Dental Care for Cats
Does dental disease affect cats’ health?
The tartar hidden below the gum line is the main cause of problems. It contains bacteria which will attack the surrounding gum tissue causing painful inflammation (’gingivitis’) and infection can track down to the tooth roots. Pus may build-up in the roots and form a painful abscess. This inflammation wears away tissue from the gum, bones and teeth and, as the disease becomes more advanced, the teeth will loosen and fall out. Bacteria and the poisons they produce can also get into the blood stream and cause damage throughout the body in organs such as the kidneys, heart and liver.
How can dental disease be treated?
If your pet has advanced disease and is in obvious pain, your vet may need to take x-rays of your cat’s head, under general anesthesia, to see whether there are any deep abscesses. Any loose teeth will have to be removed because the disease is too advanced to be treated. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics before doing dental work if there are signs of infection. Then your cat will be given a general anesthetic so that your vet can remove the tartar, usually with an ultrasonic scaling machine. Finally, your cat’s teeth will be polished to leave a smooth surface which will slow down the build-up of plaque in the future. However, it is inevitable that plaque will re-appear. To keep your cat’s teeth in good condition it is likely that they will need regular scaling and polishing, in some cases at intervals of between six and twelve months.
Can diet help control dental disease?
In the wild your pet’s teeth would be much cleaner because its diet would contain harder materials than are found in commercially tinned or packaged foods. Cats and dogs naturally eat the bones, fur, etc. of their prey which wear away the deposits of tartar. Replacing soft foods with dry or fibrous materials will slow the build-up of plaque. The extra chewing involved helps control infection because it stimulates the production of saliva which has natural antibiotic properties.
There are special diets available to help maintain clean teeth, please ask your vet for further advice.
How can I keep my cat’s teeth clean?
Brushing your pet’s teeth is just as important in preventing dental disease as brushing your own. Ideally your cat should get used to having its teeth cleaned from an early age. Wrapping a piece of soft gauze around your finger and gently rubbing the pet’s teeth should get it used to the idea. You can then move on to using a toothbrush specially designed for cats or a small ordinary toothbrush with soft bristles. Toothbrushes which fit over the end of your finger are available for cats and dogs. Your vet can supply you with suitably flavored toothpaste which your pet will enjoy. There are also some mouth washes and antibacterial gels that can help reduce plaque deposits and prevent infection. Do not attempt to use human toothpaste which will froth up in the mouth, your pet will not like the taste and it could do it serious harm.
What if I can’t brush my cat’s teeth?
At first your pet may resist but with gentleness, patience and persistence most pets can be trained to accept having their teeth cleaned. A regular brushing every day or at least three times a week will significantly reduce the risk of your pet suffering serious problems or needing frequent general anesthetics to treat advanced dental disease.
Preventative health care for your pet is very important. Regular brushing of your pet’s teeth from a young age can prevent the need for veterinary dental attention.