Dental care is just as important to cats as it is to dogs. By the time cats turn 3 years old, many will suffer from periodontal disease – a disease that causes pain and negatively affects their overall health, including infections in the kidney, liver, lungs, and heart.
The best way to protect your cat from periodontal disease is to prevent it. The best way to keep your kitten’s gums and teeth healthy is to brush them. When you have a kitten, it is much easier to introduce brushing into your normal routine. If your cat is already an adult, it will take time and patience.
Start by putting toothpaste on your finger and letting it lick it off. Then let him lick it off his cat-friendly toothbrush. Be sure to use pet-specific toothpaste – it comes in a variety of flavors and won’t harm him if he swallows it.
The best way to keep your kitten’s gums and teeth healthy is to brush them.
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Put toothpaste on your finger and gently massage its gums. Go through these steps at your cat’s pace and always offer love and treats. When he’s comfortable, it’s time to brush.
Start by brushing your teeth on the outside. Gently brush in an oval pattern. Move towards the rest of the teeth as your kitten will allow. If the process derails when you insert the brush, try a finger brush.
If your cat’s teeth cannot be brushed, there are other products that may help. There are dental cloths that are rubbed on the teeth and gums; Water additives added to the water bowl; and tooth sprays that are sprayed on teeth and gums. Dental diets and treats are also available to help break down plaque and slow tartar build-up. But none of these are as effective as a regular brushing routine.
A dental exam at the vet is also critical to the best possible oral health for your cat. Cats are wired to hide weaknesses and often show no sign of discomfort until the problem becomes severe. Your cat should have a dental exam at least once a year (every six months is even better).
Signs that your cat should see the vet as soon as possible include inflammation of the gums, bleeding along the gum line, or sores on the gums. Other symptoms include excessive drooling, scratching your mouth, or not eating as you normally would. And of course bad breath is a tell-tale sign of dental disease.
Veterinarians often recommend tooth cleaning. These are performed under anesthesia, so that thorough scaling and polishing of the teeth as well as cleaning under the gumline can be carried out. Blood tests will be done beforehand to make sure your cat is healthy enough to receive anesthesia.
How often cats should have their teeth brushed depends on a number of factors including age, diet, genetics, lifestyle, and other risk factors for their current health.
As the cats age, some develop lesions on their teeth. When they occur below the gumline, affected teeth are often extracted. Other factors that lead to tooth extraction include severe gum or periodontal disease and root abscesses.
Just as you take care of your own oral health, your feline friend relies on you to take care of theirs too. And he’ll reward you with a longer, happier, healthier life (and a lot more cuddling).
• Diana Stoll is Practice Manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital, located in Hampshire and Gilberts. Visit the website at redbarnpetvet.com/ or call (847) 683-4788 (Hampshire) or (847) 426-1000 (Gilberts).