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Dental Care for Cats: A Luxury or a Necessity?

Dental care for cats is definitely a necessity!  Good oral hygiene is just as important for the overall health of our pets as it is for us.  If our cats’ mouths are left unattended, the results are bad breath, loose or cracked teeth, and an increased risk of ailments like heart disease or kidney failure.  Developing a routine early will keep your cat’s teeth intact into old age and increase his or her chances for a long and healthy life.

Cat Teeth and Development
Kittens develop a set of 26 “training” teeth, called deciduous or milk teeth, between two and four weeks old.  If you’ve ever played with a kitten, you know firsthand that the innocent phrase “milk teeth” is misleading – they’re very sharp! 

Eventually, at around three months old, your cat’s milk teeth will be pushed out to make room for his or her 30 permanent teeth.  Kittens sometimes experience the teething pain that infants go through and might eat less or cry at times because their gums are sore.  Occasionally, a milk tooth will remain after a permanent tooth has pushed through, and should be pulled out by a veterinarian.

A permanent set of teeth includes fangs (canines) on the upper and lower jaw, responsible for holding food, as well as small teeth, premolars, and molars whose jobs are to cut and chew.

Risks of Poor Oral Health
Cats that have had no dental care sometimes show the following symptoms as they age:

  • Bad Breath

  • Visible tartar

  • Difficulty eating or loss of appetite

  • Excessive salivating

  • Reddened, bleeding, or sensitive gums

These symptoms are indicators that dental care has become an issue that should be addressed, before much worse problems develop.

If a cat receives no type of oral care, he or she will first begin to develop a plaque build-up on his or her teeth.  This plaque is a nasty, germy cocktail composed of saliva, food leftovers, minerals, and bacteria.  Left unattended, it will harden and darken to an unattractive shade of brown, and can cause peridontitis (gum disease) and bad breath.  The cat’s teeth can then loosen, become painful or infected, and sometimes fall out or break. 

As if that weren’t enough, these tooth issues can lead to diet issues: the cat may not be able to chew his or her food as they are used to, resulting in reduced eating or weight loss.  Gum disease has also been labeled as a cause of heart, kidney, and liver disease in older pets, because of the bacteria present in the cat’s mouth.

An estimated 85% of all older pets (cats and dogs) suffer from gum disease and dental problems.  Implementing a good dental care routine early will reduce your cat’s risk of painful tooth decay and illness, and eventually, expensive oral surgery to fix the problems.

How to Start a Dental Care Routine
A good dental care routine starts with a clean bill of health.  You don’t have to search your phone book for a pet dentist; most veterinarians have had all the training that’s required to give your pet a good dental checkup and cleaning with the same tools that a human dentist uses.  Once your vet has done a thorough cleaning on your cat, you can start doing preventative maintenance at home.

Most pet stores sell toothbrushes and specially-designed and flavored toothpaste for cats.  It may be difficult, however, to begin brushing without easing your pet into the idea first.

Before you break out the toothbrush, get a can of tuna fish in water.  Drain the tuna, and dip your finger into the water.  At this point, your cat will probably be twined around your ankles, meowing madly.  Dip your finger into the tuna-water, and gently rub it over your cat’s gums and teeth.  Be careful not to get nipped - your fingers probably taste pretty good!  Try this a few times to get your pet used to you working with their mouth.

Next, pick up a toothbrush at the pet store.  You can use the rubber types that fit over your finger, or the kind that looks like a people toothbrush.  Baby toothbrushes, with their soft bristles and a smaller size, also work.  Try this without toothpaste a few times so that your pet can get used to the process.  Once he or she is acclimated, move on to the cat toothpaste.  Remember, never use regular human toothpaste, as it can cause an upset stomach or foaming at the mouth.

Keeping up with a regular dental hygiene routine, consisting of annual dental checkups at the vet and bi-weekly or monthly home care, will keep your pet’s plaque to a minimum.  Developing good dental habits early will help keep your furry companion’s teeth and gums, as well as heart, liver, and kidneys, healthy and strong.

For more information on caring for you kitty,
visit our Kitten Health Information pages!

You can also find additional information on kitten care
in our Kitten Care Information section.

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