Getting Serious About Your Cat's Dental Health

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One of the more pressing issues we veterinarians deal with is getting people to get serious about oral health in cats.

Nearly 70 percent of cats ages 3 and older have symptoms of dental disease. Many of those cats will never receive any home dental care, and the condition of their teeth will worsen every year for the rest of their lives.

Bad Dental Care = Cats in Pain

Over the years, I’ve seen countless feline patients with severe and painful mouth conditions, and let me tell you, they are a sorry lot. Some drool constantly. Some can barely manage to eat. Most suffer from mouth pain all the time. Think of yourself. Have you ever had a cold sore in your mouth or an infected tooth? Did you think to yourself, "This is nothing to worry about; it's no big deal"? Of course not! Dental disease is incredibly painful, as well as detrimental to overall health and happiness — in people and cats.

In my opinion, this is the one area of home care in which pet owners fail their pets than any other. Teeth — even cat’s teeth — are not all that difficult to care for. But left untended, they quickly accumulate plaque buildup, which causes the gums to recede and bacteria to take up lodging in your cat’s mouth. And oral bacteria don’t stay put. Over time, they cause infections that enter the bloodstream by way of a cat’s mouth and spread throughout his body. These bacteria can damage your cat’s heart, liver and kidneys, and compromise nearly every aspect of his health. This process sounds like it should be a rare occurrence, but it is incredibly common.

What to Do

There are two keys to ensuring you cat doesn't suffer the effects of poor dental care. First, make sure your cat gets her regular dental exam with her veterinarian and schedule an appointment to have her teeth cleaned and scaled so you have a clean slate. Second, start a program of home care. A lot of cat owners don’t think their cats will stand for tooth brushing — and some of them are right. You know your cat’s temperament better than anyone, so don’t force the issue. Instead, try these steps:

  • Work up to brushing. Don’t get all carried away and launch at your adult cat with toothbrush and toothpaste in a single day. Work up to it. Start by touching your cat around the mouth while you cuddle him. Gently pull up his lip to look at his teeth. Touch a tooth. You may be surprised to find that when things are calm and your cat is happy, he doesn’t mind this kind of contact. If you can work up to tooth brushing once, twice or, ideally, three times a week, that’s excellent. If a toothbrush scares your cat, you can get nearly the same result by wiping his teeth with a gauze pad or dental wipe from the pet supply store. Use a toothpaste formulated for cats if you can (never use a human toothpaste in pets), but even a regular swipe with gauze dipped in water is much better than no tooth care at all.
  • Choose dental toys and treats for your cat. Your veterinarian can steer you to toys that are impregnated with enzymes to help reduce plaque.
  • Use a dental rinse. One of the most recent innovations in home dental care is an oral rinse that kills bacteria in your cat’s mouth. Ask your cat’s veterinarian if this might be helpful for your cat — especially if your pet is not willing to let you directly clean her teeth.

Cats are simply not the “no-maintenance” pets many people imagine them to be. But preventive care isn't difficult and the payoff is huge. You can extend your cat’s life and make his days far more comfortable with just a little of your time by adding oral care to your pet’s life.

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