cat dental care

Cat & Kitten Dental Care

Dental hygiene is essential to maintaining health in cats. Learn why tartar and bacteria are dangerous to cats and learn how to practice good cat dental care.

Tartar & Gingivitis in Kittens

Hi Simba, I did not think I could be any better of a mommy to my two cats, but I am feeling guilty...

I took my 8-year-old male cat into the vet for a swollen lip on Saturday. A few weeks earlier, I had noticed that some of his teeth had quite a bit of tartar &plaque build-up and were browning at the base near the gums. I mistakenly thought that giving your cats dry food & tartar control treats was sufficient to take care of their teeth..I was wrong...After this afternoon, I will be bringing my "baby" home from the vet with 5 less teeth! What I thought was going to be a simple cleaning turned into something much more complicated. I cannot feel any worse about this -- I feel guilty for not taking care of him.
He was not in pain…I did not have any blatant signs. However, had I had been more observant I may have been able to prevent this. I will have to look at my beautiful large white cat (15 pounds!) for the rest of his days with 5 less teeth knowing it was my fault that he had to go through this. Please tell your readers how important dental health is so no one else has to feel as bad as Alex (my cat) or I do. Sincerely, Zandercat

Dear Zendercat,
Thanks for the important note! Regular dental care including teeth cleaning at the vet is VERY important. Here is some additional background on all begins with tartar:

  • Tartar is a mineral-impregnated bacterial plaque. It can build up on any tooth. It accumulates with age and occurs most often in cats that are fed moist food.
  • As the Tartar accumulates around the junction of the gum with the tooth, a niche is formed in which bacteria grow.
  • The result of this bacterial infection are inflamed gums (gingivitis).
  • The inflamed gums then retract from the tooth and can become ulcerated.
  • As the gum retracts the infection tracks down the outside of the tooth root (periodontitis) and may discharge of pus (pyorrhoea) from around the teeth.
  • Antibiotic therapy is needed in severe cases and is then followed by removal of the affected teeth.
  • Periodontitis is a serious condition that results from the immune systems' inability to continually fight the oral bacterial toxins.
These toxins can then enter the bloodstream and spread to heart, kidney and liver where they can cause more serious health problems.

Preventive care is the best care. - Simba

Helping a Kitten With Bad Breath

Dear Simba,
My kitten, Karma, is approx. 3-months-old and is a typical kitten but also very bright and loving. The problem is that she seems to have very bad breath! Is this common or should I be concerned..... Listerine Kitty's Mom

Dear Listerine Kitty's Mom,
Some bad breath is normal during the teething period in kittens. In older cats the most common causes of bad breath are dental plaque, tartar-induced gingivitis, and inflamed teeth. Check to see if Karma has any sores or inflammation in her mouth. Dental problems are very serious and can cause all sorts of ailments.

Other causes of bad breath may include nasal infections (see The Cat Flu), feline acne among others. It is also possible that kitty may have some metabolic problems like kidney disease or diseases of the stomach which lead to chronic vomiting and the accompanying bad breath. Your best bet is to begin with a dental care program, which includes brushing of his teeth (click here for tips on how to do this). Check with your vet if you do not see an improvement. Simba

How to Brush Kitten's Teeth

Here are some tips to help you brush your cat's teeth. First some background. Adult cats have 30 teeth, these are comprised of 12 incisors, 4 canines, 10 premolars and 4 molars. Cats teeth were made to tear into raw meat. This chopping of food cleansed the teeth. Because domestic cats usually eat commercially prepared foods, most never have the opportunity to slice up large, tough food objects. As a result their teeth suffer from the accumulation of tartar. The steps involved in getting your cat to accept tooth brushing are similar to the gradual process involved in introducing nail clipping. Here is how you can start.

