It is not uncommon for cats to develop dental problems as they age. Here, our Oklahoma City veterinarians explain the most common dental problems found in cats and how they can be prevented and treated.
Most cat owners don't provide their feline companions with the at-home dental care they require to maintain oral health.
Apart from causing your cat tooth problems and pain, the bacteria that create oral health issues can lead to more serious health conditions, including cardiovascular disease. This is because the bacteria in your cat's mouth that is causing the infection can get into their bloodstream and cause damage to organs like their kidneys, liver, and heart.
How do you identify dental disease in cats?
Below are a few common signs and symptoms of dental disease in cats:
- Bad Breath (halitosis)
- Excessive drooling
- Weight loss
- Difficulty with or slow eating
- Missing or loose teeth
- Visible tartar
- Bleeding, swollen or noticeably red gums
- Pawing at their teeth or mouth
If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, bring them to the veterinarian for a dental exam right away.
What are some common dental diseases in cats?
While there is a wide range of health issues that can affect your cat's gums, teeth, and other oral structures, here are three particularly common ones to watch out for.
It's estimated that about 70% of all cats will develop some form of periodontal disease by the time they reach the age of 3.
This disease is an infection caused by bacteria found in plaque—the soft film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on teeth over the course of the day. If your cat's plaque isn't regularly brushed away or cleaned, it will harden and form tartar that extends below their gum line.
When the bacteria gets trapped below your cat's gum line it will begin to create pockets of infection between your cat's teeth and gums. If periodontal disease progresses to its advanced stage, it can result in loose or missing teeth.
Feline stomatitis is an incredibly painful inflammation and ulceration (opening of sores) of your cat's gums, cheeks, and tongue.
Some breeds, such as Persians and Himalayans, are predisposed to developing this condition, but any cat can develop stomatitis.
Cats suffering from this condition are often in extreme pain that causes them to lose their appetites. In some cases, cats will become malnourished because it is so painful for them to eat. If your cat develops a mild case, at-home care might be enough to treat their stomatitis, but severe cases require surgical intervention.
Tooth resorption in cats describes the gradual destruction of a tooth or multiple teeth in your cat's mouth. This is a relatively common condition in cats, potentially affecting up to three-quarters of middle-aged and older cats.
It isn't known what causes tooth resorption, but unlike a cavity, it creates a lesion that cannot be filled. The resorption starts on the inside of the tooth and works its way outward toward the crown and tooth enamel.
Unfortunately, by the time most cases tooth resorption are spotted, the tooth is dying and painful. The treatment recommendation for tooth resorption is typically surgical extraction of the affected tooth.
How do I prevent dental disease in my cat?
Just like in people, the number one way to help prevent the development of dental disease and issues with your cat's teeth is routine brushing and cleaning of your cat's mouth. Your cat's teeth and gums will have a much better chance of remaining healthy if plaque is brushed or wiped away before it has a chance to accumulate into tartar and cause damage or infection.
For the best results, you should begin cleaning your cat's teeth and gums while they are still a kitten so they get used to the process.
On top of at-home brushing, annual or bi-annual visits to your vet for dental checkups starting when your cat is a year old will help to prevent oral disease. Professional cleanings also typically prolong the quality of your cat's teeth.