February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and one of the biggest health concerns in feline medicine, according to Dr. Katarina Luther, is dental health.
“It affects not only their oral health and comfort, but also their overall health,” Luther, owner of cat specific veterinary clinic in Madison, Wisconsin said.
“Cat mouths, due to their size and the nature of cats, simply don’t get the attention that dog mouths do,” she said. “For instance, a dog will relax with his owner, often with his mouth wide open and tongue hanging out, panting. This makes his teeth more visible and his breath more noticeable. Sightings inside a cat’s mouth are few and far between unless they are very deliberate by an examiner.”
And, because many cats aren’t seeing a veterinarian as often as they should, undetected dental disease can progress and begin to affect overall health.
Brushing your cat’s teeth
“There is no doubt that brushing cats’ teeth regularly makes a huge difference in their oral health. The best way to incorporate this is very slowly, and the younger the better,” Luther said.
“The cat needs to be comfortable having their mouth handled, opened, and teeth inspected,” Luther continued. “Rewards are key to making it a positive experience. This could include verbal praise, bits of their favorite treats, brushing with their favorite brush, or playtime.”
Once the cat is comfortable, Luther’s team works toward touching all the teeth, adding a feline toothpaste, using gauze or a soft cloth over the finger, and finally, a finger brush or toothbrush.
“This may take weeks or months to accomplish, but it will benefit the cat and strengthen the bond between [the cat] and its owner, as long as it’s a positive experience,” she said.
However, not all cats are agreeable to brushing. Luther stressed the importance of close communication with the veterinary healthcare team to avoid frustration and to discuss alternatives if the cat isn’t amenable to having her teeth brushed.
Considering your unique cat
Luther says every cat’s “whole picture” should be considered, including health status, personality, and tolerance level.
“The best care for a young cat [who has] no health problems but gets terribly stressed and resists tooth brushing may be a prescription dental diet formulated to prevent dental disease,” Luther said. “Cats often love these diets. Getting an extra health benefit of reducing buildup on teeth at the same time as eating a high-quality, balanced diet is great.”
An older cat with renal disease, however, might need a prescription diet formulated for kidney health. If that cat allows her teeth to be inspected and brushed, she’ll be better off sticking with the renal diet and using a combination of brushing and topical oral solutions or gels for dental disease prevention.
“There are so many great options for dental care now, which in feline medicine is particularly helpful due to all the variables that come into play when we want the best for our cats,” Luther said.
The importance of regular veterinary care
“I’ve always had dental exams every year done for my cats,” said Sandy Spear, owner of five-year-old rescue cat, Bevo.
When Spear adopted Bevo last summer, she took him straight to her veterinarian.
“When I brought him in, they told me he could use a cleaning,” Spear said. “And during the cleaning, they called me to let me know he needed two extractions.”
Spear said Bevo didn’t appear to be in pain and was eating regularly. Without the veterinary visit and dental exam, she wouldn’t have detected his two bad teeth. Since his cleaning, exam, and extractions, Bevo is acting differently.
“He seems to have more energy, and his breath is better,” she said.
“Despite the most diligent home care routine, there is no substitute for professional dental evaluation and treatment by a veterinarian,” said Luther.
According to Luther, one year in a cat’s life can bring many changes to the condition of their dental health. Your cat should see a veterinarian at least annually, and twice each year for senior cats.
“Think about it: People brush and floss multiple times per day and still receive dental care and cleanings by professionals twice per year,” Luther explained. “The overwhelming majority of cats receive no brushing and minimal home care in general, plus they age so much faster than humans.”
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