  • Familiarize kitty. Before you bring in the toothbrush, your cat must be comfortable sitting on your lap while his mouth and lip areas are massaged (be sure you do not poke the sensitive gums with your fingernails).
  • Next, place a dab of Cat Toothpaste on your finger and let kitty taste it.
  • The next day place a small amount of cat-toothpaste on a normal toothbrush or the specially designed finger brushes
  • The next day, brush one or two teeth in a circular motion. Start with the canines (fangs) and those teeth just behind them. Be sure to brush the adjoining gum line.
  • Increase the number of teeth you brush every couple of days.You need to eventually brush the rear teeth where plaque and tartar accumulate.
  • Stop brushing when you decide to stop, not when kitty wants to stop! If kitty figures out that fussing makes you stop quicker, it will lead to a downward spiral where little brushing is done.
  • Brush for 30 seconds on the outside surfaces. Because cats do not get much tartar on the inside surfaces you do not need to focus there.
  • Stop each session and be sure to praise kitty. A little treat may help out here.
I hope this helps! - Simba

Helping a Kitten with Injured Gums

Dear Simba,
I rescued a 9-week-old that appeared to be healthy except for some type of injury to his front bottom gum area. He eats well and acts fine. Is there something I should do to speed up the healing process? It does not appear to bother him. I am not in a position to take him to the vet. Susan

Hi Susan,
Soft or softer food might help by reducing the stress on the gums, until you are able to get him the medical attention he needs (remember also that he needs his shots, so maybe you can plan to do this all at once). Simba

Kitten with Loose Tooth

Dear Simba,
My name is Kanga, I am a 5-month-old gray tabby. I have a loose tooth and I was wondering if I should tell my mommy, 'cause I do not want her to be concerned if it is not a problem. :-) Kanga, the kitten

Dear Kanga,
Kittens usually lose their baby teeth at 2 to 4 months of age. The new, permanent teeth begin to grow in around then and whole process is complete at 5 to 6 months of age. The loose tooth is perfectly normal. I would nonetheless encourage you to have mommy to take you to regular dental checkups. Remind her also to brush your teeth when they grow in. - Your Pal, Simba

Kitten Teething

Hi Simba,
My two kittens are teething. They frequently try to chew on my fingers, toes, ears, and nose. Is there anything I can do to help them…and me? Connie

Dear Connie,
Teething helps kitties relieve the discomfort of the tooth coming in through the gums. A couple of tips:

  • Put tape on electrical wiring so your little ones do not hurt themselves.
  • Keep household chemicals out of her way.
  • Give your little ones a few special toys to chew on:
  • Soak chew toys in broth or rub them all over with your hands (your kitten loves your scent and is more likely to chew something that smells like you).
  • You can also use a cold towel. It will helps relieve teething pain. Tie a knot in a small clean towel, wet it, wring it out and put it in the freezer to chill. Your kittens will love it!
Teething is a part of growing up, it is very important, so continue to be supportive to your little ones. Keep me posted. Simba

Kitten With Clicking Jaw

I have a kitten who is about 8-weeks-old. When he opens his mouth big to yawn or eat, his jaw clicks. It does not seem to hurt him, but I am concerned. What could this be? Scott

Dear Scott, Congratulations on your new kitten. As to his jaw, it could be nothing. At the same time it is possible your kitten may have TMJ disorder (TMJ stands for Temporo Mandibular Joint). The disorder occurs when the muscles that are used for chewing do not work in combination with the joints of the jaw due to a variety of factors including misaligned teeth. Symptoms of TMJ may include some of the following::
  • Inability to comfortably open mouth

  • Clicking, popping or grating-like sounds in the jaw joint

  • Spasms, swelling or tenderness in various facial / neck muscles

  • A bite that looks / seems uncomfortable
Symptoms are sometimes temporary so time is often a good course. One thing to consider is to avoid feeding your kitten any hard / solid foods or treats. Soft foods can relieve pressure on the muscles and can potentially alleviate the problem. Again your kitten may have nothing wrong with him. That said, keep an eye on the little guy and do consider going to a vet if you see him in pain or in discomfort. - Simba

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