Dental disease is very common in cats - in fact, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 70% of cats will show some signs of gum disease by the time they are 3 years old! If you are able to establish a good dental routine for your cat from a young age then it will help prevent them from developing diseases like gingivitis, as well as keeping their breath smelling fresh.
Why is dental care in my cat important?
Dental care is not only an important factor in keeping teeth clean and healthy, but our feline friends can’t tell us if something hurts. This means that regular dental checks with us are just as important as keeping up a preventative dental schedule at home. This allows our vets to examine not only your cat's teeth, but also to examine their entire mouth. Sores, ulcers, lumps and injuries can all be present in the mouth and many cats prefer to mask their pain so, without an examination, it can be impossible to know whether they are suffering in silence.
When it comes to the teeth, consistent preventative care is key. Bacteria and debris accumulate on the surface of the teeth and gums from the food that they eat, which over time (and without preventative care), harden to form tartar. This can lead to gingivitis (inflammation and redness of the gums), loosening of the periodontal ligament and can even lead to tooth loss. It’s a painful condition and can cause your cat to have difficulty eating or to go off their food, although in many cases cats still continue to eat (much like many of us would if we had a sore tooth!) despite the pain. Bacteria from the mouth can also spread to other places in the body like the kidneys, via the bloodstream.
How can I check my cat’s mouth?
A healthy cat’s mouth should be clean, with white teeth, and no evidence of any fractures or chips on the teeth. The gums should be pale pink, even along the margin of the gums. If you see a bright red line along the gum line next to the teeth, this is a sign of gingivitis (inflammation and redness of the gums) which is painful and should be checked out by a vet. If you find yourself cringing when your cat tries to kiss you there may be an unresolved dental issue lurking! Smelly breath can also be an indicator of periodontal disease.
What can I do to prevent dental disease in my cat?
The good news is that periodontal disease is largely preventable. There are a number of measures you can introduce to maintain your pet’s dental health. These include regular home care and veterinary checkups.
Regular veterinary health checks are absolutely vital and should be at least once a year - twice a year for cats over the age of 7 or for cats that have suffered with dental disease in the past. The vet will examine your cat’s mouth and provide a dental assessment.
What can I do at home to improve my cat’s dental care?
It’s important to regularly check the state of your cat’s teeth and gums to make sure they’re always looking healthy. You can do this by holding the side of their head steady and using your thumbs gently peel back their lips to see their teeth. They may not enjoy the experience but it’s important to check. If they become distressed or you find it difficult, then get them checked over with us - a dislike of their mouth being examined may be a sign of pain.
Brushing your cat’s teeth is a fantastic way to help reduce the buildup of tartar and is generally the most effective. This should ideally be daily, if this is not possible, then at least twice weekly. It’s a good idea to get your cat used to this from a young age so they tolerate having it done regularly. You’ll need to use a cat-specific toothpaste as human toothpaste contains high levels of fluoride which can be irritating to your cat’s stomach. Special cat toothpastes are commercially available at your vet practice or pet shop - often fish or meat flavoured!
We recommend using products and toothpastes approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. These are pet-safe and of high quality so keep a keen eye out for them.
It can be a gradual process to get your cat used to having their teeth brushed depending on their individual personality and their acceptance of being handled in this way. We recommend taking a few days (or longer if required) to focus on each stage and ensuring your cat appears tolerant and comfortable before moving onto the next stage.
To begin, try gently touching your cats’ lips at the edges of their mouth and try lifting their lips to see their teeth. Each stage should involve lots of praise and treats for tolerant behaviour and be sure to stop when your cat has indicated he’s had enough for the day - we want the experience to have only positive associations! Once they’re accepting of this, you can move onto to gently touching the outer surfaces of their teeth and then introducing a small amount of toothpaste on your finger. Eventually you will be able to build up to using a small toothbrush to brush gently. Our nurses can demonstrate the technique for you if you require any assistance or you can see the technique demonstrated in the video here.
There are a variety of dental products available that can be added to your cat’s food or water to help clean your cat’s teeth. In most cases, they will not remove existing tartar but will slow the development of plaque and thus new tartar formation. We generally recommend Healthymouth™ as a first line for most of our patients. However, you should always discuss their use with your vet, as the most appropriate product may vary with your pet’s age and general health.
Prescription dental diets are available as a hard kibble, specially formulated to create an abrasive brushing action when chewed, reducing tartar. These diets usually contain additives which are designed to reduce the accumulation of tartar sticking to the teeth. These types of diets and treats, however, are rarely suitable for indoor or inactive outdoor cats (like most of our London cats!). This is because they are largely carbohydrate-based and often lead to weight gain.
Preventative dental treatment
If, during their examination, your vet spots early signs of dental plaque or tartar they may recommend a Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment (COHAT). This is a comprehensive examination of your cats’ mouth that goes far beyond what can be seen during a consultation. The reason that we recommend this detailed examination is because dental issues in cats are often like icebergs - you may be able to spot some evidence of disease at a glance, but there are often much larger issues lying below the surface.
In order to visualise the extent of dental disease and develop a treatment plan, thorough examination along with dental radiography (x-rays) under general anaesthetic is required.
If the dental examination suggests that a scaling procedure is necessary, this will also be performed in order to remove plaque and tartar from the teeth. This process involves a combination of manual scaling with a hand tool and ultrasonic scaling with a similarly shaped tool that vibrates at a high frequency. These vibrations are highly effective at shifting tartar from the teeth and creating a smooth surface which is more difficult for plaque to stick to in the weeks following the procedure.
If extractions or more advanced procedures are required, we will always contact you to discuss your options if these procedures would fall outside of our agreed estimate with you.
In conclusion, preventative dental care is the easiest and most efficient way to prevent your cat from requiring frequent or complex corrective procedures and ensuring your cat remains comfortable and pain-free.
The ideal dental care plan is a collaborative strategy between the cat owner and your vet - if you would like to ask a question, require advice or would like to book your cats dental check with one of our vets, just give us a call on 0203 740 1112 and one of our team will be happy to help you.