Increase your cat’s livelihood with good oral hygiene!
We all know cats have teeth, but do we all know how to keep them healthy?Have you ever looked in your cat’s mouth to see if she has plaque or tartar build up? Have you noticed that she has bad breath, has a hard time eating or is unable to hold her kibble in her mouth? These are tell-tale signs of dental disease!
A good oral exam is crucial to continue your kitty’s good health and longevity.Every year at Kitty’s annual exam, she receives an oral exam. The veterinarian will examine her teeth, gums and mouth looking for abnormalities or signs of pain and infection.Cats are not voracious chewers like their canine companions and will usually accumulate plaque and tartar leading to gingivitis and further dental complications.It is your job to ensure that her teeth stay clean and healthy through routine oral care.
Feeding hard food will deter plaque and tartar from forming because as Kitty chews, they rub against the teeth acting like a toothbrush. For those willing, brushing your cat’s teeth with a cat toothbrush is very beneficial to her overall health; brushing removes plaque, decreasing the amount of tartar that can develop. There are numerous treats and food that are targeted for oral hygiene; look for these when you’re looking for a new bag of food or a new goody to give Kitty.Kittens do not have much going on in the mouth other than growing her adult teeth, but young adults (5 months – 2 years) will start developing plaque and calculus build-up. As Kitty ages, more plaque and calculus build up which harbor bacteria leading to periodontal disease.Cats can also develop oral tumors, gingivostomatitis and resorptive lesions that can be uncomfortable and painful to your kitty.
Inadequate oral care can lead to heart disease and kidney and liver disease as bacteria from the mouth enters the bloodstream.Cats that have FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) or FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), which are retroviruses that affect immunity, are predisposed to dental disease because they have a much harder time keeping their mouths healthy. Because retrovirus positive cats can not fight infection as well as healthy cats, all cats with dental problems should be tested for FeLV and FIV. If your cat goes outside, she should also be tested because she is exposed to these viruses and could be infected if she gets bitten by a roaming, FeLV or FIV positive cat.A study recently performed by IDEXX Laboratories revealed that nearly 1 in 7 cats (14.3%) that had dental disease tested positive for retroviruses. In that same study, 1 in 4 cats (23.9%) who suffered from gingivostomatitis were positive for retroviruses.
The most common dental complications that come with inadequate oral care are gingivitis/periodontal disease, gingivostomatitis and feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs).Gingivitis is inflammation of the gum tissue and is the precursor to periodontal disease. (see Figure 1) You may notice a foul odor from Kitty’s mouth and that the gums adjacent to the teeth are red.As gingivitis progresses, the gums will recede which leads to tooth loss. If caught early, your cat may not need a professional cleaning, but many cats have severe gingivitis, plaque and tartar buildup that requires a dental scaling and polish. Gingivitis is simple to diagnose; simply lift Kitty’s lip and you will get a clear shot of her teeth. If you notice redness, alert your veterinarian because Kitty needs an oral exam!
Figure 1Gum tissue is easily seen by lifting the lip. In the picture to the left, Kitty has little to no redness along the edge of the teeth; no gingivitis here! The cat in the picture to the right has obvious redness along the edges of her teeth; she has gingivitis and needs to have an oral exam to determine treatment.
Gingivostomatitis (figure 2) is generalized gingival inflammation; nearly all of the gum tissue is irritated and bright red.Radiographs are beneficial to determine if there is any supportive bone loss due to the severe inflammation. Stomatitis is caused by a hyper responsive immune system. Cats are very painful and uncomfortable. Treatment of stomatitis is extraction of all teeth behind the canines; some cats with severe stomatitis may have to undergo a full mouth extraction.With extraction, cats are much more comfortable and pain-free.
Figure 2Gingivostomatitis. Note the inflamed gum tissue.
Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORLs) (figure 3) are areas of irritation that form on the tooth crown; these appear similar to cavities and will migrate towards the pulp cavity.These can be painful and uncomfortable, especially as the resorptive lesion progresses.These can be diagnosed through an oral exam or during a dental cleaning as tartar may be hiding them.If severe, tooth extraction may be necessary. Your veterinarian will be able to lead you down the appropriate path.
Figure 3The arrows point out resorptive lesions; the first arrow points to a tooth with a more progressed resorptive lesion.
The best you can do as a pet parent is to provide the best care possible for your kitty.There are plenty of things you can do at home to help prevent these types of dental problems from occurring.Brushing Kitty’s teeth is extremely beneficial, but may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Start out slowly.Introduce your cat to the toothbrush before going after her teeth with it.She may not like it at first; many owners will start with a fingerbrush or a towel and rubbing it along the surface of the teeth.Water additives are available that can be mixed with their drinking water to deter plaque build-up.For cats that are chewers, there are numerous types of chewy treats including Greenies and CET Dental chews which are available for purchase at your veterinarian’s office!
Starting an oral health program early will prolong your cat’s dental hygiene and thus keeping her healthier longer!If a dental cleaning is in order, it is best to have this done at the earliest convenience because further complications may arise if put off.Starting a program later in life is just as well. However, keep in mind that damage already done (accumulated tartar or lesions) will not go away with out a cleaning.Talk to your veterinarian to determine if Kitty is in need of a mouth make-over!
With dental concern rising in the animal world, many companies are making it easier for pet owners to purchase foods targeting at tartar control.There are many brands that fit nearly every budget! Below are a few examples; next time your buying cat food, look for some of these.
Prescription Diet T/D (available at your Vet’s)
Science Diet Oral Care
Royal Canin DD
Purina Veterinary Diets DH
Friskies Dental Diet
Most of these foods can be found at your local pet store, but many can be special ordered through your veterinarian if needed. If you have any questions or concerns about your kitty's mouth, or teeth, please alert your veterinarian.