Why Maintaining Your Cat’s Dental Health Matters

February is Pet Dental Health Month! Learn How to Take Care of Your Kitty’s Chompers!

Like the saying goes, the mouth is the portal to the whole body—what goes on with teeth and gums can lead to problems occurring elsewhere. Just as humans can develop dental diseases, cats can, too! Good oral hygiene is probably one of the most important daily habits for people and animals in order to keep the body heartier and healthier! While some pet owners may already practice taking care of their pet’s dental needs, some of you may be skeptical about what cat dental maintenance requires and how to go about it. That’s where I, Laszlo, come in to
give you a heads up on what you’ll need to know!

What Helps Keep A Cat’s Teeth Clean?

You would probably expect brushing your cat’s teeth to be the most efficient way possible to help your cat maintain a healthy mouth. However, many cat owners often find it impawssible to get the job done, that is, without getting scratches and bites up their arm. We cats do not usually like our purrsonal space invaded, especially our mouths. So if you’re concerned about how to keep a cat’s teeth clean besides brushing, there are still many ways to lend them a paw that will
feel less invasive to them. Keep in mind, though, that we cats may dislike one method and be okay with another, since we can be very finicky. With some trial and error, you’ll be sure to find an oral hygiene tip that works for your cat.

A. Feeding your cat a proper diet is one of the best ways to ensure their teeth stay cleaner and build less plaque that, if unattended, can lead to dental disease in your feline friend. Mom says that cats should be fed a raw food diet, which is completely free of by-products, fillers, and poor quality proteins found in commercial cat food that can cause plaque buildup and gingivitis (a dental disease). A raw food diet is better for your pet’s overall health, so it’s important that you seriously consider that your cat be given a raw diet.

B. Dental toys and raw, uncooked bones can help keep your cat busy and remove plaque in their teeth and massaging their gums. Healthy gums are far less likely to develop infections and diseases. Alternatively, raw bones that are cooked become brittle and can easily splinter if your cat chews on them, so any raw bones you give your cat to chew on should always be uncooked.  As for giving cats raw chicken and turkey bones to chew on, we strongly advise that owners check raw bones for splinters and cracks that may break off and get lodged in your cat’s teeth and gums or your cat accidentally swallows them. Cats’ teeth are made for tearing meat off the bones of their prey, so giving your cat raw bones will help scrape off plaque. Uncooked, raw turkey and chicken bones are safe for your cat to clean their teeth with and provide a good source of calcium! Dental toys are also popular for helping to scrap off plaque and tartar. Our silvervine stix are very good for that.

C. Water additives, cleaning gels and powders are especially helpful if you have trouble using a pet toothbrush to clean your cat’s teeth and gums. Water additives contain anti-plaque chemicals, so when your kitty drinks from their water bowl, they’ll be getting a gentle mouthwash. Some kitties might not care for their water having an alternate taste, if the additive you use has such effect, however. In this case, you could add a little watered-down tuna water from a can to the dental water mixture. Dental cleaning gels on the other paw, are a step down from the toothbrush but can be just as effective. The gel can be rubbed daily over your cat’s teeth and gums with your finger, which is less abrasive to your cat who may try to fight you off either way. Dental powder is simply added to the food and is basically tasteless so there is no issue for the pet.

D. The dreaded toothbrush. I’ve never heard of a cat that enjoys getting their teeth rubbed by bristles on a stick or having one in their mouth. However, mom says it’s necessary for cleaning our teeth and gums in a way that we can’t do ourselves. As a cat, I’m not thrilled with the idea, but I can tell you that you can ask your vet about what kind of toothbrush is best for cleaning your cat’s pearly whites, because toothbrushes for cats are designed to be a lot gentler (my paw!!!) and to reach the curves of our mouths better. 

If you’re using the traditional method of cleaning your cat’s teeth and gums, keep in mind that human toothpaste is NOT safe for us cats. You should never use regular, human toothpaste on any of your pets, which can contain ingredients that are toxic to pets.

How Do I Brush My Cat’s Teeth?

In theory, brushing a cat’s teeth may seem simple enough, right? But chances are, your cat will not agree, and might express it with their teeth and claws. You might have brushed a dog’s teeth, but cats need to be approached differently in order to ensure a successful teeth cleaning that is most efficient and least annoying for your cat.

