Cat's Mouth
Kitties benefit greatly from having healthy teeth — especially since a cat’s mouth can be a barometer for overall health.

Certain dental conditions may offer early clues about underlying medical problems, as well as the development of serious systemic conditions, such as heart disease.

To help you read some of the key signs in your pet’s mouth, Vetstreet asked Dr. Jan Bellows, DVM, incoming president of the American Veterinary Dental College, about some of the most common questions that clients ask when it comes to feline dentistry.

Why does my cat grind her teeth?

A. Dr. Bellows: "This behavior is usually a sign of pain. The most common cause of feline oral pain is tooth resorption, which is when the tooth starts to dissolve. It is very painful and common. About half of all cats older than 3 years old have one or more teeth affected by tooth resorption. Unfortunately, the only treatment is extraction. Other symptoms may include not grooming and not acting like her usual self."

If you suspect that your cat is experiencing mouth pain, see your veterinarian because it probably means that there’s an underlying issue. The veterinarian will conduct a tooth-by-tooth exam with dental X-rays to determine the cause.

Why does my kitty’s breath smell?

A. "Periodontal disease commonly occurs in cats. Plaque builds up, eventually penetrates the gum line and then eats away at the ligament that attaches the tooth to the bone. Most often, foul mouth odor is a symptom of periodontal disease. Unfortunately, besides bad breath, there are few obvious signs of the disease. Treatment is usually a professional cleaning and a thorough tooth-by-tooth exam, which requires general anesthesia."

How can I keep my cat’s mouth clean and help prevent oral disease?

A. "Clean her teeth twice daily using a Q-tip dipped in tuna water strained from canned tuna. Rub against the area where the tooth meets the gum, as well as the tooth itself, to help prevent plaque buildup. When you’re done, refrigerate the remaining tuna water in a sealed container for later use within a week.

Some cat dental treats and diets can also help to retard plaque and tartar. You can also ask your vet about a new oral strip that can detect and monitor periodontal disease by testing the saliva."

Does my cat really need preventive oral health care?

A. "Many of the most serious and most common dental problems present very few symptoms or visible signs that they’re developing. That’s why it’s so important to keep your pet’s teeth clean, and get them evaluated by a professional regularly. 

Twice a year, a cat should have a professional oral exam. In addition, a cat should have her teeth professionally cleaned yearly under general anesthesia. This gives the veterinarian an opportunity to check each tooth. At the same time, cats can be screened for common problems, like gum swelling and tumors suggestive of conditions that older cats are prone to, such as squamous cell carcinoma, a potentially fatal cancer."

What should I expect from my vet when it comes to dental care?

A. "Look for a veterinarian who is comfortable with dentistry and who takes dental X-rays. These images are key, because a lot of common serious problems cannot be detected without them, yet many veterinarians do not offer them."