Cat Dental Care

May 30, 2010

We hear talk about dental care for dogs a lot. But, with cats, we tend to forget about their teeth until they are causing a painful problem. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Imagine what your teeth and gums would feel like if you brushed your teeth only once a week, once a month or maybe never. Our pets eat processed foods that do not provide the natural cleansing that gnashing on a fresh kill provided our pet’s ancestors. Therefore, we need to care for their teeth much as we care for our own, and once a month care just won’t cut it.

Cats have only 30 adult teeth. This is the fewest of all carnivores. They should be white. Any yellowing is a sign of plaque, which is a combination of bacteria, food debris and saliva. Plaque can be removed by brushing, but if ignored it mineralizes into tartar. This hard material can only be removed by your veterinary team. If ignored, the bacteria that builds up under the tartar and gums can enter the blood stream and cause serious heart and kidney problems.

The first step in teeth care for your cat is providing a quality diet. This does not necessarily mean a hard kibble. Recent research dispels the myth that dry kibble is necessary for keeping teeth clean. Low quality kibble simply shatters before it does much plaque removal and many cats swallow their kibble whole. Instead, a high protein diet, which can include high quality canned foods and low-carb kibbles, seems to be more important for a healthy mouth.

The next step is brushing. It is easiest to start this when a kitten is less than 4 months old, but we don’t always have this luxury. Begin slowly and gently with your cat in your lap. Rub your finger on his gums and teeth. You can actually do this without opening up the jaw; you just slide you finger under the lips and work on the outer edges of the teeth. If she tolerates this, then you can use a finger brush or moistened gauze wrapped around your finger. Use a tiny bit of a toothpaste made for cats and dogs. These are flavored with things that cats like. They hate mint and the minty human pastes may make them throw up. (Human pastes are not designed to be swallowed, so it is dangerous to use them on pets). Always reward your cat afterwards with a treat or meal. Your goal is to do this 2-3 times a week.

The final step involves your veterinarian. Your cat’s teeth should be examined by him or her yearly until she is 10 years old, after that her teeth should be examined every 6 months. As soon as tartar begins to develop, a professional teeth cleaning should be scheduled. If tartar is thick, dental x-rays are recommended to determine if tooth roots are affected. If they are, then those teeth may need to be extracted. These x-rays can be taken during the professional cleaning.

If you follow these steps, your cat will not be one of the unlucky ones that develops heart or kidney problems from periodontal bacteria. And, she won’t have stinky breath!


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