Currently, a video-guided, 28 day training program is available through Cornell University of Veterinary Medicine that teaches you how to brush a cat’s teeth! The program features a step-by-step tutorial on helping your cat feel more comfortable with getting their teeth and gums brushed as well—which will definitely make the experience easier on both you and your cat (especially the cat!)

Common Signs of Dental Issues to Look For

With your cat’s dental health being an important responsibility and there being many ways to go about keeping your kitty’s chompers in tiptop shape, you’ll need to know how to spot common signs of dental issues and why they may be happening. While some might be easily detected (such as bad breath or drooling), if you’re not one hundred purrcent sure, contacting your vet for a second opinion is always a good idea. Remember to always inspect your kitty’s mouth gently; after all, we’re not too crazy about having our mouths poked and prodded.

1. Stinky breath. Harmful bacteria left behind in your cat’s mouth can cause your cat to have bad breath. From there, it’s a good idea to check the rest of your cat’s mouth for other issues they may be having. Unless it’s just tuna breath (but you should still make sure there are no other problems going on other than bad breath).

2. Visible plaque/tartar buildup between teeth. If you can see bits of food stuck on or between your cat’s teeth and on their gums, they definitely need a good brushing or other means of dental cleaning. Plaque and tartar buildup are notorious for causing a myriad of feline dental diseases, including gingivitis and tooth root abscess (bacterial destruction of a tooth’s roots). By brushing or cleaning your cat’s teeth daily, you can significantly decrease their risk of developing plaque-originating diseases.

3. Your cat is pawing at their mouth or having trouble chewing. This could signify that your cat is seriously uncomfortable with something in or around their mouth or jaw. If your cat is having trouble chewing for any reason or pawing at their mouth, they could be dealing with anything from a toothache, to bleeding or sore gums, to something more pressing. If you see something inside of your kitty’s mouth that you’re not sure is normal, be sure to contact your vet for advice.

4. Drooling. As weird and harmless as it may seem, a drooling kitty can be cause for concern. Detecting whether a cat’s drooling indicates an issue is tricky, because there are many reasons why cats drool. Drooling while kneeling or purring can mean your cat is super relaxed and happy, which is definitely an okay thing. Cats may also drool when they’re stressed, such as during car rides or in loud, disruptive situations—not a good thing, but it happens.

However, if your cat’s drooling doesn’t appear to be tied to feeling happiness or a spike in stress, a medical problem may be to blame. We cats generally don’t advertise when we aren’t feeling well or when there’s a problem, so if your cat’s drooling spells seem out of place to you or are unexplainable, you should contact your veterinarian, who can help narrow down your cat’s symptoms.

5. Red gums that are swollen or bleeding. No one finds eating with swollen, aching, or bleeding gums a good time. Frequently check your cat’s gums for redness or swelling, even if your cat seems to have a healthy mouth. On the other paw, if your cat’s gums are bluish, this could be a sign of trouble getting enough oxygen, and your cat should be seen by a vet immediately.

6. Discolored or missing teeth. Just like with humans, yellowed or oddly colored teeth are a sign of poor dental hygiene or dental disease in cats. This is also a possibility if your cat is starting to lose teeth or some of their teeth are missing. Discolored teeth in cats are usually caused by tooth damage or infections from bacteria, and can actually affect other areas of the body if left untreated. Discolored teeth is also a symptom of Gingivitis.

7. Loss in weight. Believe it or not, if your cat is suddenly losing weight, this could be attributed to them having difficulty chewing and thus not getting enough food in their body. If there are no other possible reasons for your cat’s sudden weight loss, contact your vet immediately to discuss the next course of action and learn how to help your cat take in food easier and get the nutrients their body needs.

Having a well-rounded understanding of your cat’s dental health and the daily care that it needs is key to helping them live a long, and happy life. We cats know you care when you lend us a paw with problems we can’t always handle on our own, even if we don’t like it (I’m looking at you, vet visits). I, Laszlo, have had my own share of dental obstacles, (I had to have 10 of my teeth removed over the last 3 years! MeOWCH!) but I know my mom is only looking out for me and wants the best for me. And even if I have to pout and hide (or growl) for a while, I always feel better in the long run. Thanks, Mom. *Purrs*

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