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Concerned about your cat's teeth? Read our expert guide
It might surprise you that cats commonly suffer with disorders of the teeth, jaw and mouth. As cats are great at hiding signs of discomfort and pain, it can be difficult, as an owner, to see that your cat even has an issue. Your cat might appear happy and relaxed, and my even be eating and drinking normally.
Oral health issues can be a great source of suffering for our pets and cats often seem to be much livelier and content after treatment. Maintaining good oral health and keeping your cat’s teeth clean is likely to improve the quality of your cat’s life.
Your vet will examine your cat’s mouth at their annual check-up, so it is important to keep this appointment. While you may not notice they are suffering from dental issues, a check-up with the vet may reveal something surprising. Owners are often shocked by the severity of the teeth problems their cat is hiding.
Obvious symptoms of cat teeth problems and dental disease include:
• Reduced grooming activity, leading to poor condition of your cat’s coat• Bad breath• Drooling• Discomfort when eating• Pawing at the mouth• Bleeding gums• Reduced appetite or weight loss
If your cat begins to display any of these symptoms, book a visit to the vet.
When your cat is a kitten, they have 26 baby teeth, which are replaced by 30 (surprisingly sharp) adult teeth by the age of six months. Your cat uses its teeth for catching prey and chewing food, as well as to defend themselves against other cats. Each tooth sits within a space in the jawbone, held in place by ligaments.
When a kitten’s adult teeth emerge, it is common for them to have mild inflammation of the gum and bad breath. This doesn’t usually affect their appetite and should resolve itself quickly. There can be issues if your kitten’s baby teeth do not fall out properly. In this case, they may need to be extracted.
Cats can also have issues when their teeth grow too closely together, or if they develop too many teeth. These problems may be inherited and can lead to the development of periodontal disease.
If you’re concerned about any of these issues in your cat, speak to your vet.
There are a number of dental issues that may result in your cat having to have a tooth extracted. Unlike humans, root canal treatment and crown repair techniques are rarely used in cats. Cat tooth issues that might result in extraction could include:
• Tooth fractures – if your cat has suffered an accident or a fall from a great height, they can commonly suffer fractures• Wearing of the teeth – excessive wear may need to result in extraction• Tooth resorption – one of the most common dental disorders is the development of resorptive lesions of the teeth, resulting in the tooth’s structure being actively broken down
Peridontal disease is the inflammation and weakening of the tissues that surrounds your cat’s teeth. It causes the development of pockets around the tooth and can eventually lead to tooth loss. This is usually caused by bacteria and plaque in the mouth. Excessive plaque can result from:
• A reduction in your cat’s ability to naturally clean its teeth – due to tooth loss or dietary effects• Inflammation in the gums from an accident or disease• Reduced immune defences – due to defects of the immune system or kidney or liver disease, diabetes or viral infection
If your cat has periodontal disease and the problem isn’t too severe, your vet will be able to clean the teeth above and below the gum line while your cat is under a general anaesthetic. Combined with dental home care and regular check-ups, this can be an effective treatment.
If your cat’s periodontal disease is advanced, it may require tooth extraction.
Gingivitis is an inflammation of a cat’s gums. If allowed to progress, it can lead to receding gums and even loss of teeth. Mild gingivitis is common, particularly in kittens as their adult teeth come through. Dependent on the extent of the condition, treatment can include the use of antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medicine, dental treatment under general anaesthetic or home care management.
Brushing your cat’s teeth is a great way to avoid dental disease. Ideally, you should introduce dental care at a young age. Although kitten’s teeth don’t need to be brushed, you’ll need to get them used to having their teeth touched to prepare them. Here are our top tips on brushing your cat’s teeth:
• Ask your vet to show you how to brush your cat’s teeth correctly• Buy specialised toothpaste for your cat. Cats should never use human toothpaste• Begin by putting your cat’s toothpaste on your finger and offering it to them to lick. You can even buy toothpaste flavoured with chicken• You will need a toothbrush that is designed for cats too. Have a look in your local pet shop for something suitable• Choose a time of day that you can stick to, in order to make teeth brushing part of your pet’s normal routine – ensure you are calm and comfortable• Slowly and gently pull back your cat’s lips and touch their teeth with the toothbrush initially, before soothing your cat. Repeat this daily for several days and only when they’re really comfortable, gently start brushing your cat’s teeth• To brush your cat’s teeth, apply the bristles to the teeth at a 45-degree angle, reaching both the tooth surface and just beneath the gum margin
Similarly to humans, providing cats with a healthy and balanced diet will limit the chance of dental problems. Dry food in particular can help to maintain healthy teeth and gums.
Avoid feeding them sugary treats. Although sugar isn’t poisonous to cats, it has no nutritional value and can erode enamel, leading to tooth decay and even dental disease. Instead, take a look at what to feed your cat in our guide.More on your cat's diet
Common cat illnesses - TopicFinding a vet - TopicDiet - Topic