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The Importance of Dental Care for Cats

Most cat owners likely pay a lot of attention to making sure they’re using the right food, the right litter, and offering them lots of perches and toys to keep cats entertained. But if you’re not focusing just as much on your cat’s dental care, it might be time to start. If you haven’t had your cat’s teeth examined recently, it's important to book an appointment with your veterinarian.

Some Important Facts - Dental Care for Cats

Becoming better informed about the oral health of your cat will go a long way in improving the overall dental care of your cat. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your cat’s dental health, it's best to consult with your veterinarian or veterinary technologist.

Issues to look out for:

How do I know if my cat has dental problems?

You may notice bad breath, discoloration of the teeth, loss of teeth, or reddened gums (gingivitis). Often, there are no obvious signs to the pet owner. The best way to identify dental disease is a thorough examination by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend that you initiate some care for your pet at home, or they may recommend a dental cleaning be performed. Complete evaluation of the extent of the dental disease often requires anesthesia or sedation.

What can I do for my cat at home?

There are several options available, some of which include brushing the teeth, special diets, oral (mouth) rinses, and chewable treats. Please discuss with your veterinarian or veterinary technologist what homecare program would be suitable for you and your pet.

What is involved with a dental cleaning?

This is a procedure that is done under general anesthetic at the veterinary clinic. Your cat’s health will need to be evaluated prior to the general anesthetic. This initially involves a thorough physical examination. Often the veterinarian will also recommend preanesthetic blood testing and intravenous fluids. With current anesthetic agents and monitoring equipment, anesthesia in veterinary medicine is considered very safe. Blood testing and intravenous fluids can help minimize any risk or complications associated with the anesthetic.

The procedure itself involves a thorough examination of the mouth by a veterinary technologist and a veterinarian working as a team. This may include some dental x-rays. The veterinary technologist is responsible for the cleaning. The cleaning of the teeth involves scaling (removing plaque and tartar from the teeth, both above and below the gum line), polishing, and antibacterial rinses and/or fluoride treatments. Sometimes a tooth can’t be saved and it needs to be extracted (removed) by the veterinarian. Some veterinarians are trained to do more advanced procedures such as root canals.

After the dental cleaning, your pet may require antibiotics if there was evidence of infection in the mouth. Your pet may also need some analgesics (painkillers).

Buyer beware: Confused about what treatment is right for your cat’s teeth?

We know you want what’s best for your pet, but if you believe a nonprofessional dental cleaning is right for your pet, we would like you to reconsider this decision. We realize the temptation of a lower cost and a lack of anesthesia, however nonprofessional dental cleanings are cosmetic only and leave you with a false sense of security.

You may have seen advertisements for “anesthesia-free pet dental cleaning” and wondered why this dental cleaning is occurring outside of a veterinary clinic. This procedure, commonly performed at a groomer or pet store, involves scaling a cat’s teeth without putting the pet under anesthesia.  The term ‘anesthesia free’ may sound less risky for your pet than a veterinary dental cleaning under anesthesia, but when it comes to dental health the risks of periodontal disease and oral pathology outweigh any potential benefits. Like an iceberg, the true danger lies below where we can see— below the gum line.

The facts:

  • A thorough oral examination cannot be performed until the animal is under anesthesia so probing and measuring can be done below the gum line and between the teeth, and the entire oral cavity can be examined completely.
  • 80% of periodontal disease is below the gum line where you can’t see it.  This part cannot be cleaned during a nonprofessional dental cleaning.
  • Oral X-rays will likely be necessary and anesthesia is necessary for those.
  • Dr. Fraser Hale, Board-certified veterinary dentist, has said ‘If anyone suggests that they can provide any valuable level of dental care without full general anesthesia, they are seriously ill-informed. It simply cannot be done. In many places it is illegal/malpractice to offer such "services". Regardless of jurisdiction, it is a terrible idea and should be avoided completely.”

The Risks of Dental Neglect

Dental health is one of the most overlooked areas of animal care, and neglecting it can have disastrous consequences. In addition to causing potentially irreversible damage to your cat’s mouth, poor dental care can cause bacteria to circulate to other body organs. 

Periodontal disease, a disease affecting the teeth and gums is very common in cats. It can affect animals both young and old. Dental care can prevent tooth loss, sore gums, decrease bad breath, reduce bacterial growth in the mouth, and prevent the circulation of  bacteria in the mouth to organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.

Periodontal disease often goes undiagnosed as 80% of the disease lies below the gumline, can lead to gum recession, loss of teeth, and even the infection and loss of bones. Your cat can’t tell you when your cat’s mouth hurts but providing it with proper dental care doesn’t have to be a guessing game. If you recognize any of the symptoms below in your animal, talk to your veterinarian immediately:

  • tooth loss or broken teeth
  • abnormal chewing or drooling
  • dropping toys and food
  • oral swelling or bleeding, especially of the gums
  • reduced appetite
  • discoloured teeth/tartar

Proper dental care is essential to the well-being and happiness of your cat. This includes brushing and oral maintenance in addition to regular check-ups. Talk to your veterinarian or veterinary technologist about the state of your animal’s dental health and what you can do to improve it.

Helping your senior cat

Spot the signs of age

Pets age faster than people do. Generally speaking, Cats are considered a senior when they reach 8 to 10 years of age.

What are the signs of illness in a senior cat?

  • Behavior changes
  • Metabolic changes
  • Physical changes
  • Decreased activity
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Disorientation
  • Less responsive to you/family members
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Changes in hair coat
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in drinking habits
  • Loss of housetraining
  • Increased urination
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Coughing
  • Limping or stiffness
  • Bad breath
  • Red gums
  • Vision or hearing loss
  • Masses (lumps) on skin

Age, by itself, is not a disease. However, there are many age related conditions that affect cats. Just like with people, the earlier a disease is detected, the more that can be done to manage the condition.

What can I do for my senior cat?

A lot can change within a year! Your cat ages 5-7 years for every human year. Your senior cat should visit their veterinarian every 6 months, sooner if they are exhibiting some of the above signs.

Some procedures are valuable at detecting problems early and are commonly recommended for senior cats. These may include:

  • Physical examination: A thorough examination done by the veterinarian. This includes listening to the heart and lungs, feeling the lymph nodes and the abdomen, looking at the mouth, eyes, ears, and skin, examining the legs and back for pain.
  • Blood, urine and fecal tests: These are helpful in evaluating organ function (for example, the kidneys and liver), detecting infection and may help in the early diagnosis of cancer.
  • Dental cleaning: Dental care can prevent tooth loss and sore gums, decrease bad breath, detect masses (growths) in the mouth, reduce infection in the mouth, and prevent the circulation of bacteria from the mouth to organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.
  • Radiographs (X Rays), ultrasound, blood pressure, and biopsies may be recommended as additional procedures.

What do I feed my senior cat?

Your senior cat needs a good diet now more than ever! Older pets tend to be at risk for obesity due to decreased activity and reduced daily caloric needs. Talk to your veterinarian about what senior diet would be most appropriate for your pet.

Together with your veterinary team, we can help your cat live longer and healthier. For more information on getting the right dental care for your cat, please consult with your veterinarian or veterinary team today.

Further reading:

Bad Breath in Dogs and Cats