Dental disease is a common condition in our pet cats which is often under recognised but can have huge implications for their welfare and quality of life. Disease can range from small amounts of plaque and inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), to severe, with broken teeth and infected tooth roots. There are many signs that you can look out for in your cats which may help you pick up on any concerns before they become a major issue and we share our tips for prevention.
WHY DO CATS GET DENTAL DISEASE?
All mouths contain bacteria which, after a while, coat the surface of the teeth forming a biofilm known as plaque (that fuzzy feeling you get when you need to brush your teeth!). A build-up of plaque eventually forms into calculus/tartar which is hard and stuck to the teeth; this causes gum disease and other tooth damage, it also causes bad breath. There are lots of types of dental disease that cats can get.
Some types of viruses involved in the cat flu complex can cause dental issues – this is mostly seen as gingivitis and painful stomatitis which is severe inflammation of the gums and back of the mouth. Cats can fracture their teeth, often this happens as a result of trauma such as being hit by a car, fighting or biting something they shouldn’t!
Another common finding in cats (affecting up to 2/3 of them) is feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs), also known as ‘neck lesions’. These are cavity like lesions which form along the gum line: as the enamel breaks down, these holes penetrate into the pulp cavity (which contains nerves). This is very painful and eventually results in fracture of the tooth, often leaving the root still present in the socket. These can be difficult to see as they are often covered with calculus and/or sit just along the gum line. Some may be picked up in a consultation with your vet, but often most are found at the time of a dental procedure under anaesthetic, via dental probing or dental x-rays. In some of these lesions the roots can become fused to the jawbone and x-rays are needed to determine this. If left untreated, FORLs are extremely painful.
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOUR CAT HAS AN ISSUE?
Anybody who has ever had toothache will tell you that it’s incredibly unpleasant and painful. Although our cats aren’t always able to tell us clearly that they are in pain there are lots of subtle signs you can look out for:
- Bad breath
- Dribbling/wet fur around the mouth
- Blood in water or food bowls
- Pawing or rubbing at the face
- Missing teeth
- Red gums
- Swellings on the face or under the jaw
- Weight loss
- Coat changes (as cats use their mouths to groom)
Cats will often continue to eat even with severe dental disease, because they have no choice. Going off food, favouring soft food and refusing to eat biscuits or taking longer to finish their meals can be a sign but don’t assume that just because your cat is eating they don’t have dental disease.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP PREVENT IT?
- Tooth BrushingNothing compares to daily tooth brushing, and some cats can be trained to tolerate (even enjoy!) this too. Introductions must be done slowly and positively and it helps to use tasty toothpaste designed for pets. Never use human toothpastes as they can have harmful substances in them. Brushing can either be done with a soft toothbrush with a small head (either designed for pets or children) or with a finger brush for pets. The finger brushes can be easier to direct onto the teeth in small mouths. If brushing is not an option there are a few alternatives:
- Dental GelsThese usually contain enzymes which help to breakdown bacterial films on the teeth. Rubbing them directly onto the teeth is ideal, but if this isn’t possible then they can be put on food, or licked as a treat.
- Plaque PowdersThese can be sprinkled onto your pet’s food and help to breakdown plaque on their teeth before it forms hard calculus.
- Mouthwash/plaque liquidsThese can be added to drinking water and have a similar action to plaque powder. Only ever use mouthwash designed for pets and always introduce slowly and offer plain water alongside.
- Dental DietsUsually in the form of specially textured biscuits, the action of chewing these helps to breakdown plaque on the teeth. Some dental diets also contain plaque powders or similar too.
Prevention is always better than cure but it’s not always possible. Early detection and treatment of dental issues is equally as important. We recommend your cat has their teeth checked by a member of our vet team every 6-12months as a minimum. This will help to pick up on any changes which can then either be monitored closely or treated. All dental procedures in cats are carried out under a general anaesthetic as we simply can’t ask our pets to lie still and allow us to safely treat their mouths in the same way that we would allow a human dentist to treat ours. Some cats may just need a scale and polish which not only removes all visible tartar and plaque, but also that which is under the gum-line too. Other cats may need x-rays and tooth extractions, but the earlier this is carried out the better as it will help prevent, or at least slow down, further deterioration of the other teeth in the mouth. There are other benefits to early dental treatment – high levels of bacteria in the mouth enter the bloodstream and can affect other organs in the body such as the kidneys and heart. If you would like to book your cat in for a dental health check, or know more about products available for prevention please call our friendly reception team who will be happy to discuss and make you an appointment at a time which suits you.
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