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From Steph Selice
Cat people often ask their vet how to care for their cat’s teeth between visits. Some of the suggestions from veterinarians focus on daily actions we can take to promote and improve our cats’ dental health.
Get a vet exam, including a dental exam
Veterinarians recommend that cats be checked regularly, at least once a year, so they can assess your cat’s overall health. Every thorough veterinary exam includes examining your cat’s teeth, gums, and mouth. Your veterinarian may have specific suggestions on how to deal with potential problems, or they may be able to recommend specific care if your cat needs it.
Periodontal disease should be assessed annually. If your cat requires dental work under anesthesia, make sure to have a full dental X-ray examination. a complete count of all adult teeth; and an assessment of gum disease, including measuring gum receding.
Brushing is the key
Many cat lovers find the prospect of brushing cat teeth daunting. However, a quick visit to YouTube can help cat lovers learn how to brush their pet’s teeth and check gums, lips, and mouth between vet visits. Veterinarians agree that ideally, cat teeth should be brushed daily, if not, at least several times a week. This prevents plaque on the teeth from hardening into tartar.
Before attempting to stick a brush in your cat’s mouth, veterinarians suggest that you first stroke their whiskers, then gently lift their lips and briefly touch their teeth and gums with just one finger. When they’re feeling relaxed, touching their lips and teeth becomes something your cat can get used to when petted by people they love. The next step, opening the cat’s mouth and getting them used to having a brush touch their teeth, feels less daunting.
If your cat is used to having your fingers in its mouth – playing, not biting – try an enzymatic toothpaste or other dental product on a brush or cheesecloth. You can also check for changes in your cat’s teeth, gums, and mouth, including broken teeth or tartar buildup. Over time, you will become more aware of these changes as you will be checking your cat’s mouth regularly. Before long, your cat will at least tolerate brushing teeth, even if it is an adult kitten.
Veterinarians often recommend using a baby toothbrush, finger toothbrush, gauze wrapped around an index finger, or a cotton swab to brush a cat’s teeth. The Veterinary Oral Health Council lists accepted products for cats on its website: VOHC. org. Talk to your veterinarian about which products are best for your cat’s teeth, gums, and mouth.
Prevent tooth loss and gum disease
Although domestic cats can live long, healthy lives indoors without their teeth, veterinarians emphasize that tooth loss is usually preventable with good dental care. The same goes for periodontal disease or gum disease. Signs of gum disease include bad breath, changes in behavior, loss of appetite, and drooling. Advanced gum disease can cause serious health problems for your cat.
VOHC states on its website: “Excellent oral health is maintained through daily oral hygiene. The gold standard is brushing. Daily chewing activities can also help maintain oral health. “
Several vets interviewed for this article said removing the occasional tartar buildup from your cat’s teeth through brushing and other methods is key. They suggested that gentle use of a dampened cotton swab or cheesecloth would not harm your cat’s gums. However, everyone noted that if there are any doubts about the severity of tartar buildup or your cat’s reaction to the exam, it should be left to your vet at your cat’s next dental exam.
Cat food, water and treats
Veterinarians can suggest different types of foods and treats for your cat, but not all experts agree on the best cat foods. The VOHC has a list of recommended dry and canned foods and treats on its website.
Many commercial products are available at grocery stores and pet stores, while some brands require a veterinarian prescription. Whatever you and your veterinarian decide is best for your cats, you should always have clean, cool water available. Serve food and water in bowls other than plastic; some cats are allergic to it and may develop a skin condition on their chin. Plastic is also harder than glass, metal or ceramic to keep germs free.
Many brands of cat foods help control plaque and tartar buildup. Some cats require special dry or canned food for various health conditions such as kidney disease, urinary tract problems, or allergies. These brands are prescribed by a veterinarian and ordered online or sold through a veterinary clinic or pet store. Chewing certain chews or treats can also help prevent plaque from building up. Veterinarians often say that having an occasional treat helps keep our cats healthy and happy. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?
The author was a volunteer adoption counselor with King Street Cats in Alexandria for seven years.