You probably wouldn’t think of not taking yourself to the dentist
at least twice a year for an exam and cleaning, but when was the last
time you took your cat to the dentist? Eighty-five percent of adult pets
have periodontal disease, and dental disease is the largest single cause
of health problems in cats. Infected gums and teeth can make kitty’s
breath decidedly unpleasant and cause her considerable pain, which can
be so bad as to keep her from eating. Even worse, tartar buildup and
oral infections contain a multitude of bacteria that can 'seed' to other
parts of the body and affect the heart, kidneys, intestinal tract, joints
and even the brain.
An adult cat has thirty teeth (a juvenile feline twenty-six) and all
thirty of them need to be checked regularly (at least once a month) for
yellowing (plaque) or darker material (tartar) and for cracked or broken
teeth. Gums should be a healthy pink, not an angry red or a pale pink.
At the first sign of any irregularity, including a reluctance to eat,
take your cat to the vet. Even if your cat has no symptoms of dental
or other disease, resist the temptation to skip your pet’s annual
veterinary exam. Feline dental disease can occur rapidly, and the office
visit charge you save today could turn into hundreds of dollars in fees
tomorrow for blood tests, anesthesia, and tooth extractions. Most veterinary
dental cleanings are still done under general anesthesia, and all surgery,
including dental procedures, is risky for cats, especially those over
six years of age. Prevention not only saves money, it may save your cat’s
Well-behaved cats now have the option of anesthesia-free cleanings. Ask
your vet if he or she provides such an option and, if so, whether your
cat is a good candidate. If your vet doesn’t provide such a service,
it’s worth seeking it out. Pet Dental Services offers a list of
veterinary hospitals that offer anesthesia free cleanings in California.
If your cat requires an extraction, however, or is an uncooperative type,
her dental cleaning will need to be done under anesthesia. Pre-dental
blood work is recommended for all cats, and is required by most vets
for cats over six years of age in order to make sure that the liver,
kidneys, and blood counts are within normal ranges and to reduce as many
risks of anesthesia as possible. Animals with especially bad teeth may
be put on an antibiotic a few days prior to the procedure.
If your pet requires cleaning or extractions under anesthesia you will
need to fast her starting the evening before the procedure. Professional
feline dental cleaning is similar to a human dental cleaning – the
technician will remove any tartar, and check for cavities, gingival (gum)
pockets, loose teeth, and growths on the gums or palate. If necessary,
diseased teeth will be extracted. Tartar pits teeth, so the final step
in your pet’s cleaning is polishing to smooth out the pits and
prevent further tartar formation, as a smooth tooth will not encourage
tartar formation as easily as a roughened one.
One of the best weapons in preventing dental problems in cats is regular
brushing of your cat’s teeth. Needless to say, your cat probably
has other ideas on this point. Feline dental care is best started when
your cat is young and continued at regular intervals throughout your
cat’s life. Daily brushing is best if you and the cat can handle
it, but even two or three times a week is better than none. Unfortunately
you can’t just decide that you’re going to brush your cat’s
teeth and start doing it. Your cat needs gentle conditioning in order
to get her accustomed to your handling her mouth.
Start by holding your cat still and massaging the outside of her mouth
for a few seconds. Repeat this on as many days as necessary to get your
cat comfortable with your touching her mouth. At this stage you can proceed
to opening her mouth with clean hands and rubbing a finger over her gums.
Again, you need to go slowly and repeat this step until your cat is used
to it. The next step is to add toothpaste to the finger and get your
cat used to the taste and feel. PLEASE NOTE: USE ONLY TOOTHPASTE SPECIALLY
FORMULATED FOR CATS. Toothpaste designed for humans may be toxic to cats,
who can’t spit it out. Once your cat has grown accustomed to both
the toothpaste and having her mouth handled, you can move on to the final
step which is to brush her teeth with a small child’s tooth brush
or one designed especially for cats. Most pet stores carry them. At each
step, reward your cat with a treat, to reinforce the behavior you want.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has a helpful and free
training video, which presents an easy to follow four-week program for
getting your cat prepared for regular brushing.
If your cat really won’t tolerate regular brushing after you’ve
tried a slow, gentle wooing, you may just need to bring her to a professional
more frequently. Discuss your cat’s teeth and temper with your
vet and work together to formulate a plan. Your cat needs regular dental
care just like you do in order to lead a long, happy, and pain-free life.
She isn’t going to figure out how to brush on her own, so be a
good cat Mom or Dad and do it for her. She may not thank you for the
brushing, but she’ll thank you for the love and the healthy teeth
and pay you back with good breath and good health, a decidedly worthwhile