The cat owner, as part of an at-home cat dental care plan, performs most non-anesthetic cleaning of a cat's teeth. Regular brushing, toys designed to scrape at plaque, and dental foods are all part of a good cleaning program.
But there are some areas of the mouth that an owner can’t clean. These areas have to be cleaned by qualified veterinarians, and require that the cat be anesthetized while the cleaning takes place. X-rays, of teeth, tooth extraction and medical treatment of abscesses also require anesthetic. Simply chipping off accumulated tartar should not be confused with total dental cleaning.
Cat Dental Care
Cat dental care? Yeah, right; I have enough trouble getting my six-year-old to the dentist. The image of my young tomcat sitting placidly while he’s given a filling is just too ludicrous. but at the same time, I can’t dispute how important it is to his health to have well cared for cat teeth.
Cat health relies, in part, on well-maintained teeth. We are talking about a predator here, after all. Fluffy may not be able to clean her own teeth, but you and your vet can collaborate on a program of cat dental care that will ensure her pearly whites into her old age. Your choice of foods, for instance, can determine how fast plaque builds up. And yes, you can indeed brush cat teeth. (I know, I know, my first thought was that I’d lose fingers too . . . )
You can’t do everything at home though. Just as regular brushing doesn’t mean you can avoid that yearly check-up at the dentist, cat dental care does require yearly trips to the vet to clean those areas the brush can’t reach.
The Benefits of Cat Dental Care
Want to be proactive about your cat's health? Take care of those cat teeth. Tooth decay, broken teeth and abscesses can affect a cat’s ability to feed itself. Bacteria in the mouth can spread to major organs through the bloodstream. By following a cat dental care program you may be avoiding heart, lung and kidney problems. And when all’s said and done, which mouth do you want near your face during a cuddle: the pleasant-smelling one, or the one that can strip paint just by breathing on it?
The ideal scenario for cats dental care
If our cats lived in a perfect world, once a year they would go to the vet’s for a dental cleaning. Under anesthetic, the vet would scrape the tartar and plaque off the teeth at the gum line, down where the toothbrush can’t reach. Polishing the cleaned surface is another important part of cat dental care. Between yearly visits owners would maintain a regular dental cleaning schedule. Cats would have wonderful, healthy mouths and teeth.
Shortcomings of Non-Anesthetic Cat Teeth Cleaning
Unfortunately, at-home dental care can’t completely clean a cat’s teeth. Brushes can’t reach the plaque down at the gum line or below it, and it’s the bacteria there that contribute to gum disease. Nor can at-home care treat existing abscesses, ulcers or even heavily built-up tartar. Periodic veterinary cleanings are a necessity.
What stops most people from embarking on yearly dental cleanings? In one word: money. Professional cat dental care is an added expense, and most owners are understandably hesitant to add this expense onto their yearly pet care costs. Most vets take a very pragmatic approach. Dental care is not a frivolous “extra." Chances are, if your vet recommends dental care, he’s not suggesting it lightly.
All this means that at-home cat dental care is very important and regular brushing can prolong the time periods between professional cleanings.
Diet and Teeth
Your choice of cat food can affect the health of your cat’s teeth and gums. Wet cat food is more likely to cause tartar and plaque formation. Understand that wet food is good nutrition. It just requires that you be more vigilant in removing plaque. Dry food, on the other hand, is more abrasive and can help prevent tartar from forming on the teeth.
Recently, pet food manufacturers have begun offering cat food that is designed to reduce the rate of plaque and tartar formation. This type of diet can help maintain healthy gums as well. By reducing plaque and tartar levels, harmful bacteria have less material in which to grow and thrive. No diet, though, completely eliminates the development of plaque.
Healthy Cat Treats
Give a dog a piece of rawhide and he’s performing his own dental care, scraping plaque off his teeth as he chews.
What’s the kitty equivalent?
Healthy cat treats come in many
forms, but as a general rule, choose hard treats over soft or wet if you’re
concerned about your cat’s teeth. Healthy cat treats should take a little work
to chew up. That increases the chance that plaque and tartar will be scraped
off by the treat. However, make sure the treat isn't harder than the cat’s
Dental Care With Toys
Don’t overlook cat toys when you consider the health of your cat’s teeth and gums. Toys that can be chewed on and provide some resistance can also help maintain healthy teeth. Many cat trees come with thick twine balls attached, which the cat can chew on quite happily. Avoid toys that make squeaky noises when they’re chewed. Dogs may enjoy them, but in our experience they tend to annoy the heck out of many cats!
Cat Urinary Health
A word on cat urinary health if you’re considering feeding your cat a dental diet: If your veterinarian has recommended a specific diet for your cat, such as a product to minimize Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), it is important to consult your veterinarian before making any dietary changes. Subtle differences in the diet could have an impact, so it’s best to check first.
Holistic Cat Health and Feline Dental Health
Non-invasive natural health care is the move by many cat owners towards holistic cat health. It meshes very well with feline dental health. After all, the best holistic cat health care is preventive in nature, and problems with cat teeth, like human teeth, are better avoided whenever possible. Regular cleaning to remove plaque and tartar prevents mouth-borne bacteria from traveling to the heart, lungs, and other vital organs.
Examining Cat Teeth
Okay, before we discuss what you should look for in your cat’s mouth, let's discuss opening the mouth. Anyone who’s ever tried to pill a cat will attest that getting kitty to open wide isn’t easy. But if you’re conducting a feline dental health exam, the cat must open up.
To get a good look at your cat's teeth, hold the head gently but firmly from above. Use your index finger and thumb to gently pry open the jaw. Do this slowly and keep talking in a soothing voice: it’s a rare cat who likes this treatment.
When you’re through, praise her and give her a treat (the kitty equivalent of the lollipop kids used to get at the dentist's). If she learns that there’s a pay-off at the end of this indignity, she’s more likely to sit still for it.
Plaque and Tartar: Some Definitions
Plaque and tartar are often used interchangeably, which isn’t quite correct. Plaque is a film that forms on cat teeth. It supports bacterial growth very nicely. Tartar is really mineralized plaque that slowly builds up on the teeth over time.
What to Look For
You’ve got the cat’s jaw open, and she’s starting to squirm. Now is not the time to wonder what you should be looking for! You should check the teeth: are they white, or yellowing? Yellowing indicates a need for dental care.
Look for accumulation of tartar on any of the teeth. Check for any broken or badly discolored teeth. Are the gums a healthy pink, or an angry red? While you’re there, look for open sores or odd growths in the mouth—they may indicate tumors or ulcers.
Finally, smell the cat’s breath. Is it fresh and pleasant, or did the stench make you dizzy? Bad breath may just indicate heavy plaque build-up, but it can also be a sign of kidney problems. If you avoid kissing your cat because of her breath, consider taking her to your vet for a check-up.