Dental Care For Your Feline Friend
Would you skip brushing your teeth for your whole life? Or even 6 moths to a year? Just imagine the problems you would have, not to mention the bad human breath! Ick! We cats depend on people like you to keep our teeth clean. We would do it all ourselves had we hands that allowed us to use a toothbrush and squeeze a tube of toothpaste, but we don't.
Why is dental care so important?
The cool news is that we rarely get cavities if fed a proper diet. This is a trade off though, as we are more prone to gum disease and tartar buildup than a dog. Dogs are lucky in that they like to chew on many things that we cats would not be caught dead with in our mouths: sticks, leather, pig ears, big squeaky rubber chew toys and old shoes.
Regular home dental care can remove plaque from our teeth, but if left alone plaque can and likely will turn into tarter on our teeth, and it does not take long either. Plaque can start to mineralize in as little as 3 to 5 days.
Tarter can often be seen on the rear teeth of cats who have not had proper cleanings or dental care for long periods of time. The tarter can irritate our gums and cause inflammation and even gingivitis. You can see this in our mouths as reddened gums near our teeth. This can also give us bad breath. Once tarter is formed generally it cannot be removed with a home cleaning, and will require a special vet visit and likely to stay the day there. (trust me, we cats hate going to the vet!) If enough tarter is left on our teeth it can lead to periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease can separate our gum from out teeth forming little pockets. These pockets are perfect places for bacterial growth. Once this has happened the damage is done and no amount of help can reverse the damage done. Loose teeth, abscesses and bone infections are just some of the nicer things that can happen to us at this stage. If continued untreated at this stage the infection can enter our blood stream and cause infection of the heart valves (endocarditis), liver and kidneys.
How do you take care of our teeth?
A purrfect regimen would include the following:
- Annual or semi-annual visits to your vet, which include a full oral check-up
- Semi-annual (or as advised) dental cleanings by your vet
- Bi-weekly home oral exams
- Daily teeth cleanings
- Specialized foods and liquids to help remove plaque and clean teeth
What happens in the checkup?
In the check-up, your vet should examine our heads and faces for swelling and possible discharges. He vet should also check our teeth, tongue, palate, tonsils, gums and all organs in our oral area.
What happens in a cleaning?
For the dental cleaning you will need to leave your friend with the vet for the day. Since we cats hate all the work they will need to do we get anesthetized. Once under the vet will flush our mouths with a solution to kill bacteria growth, clean our teeth with handheld and/or ultrasonic scalers (just like a human dentist), polish our teeth, inspect the teeth and gum for any sign of disease and flush our mouths out again. When you pick up your friend later they will be annoyed with you for taking them, but have squeaky clean teeth and fresh breath!
How do you do a Home Oral exam?
You should look for warning signs at least ever few weeks or more. Check for bad breath, red and swollen gums, a yellow-brown crust of tartar around the gumline, and pain or bleeding when you touch the gums or mouth. Also watch for discolored, fractured or missing teeth. Look for new bumps or masses in the mouth as well. If you find any of these make sure to consult your vet right away.
How do you clean your cat’s teeth?
Cleaning your cat’s teeth is arguably the most important item in the list and should be considered the first line of defense. We cats hate having people clean our teeth, but if accustomed to it correctly we will accept it.
Make sure you have everything needed for this. Go buy a CAT toothbrush (made specifically for us) and a PET toothpaste (human toothpastes can cause us to get sick).
You cannot just grab us and brush away if you have never done this to us before. You will need to get us used to this slowly. I suggest you follow these steps to acclimate us to it:
- Get your friend used to having things in his/her mouth. Put some liquid treat (chicken broth, tuna water, etc) on your finger and call your friend over. Let him/her lick it off your finger. Rewet your finger and rub the liquid carefully on his/her front teeth and gums. Do this for at least 4 days to a week. Your friend will start to look forward to the refreshing treat!
- Dip a gauze into the liquid and carefully rub the teeth with it. Be gentle and do not shove the whole gauze in his/her mouth. Make sure to praise your friend and after 3 days to a week of this they should accept it (perhaps not love it, but not hate it)
- Now dip the top of the toothbrush in the liquid treat and let your friend lick it off. This is to allow your friend to get used to the feel of the brush head. He/she should take to this is short order, sometimes the first time!
- Once they are used to the feel of the toothbrush place a dab of the pet toothpaste on your finger and get them used to the taste. The toothpastes come in several flavours, so look for one your cat may enjoy. Once they will accept the flavour and lick some off your finger, apply a little to his/her teeth and gum line and let them lick it off. Remember to praise them, we love to be told how pretty we are.
- Now your friend is used to something in their mouth, the feel of the brush, the flovour of the paste. You are ready to start using the brush. Start out brushing only the upper canine teeth. Praise your friend often. Repeat this daily until he/she accepts having the 2 teeth brushed. Then as acceptance comes, add a tooth and wait till they accept the extra tooth. Within a few weeks you will be able to brush all your friends teeth!
What foods and liquids can help?
Using special foods and/or liquids are only to aid in the cleaning and oral hygiene of your friend and should not used as an alternative to proper teeth cleaning. With this said, some foods in the pet store are formulated to help keep plaque to a minimum. Most hard cat foods will help more than a diet of pure canned food. Also there are vet approved foods such as Hill’s prescription t/d and Friskies Dental Diet. Oxyfresh makes “Pet Oral Hygiene Solution” which can help promote healthy gums when added to your friends water. Ask your vet for their recommendations on oral friendly foods and liquids.