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Give Your Cat a Smile... and Good Health!

How about giving your favorite feline friend a dental checkup for Valentine's this year? It can make a huge difference in how they feel!  How about getting their teeth cleaned?  I know it doesn't sound like much fun, but your cat will have more fun and BE more fun if she isn't silently suffering pain from tooth decay or abscesses or infections from periodontal disease.  Almost 90% of cats over five years of age have some type of dental problem; and almost 80% of cats in the U.S. have some form of gum disease before they are three years old. This is according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

I am very grateful that my first career was in dental hygiene, because it has made me a better cat behaviorist.  I have seen many cat behavior problems caused, in part, by dental disease.  What kind of mood would you be in with an abscessed tooth or two for a couple of years?

When we experience pain, we usually show it, or say something and get help. Animals that are experiencing discomfort or pain have been programmed to hide or lay low, so predators won't pick up on their pain and perceive them as weak. This instinct to hide pain is extremely strong in our domestic cats.

So, how do we know when our feline friends have dental disease? It can be difficult, because they usually suffer in silence. For the most part, our cats often try to learn to cope with it. Sometimes they seem to be a bit quieter, or sleep more than normal or display personality changes.  You might notice bad breath, red or receding gums, drooling, difficulty eating, grumpiness, or behavior changes. If we don't know what to look for and we don't realize they are hurting, they have no choice but to live with it.

The only way to know for sure if your feline family member is suffering in silence with dental disease is to make an appointment to have a thorough dental exam by your veterinarian, which must be done under anesthesia. It is essential to confirm that the clinic will take dental X-rays and do periodontal charting. Why? It is impossible to determine the presence of decay between teeth, periodontal infection and bone loss, abscessed or missing teeth, or extremely painful resorptive root disease by only doing a visual exam. Two-thirds of each tooth is below the gumline and that is where lots of problems occur. Your cat must have dental X-rays! 

Unfortunately, not all veterinarian clinics have dental X-ray equipment. Please inquire about this necessary part of your cat's exam prior to your appointment. If your vet clinic doesn't offer this important service, please find one that does. Sadly, sometimes pet owners are told during their routine checkup that their cat's oral condition "doesn't look that bad" or "looks OK for her age". However, there is absolutely no way to know for sure without seeing all parts of each tooth, especially the part of the cat's teeth under their gums.

I recently worked with a cat parent of an indoor 11 year-old DSH male cat who was exhibiting some weird vocalizations and other behavior issues. He noticed his cat was not eating as heartily as he had in the past. When I asked him about his cat's last vet checkup, he stated that the comment from his vet was that the cat "looked OK and his teeth weren't that bad," and concluded the cat's problems were "just behavioral in nature." After a discussion about dental disease, the cat owner decided to get second opinion about his cat's dental condition from a veterinary dentist. His cat was diagnosed with three abscessed teeth, several mobile (loose) teeth due to a periodontal infection, and a few decayed teeth. After the cat was treated for all his dental problems and had recovered, the guardian reported his cat "was himself again, all behavior issues were resolved and the cat was enjoying eating again." I was more than thrilled to hear him say, "I have my cat back now!"

Without a full dental exam, periodontal probing and a full set of X-rays, this cat might still be suffering a great deal of pain and still exhibiting some puzzling and troubling cat behavior problems.

There is another very important reason to keep your cat's oral health in good shape. We know much more about the oral-systemic connection now. You may have read or heard about the human side of this topic.

According to Angie Stone's book, Dying from Dirty Teeth (and many other sources), there is evidence that certain bacteria residing in our mouth, left untreated, can lead to pneumonia, diabetes, heart disease and a host of other ailments that can result in an early and unnecessary death, especially in the elderly residing in nursing homes.

Our feline family members have an oral-systemic connection, too!!

If you are lucky enough to enjoy living with a feline family, please plan for the cost of having thorough dental exams and cleanings by no later than their 5th birthdays. If you, or your vet, notice that your cat has bad breath or gingivitis earlier than age five, please check it out ASAP. There are some genetic oral diseases which are very painful and can occur as early as 2 years old.

What can you do to prevent dental disease in your cats? The best way to prevent dental disease is to feed your cats a species-appropriate diet, without wheat, corn, soy or by-products. Most cats that are eating a balanced raw food diet and/or high quality canned food usually have much less dental disease than those eating high-processed cat foods, especially dry food. No, dry food does not clean the teeth!  Any cat food, canned or dry, with starchy carbohydrates will encourage biofilm and tartar to build up on their teeth, just like it does with us. The better the diet, the less you have to spend treating dental diseases. Gentle tooth brushing helps too. Toothpaste is not necessary. Toothpaste doesn't remove the biofilm, the toothbrush does!

This is a repost from 12/16/2016.

posted on 2/2/2020