As cat owners, it’s our job to help the modern feline keep her teeth healthy. If not properly cared for, or if your cat experiences dental trauma that does not heal, your cat can experience painful tooth decay and other health issues that can be potentially life-threatening.
A Cat’s Teeth: What Should You Know?
At birth, kittens do not have any teeth. Within two to four weeks, the deciduous teeth—also known as milk teeth—begin to grow. Within eight weeks, kittens typically have around 26 teeth. By 6 months old, kittens typically have their full set of 30 “adult” or permanent teeth:
4 canine teeth
Each type of tooth inside a cat’s mouth has a unique function:
The canine teeth allow the cat to puncture skin and grab their prey (that pesky mouse in your basement, perhaps!).
Cats use the premolars and molars to tear off pieces of flesh and grind it up.
The incisors—the small teeth between the canine teeth—allow the cat to pick things up and help with grooming.
Unlike dogs, all cats have the same type and number of teeth, regardless of the breed.
And while a cat in the wild cannot survive without teeth; a domestic cat, under the care of a loving owner, can do just fine without their teeth (though certain aspects of grooming and play will be more challenging). Even so, you will want to keep your cat’s teeth and gums healthy for their entire life, because a cat’s teeth are intricately related to their overall physical health.
A Cat’s Teeth and their Health
Cats are rather hygienic when it comes to grooming and overall cleanliness. So it is not normal for a cat to have odorous breath, tooth rot, or other decay of the teeth. If you notice these things, it is usually a sign of an underlying health issue: tooth and gum disease, also known as periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is entirely preventable with good oral hygiene and (at least) once-a-year dental checkups.
Cat owners who perform regular, at-home dental hygiene decrease the risk for and progression of periodontal disease in their pet. By keeping your cat’s teeth and gums healthy, you also greatly reduce the need for expensive dental procedures such as tooth extraction, root canal, crowns and repairing structural damage caused by infection and inflammation.
The bacteria that causes gum disease in cats tends to build-up over time (unless there has been trauma to the tooth/jaw/gum that goes unattended to and allows infection to quickly settle in).
Do Cats Get Cavities? Nope. Cats Get FORLs
Most cat owners don’t know that cats don’t get cavities! Instead, cats can get feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs). These are painful lesions that occur at or below the gum line. FORLs are the result of tooth resorption, not decay.
FORLs often develop due to factors such as diet, chronic disease, inflammation, or genetics. Often the lesions go undetected, but they can cause symptoms like pain, excess salivation, tooth loss, and trouble eating.
If you notice the following signs (which are the same for both periodontal disease and FORLs), take your cat for a dental exam exam right away:
persistent bad breath
pulling away from you when you try to touch around the face
sensitivity when eating (not eating, showing signs of pain while eating)
pawing at the face
gums appear red, irritated, swollen
tooth discoloration or loose, cracking, missing tooth/teeth
Dental Disease Puts a Cat’s Overall Physical Health at Risk
Periodontal disease puts your cat’s overall physical health at risk. Raw and bleeding gums, and areas where teeth are missing and not kept clean, give toxic bacteria an open gateway into your cat’s bloodstream. From there, bacteria travels directly to other organs including the heart, kidneys, liver, and even the brain, where it can cause irreversible damage and may put your cat’s life at risk.
How do I Brush my Cat’s Teeth?
There are many tools available to brush your cat’s teeth. For most cat’s, what you find over the counter will be sufficient provided you brush on a regular schedule and follow the package instructions for use. Some cats are more sensitive--even averse--to teeth brushing sp you may have to leave the dental cleaning up to the experts at your veterinarian’s office or a qualified groomer.
Most cat owners can quite capably brush a cat’s teeth. The following tips will help:
NEVER use human toothpaste. Use a product intended for cats and approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
Make sure to use a brush designed for cats, not dogs.
Start at a young age and be gentle.
Hold your cat in a gentle but firm embrace to reduce squirming around; when possible have a helper who can hold the cat while you brush. This may prevent scratching should your cat fuss about brushing.
Gently pull back her lips, the mouth can remain closed.
Brush at least once a week; some vets may recommend more frequent brushing.
Schedule an annual dental exam and cleaning with your vet.
For more helpful tips, visit VCA Animal Hospitals article on cat’s and teeth.
Kitten Sittin’ of Delaware: Pet Sitters Care for the “Whole Cat”
When you hire a pet sitter from Kitten Sittin’ of Delaware, we do more than just change the water and clean the kitty litter. Whether you are away for vacation or for the day at work, we provide “whole cat” care. What does this mean?
It means that our pet sitters…
Spend time playing with you cat, if that’s what you and kitty expect
Check the home environment for potential hazards that kitty could get into while left alone
We change the water, replenish food, and clean the litter box, as scheduled
Will help with grooming tasks, as requested, when you are away for an extended time
And there’s much more we do for our pet clients. To learn about the variety of cat sitting services available, or to make a reservation, please call us: 302-304-8399.