our feline friends.
In nature, cats hunt and eat small animals and birds. The ripping and chewing of the stringy meat, gristle, and bone is thought to provide natural brushing action for teeth. Modern feline diets are balanced to provide optimal nutrition for our pets, but most do not provide this natural “tooth-brushing” effect. Imagine not brushing your teeth for several years at a time! It therefore falls to the pet owner to be aware of our cats’ need for good oral hygiene.
Does your cat have offensive breath? Does he/she drool excessively? Are there noticeable yellow, brown, or black discolorations on his/her teeth? Is there redness or bleeding of the gums? All these are symptoms of poor mouth health. Most of these symptoms are related to the production of plaque. Plaque is composed of food debris and bacteria. It commonly combines with proteins and salts in the saliva to harden into tartar or calculus. This is the yellow and brown crust that many cats have stuck to their teeth. If left untreated, tartar can lead to many problems: cavity formation, abscesses, localization infection in the gums (periodontal disease), or infections in the heart, liver, and kidneys.
To prevent tartar buildup from leading to long-term problems, routine dental care is essential. This process may need to begin with a professional cleaning. With the kitty asleep under anesthetic, the plaque and tartar is gently removed using a combination of ultrasonic and hand scaling techniques. Each tooth is cleaned both above and below the gum line, and evaluated for problems such as cavities, abscesses, or periodontal disease. Any problems are addressed, and then the teeth are polished to remove any scratches from the enamel surface, which might encourage faster tartar formation. Finally, a fluoride treatment is applied to help strengthen the enamel covering of the tooth and to help retard cavity formation. If any problems are discovered, dental x-rays may be necessary to determine whether or not a tooth is salvageable or needs to be extracted.
SPECIAL FOODS: Hills T/D diet is specially formulated to help discourage the formation of tartar on your cat’s teeth. The size of each individual kibble is larger that most, to encourage the cat to chew its food, rather than swallowing it whole. The fiber content of the food is arranged in parallel lines. As the cat’s tooth enters the food, the food brushes along the length of the tooth before shattering. This is as close to a natural toothbrush as we are able to get. Remember, all dry cat foods are not created equal!! Some over the counter dental diets are available. While not as effective as T/D, they can be beneficial to some cats with early dental disease.
HOME TOOTH BRUSHING: Depending on the temperament of the cat, home tooth brushing may be an option for tartar control. Our veterinary staff will be pleased to show you how to introduce your cat to tooth brushing. You may need to accustom your cat to teeth brushing gradually. As with most animals, youngsters will usually learn to accept this procedure faster than older animals. Be sure to use special cat/dog toothpaste, as human toothpaste products may cause a cat to vomit. Aspire to daily brushing, but be sure to get at least two brushings a week into the schedule. Remember, patience and rewards (special treats and petting) will go a long way toward convincing your pet to tolerate and even enjoy tooth brushing
SPECIAL GELS AND MOUTH RINSES: There are a variety of products available that help to control the buildup of bacteria in the mouth. Control of bacteria will not specifically remove tartar, but will decrease the chances of localized or systemic infection, as well as control mouth odor. These products are usually available in the form of a rinse or a gel, which can be squirted in the cat’s mouth daily. This is the equivalent of antibacterial mouthwashes for cats in the form that is more likely to be tolerated by the pet.
Dentistry and oral hygiene is an area of growing concern for our cats. As good care at home and medical advancements make it more likely for our pet cats to live to an older age, it becomes more important not to overlook dental care as an integral part if the routine care of our feline friends.