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February is National Pet Dental Health Month and, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to shine a light on such a pivotal topic. While we seem to hear more about dog dental care, cat dentistry gets far too little attention. Just like dogs with dental disease, cats can have trouble eating, painful mouths, and the infections can even spread into the bloodstream. Thankfully, there are many things you can do as the cat owner, and we can do as veterinarians to prevent the situation from becoming dire. We’ve taken the time to answer some frequently asked questions on cat dental care below in hopes that you will make sure that your furry feline’s care includes those (hopefully!) pearly whites.

What is involved in cat dental care?

Cat dental care encompasses a broad spectrum of treatments starting with a basic physical exam to uncover any issues. If we see dental issues in your cat’s mouth, we will recommend a thorough dental cleaning that features scaling, polishing, and dental x-rays. If the problem has gotten too extensive, extractions may be necessary.

How does dental health impact the overall health and wellbeing of my cat?

Good dental health impacts overall pet health in much the same way that it does with humans. You might not realize it, but the teeth affect everything that goes on inside the body. When the teeth are infected, and the gums are inflamed this has a direct impact on appetite and comfort. The bacteria that form on the surface of the teeth can get into the bloodstream and negatively affect body parts including the heart, heart valves, liver, kidneys, or virtually any organ in the cat's body.

Cats are also exceptionally good at hiding pain and discomfort. When cats have dental disease—a bad tooth, gingivitis, or any sort of mouth pain—it can be hard to detect that. They often have a painful mouth, and they hide it well until it has gotten to the point where they cannot do so any longer. By that time, it is usually a significant issue for them, causing a lot of pain and issues with their quality of life.

What types of dental care should I give my cat at home?

Home dental care for cats can be challenging for pet owners, as it can be tough to get their teeth brushed. Brushing a cat’s teeth is the best way to ensure dental hygiene. There are special toothbrushes that you can buy and even little finger brushes that you can put on the tip of your finger as well as cat toothpaste. You can find these products online, at the pet store, or your veterinary office. You should start when they have all their adult teeth (~6 months of age) to get them used to brushing their teeth. Any amount of brushing you can do - even if it is just once or twice a week - is helpful. Ideally, you should brush your cat’s teeth daily- however, we understand that that is hard to do with busy work schedules. Keep in mind that plaque turns to tartar in 24 hours, and you can NOT remove tartar without professional teeth cleaning.

If brushing becomes too challenging you might have to rely on dental treats, toys, food additives, or prescription dental diets. The way that dental treats work is by scraping away the plaque from the sides of the teeth. Dental toys are similar usually have grooves in them that the tooth can fall into and do the same mechanical action there. Cats must eat and drink every day, so offering a dental water additive (such as Tartar Shield DentaTabs) or feeding your cat a dental-approved diet can be extremely beneficial.

For dental products that can help with your pet’s at-home dental care, go with VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health approved products. Petsmile toothpaste, Hill’s Science Diet T/D, and Tartar Shield cat treats are just a few VOHC approved products that Brook-Falls has available on site to purchase to make your pet’s at-home dental care routine as easy as possible to stick to.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of oral health issues in my cat?

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The most common signs of oral health issues in cats are typically either drooling or diminished appetite. As dental disease progresses your cat can also experience halitosis (bad breath), as well as swollen mouth and gums as various stages of tartar/periodontal disease gradually take place. Cats can also get growths or masses in their mouths that can affect their teeth and gums.

Beyond the drooling and diminished appetite, you always want to take note of any behavior changes in your cat. Some cats will paw at their face if they have a painful tooth. They may also be reluctant to eat or drop food out of their mouths because of the pain. You might also see excessive grooming, weight loss, or increased water intake.

How do veterinarians diagnose dental problems in cats?

The first thing we do is a complete physical exam. When you schedule an appointment for your cat’s annual exam, we automatically look in the mouth for signs of dental disease, gingivitis, or abnormal lesions. Gingivitis, periodontal disease, loose teeth, and sore or swollen gums are all quite common problems found during cat dental exams. One of the most severe dental problems we see is broken teeth. Cats are also notorious for getting a condition called a FORL or feline oral resorptive lesion. This is a condition where the enamel of the tooth, usually at the base near the gum line, will start to erode. These lesions are very painful and can be difficult to diagnose as they hide just under the gumline. Alternatively, some cats can get viral infections that can cause severe gingivitis and infection in the mouth.

What happens during a feline dental procedure?

The buildup of calculus that develops from dental disease can spread through the bloodstream to all organs of the body, which is why we require bloodwork before anesthesia for all anesthetic procedures.

Every cat under anesthesia for a dental procedure gets a dental cleaning and polishing. We also do full x-rays of the mouth for any dental procedure because the disease is often below the gumline. Sixty percent of the tooth is below the gumline therefore the x-rays are required to show us the roots of the teeth.

Based on what we find during the dental procedure, we will call and discuss if any extractions might be indicated. Most cats will only need a cleaning; however, some cats will also need some extractions if they have the aforementioned resorptive lesions. Some cats may need twice-yearly dental visits if they have severe dental disease. If you suspect dental issues with your cat, do not just wait for your pet’s yearly exam. Call for an appointment as soon as you can to catch any issues before they become bigger issues.

If you have questions, suspect your cat has a painful mouth, or are due for your next cat dental visit, please give us a call!