CARING FOR YOUR CAT’S TEETH
When it comes to hygiene, cats are a fastidious bunch, spending as much as a third of their waking hours on grooming― an instinctive activity that is in equal parts self-medication, stress relief, and socialization. But there is one area on a cat’s body that cannot be reached by even the most thorough of tongue baths: its mouth. Responsibility for a feline’s oral health falls squarely on the shoulders of its owners, but the reality is that dental care is not always a priority for even the most affectionate of pet parents. “Many cat owners have no idea that dental check-ups and cleanings should be scheduled regularly,” says Dr. Esteban Aldrin Bisa of Jurisvet Pet Emergency Clinic. This casual albeit unintended disregard for oral health can lead to a host of conditions that cause much discomfort for cats: some due to structural defects, others originating from bacterial infection and tartar formation, but all wholly preventable. International Cat Care, a global charity advocating for improved feline welfare, estimates that “as many as 85% of cats aged three years and older have some sort of dental disease.” Dr. Bisa, who also served as Animal Scene’s resource person for canine dental health, identifies overcrowding and the retention of milk teeth among the common cases that he has treated in his practice. “The overcrowding of teeth is
common in flat faced cats. They have the same number of teeth as other breeds, but have a smaller space to fit all these teeth in.” Such breeds include short-nosed varieties like Persians or British Shorthairs, which have jawbones that are too small to accommodate an adult cat’s full set of 30 teeth.
A kitten’s milk teeth number 26 and―ideally―are pushed out when its adult teeth start to grow when the kitten reaches its sixth month. But this is not always the case, and the continued presence of milk teeth leads to adult teeth growing at an abnormal angle. Both overcrowding and milk teeth retention contribute to tooth misalignment―in humans, this condition is easily remedied by orthodontics, but necessitates extraction in felines. There are few difficulties associated with tooth extraction, but Dr. Bisa is cautious when subjecting very old cats to this procedure, because of anesthetic risk.
Correcting tooth misalignment is not merely a matter of aesthetics, but a preventive measure against periodontal disease. When correctly aligned, a cat’s teeth get a natural cleaning, thanks to the abrasive actions of chewing. Misaligned teeth tend to accumulate plaque, a film of bacteria that hardens into tartar and causes the inflammation of gums, or gingivitis, the third most common condition treated in Dr. Bisa’s clinic. As with humans and canines, establishing an oral care routine at home minimizes plaque formation and the onset of periodontal disease in felines. “It is best that pets are trained as early as possible for them to accept this regular
MOST COMMON CAT DENTAL PROBLEMS: OVERCROWDING, MILK TOOTH RETENTION, AND GINGIVITIS.
procedure,” notes Dr Bisa. “There are also commercially available dental diets and chew toys that aid in oral hygiene.” The Veterinary Oral Health Council of the United States awards its Seal of Acceptance to diet and dental supplements that successfully meet its protocol for plaque or tartar retardation; a complete list can be accessed at http://www.vohc.org/accepted_products.htm. Chew toys―or rather, the action it stimulates― helps in the removal of soft tartar and in massaging gums;
YES, YOUR CAT’S TEETH NEED CARE TOO! MANY CAT DENTAL PROBLEMS ARE PREVENTABLE.
some are laced with catnip to make it more appealing. Petmd.com also suggests substituting raw beef bones as a treat. Cat owners can also take a cue from their pets and observe for any signs of discomfort, such as swollen gums, excessive drooling, difficulty chewing or even a lack of interest in grooming. When these red flags turn up, make sure to set an appointment at your friendly local vet to get your cat back on track to its purrfectly content existence.