Animal Scene - - HEALTH - Text by PA­TRI­CIA CALZO VEGA

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


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 at­cept­ed_prod­ucts.htm. Chew toys―or rather, the ac­tion it stim­u­lates― helps in the re­moval of soft tar­tar and in mas­sag­ing gums;


some are laced with cat­nip to make it more ap­peal­ing. 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.

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