Published: June 2022 | Updated: February 2024
Dental disease in cats can be a serious issue. If you've ever had a toothache, you know how painful it can be, and that's if your teeth are not infected! Dental disease in cats can lead to pain and infection and even affect their overall health. Luckily, there is action you can take to prevent dental problems at home, as well as some simple procedures at the veterinary clinic.
Prevalence and Causes of Cat Dental Disease
Dental disease is the most common disease in cats. In fact, it's been estimated that as many as 50% of all cats over the age of 3 suffer from some form of dental disease. The good news is that this problem can be treated, and we'll get into ‘how’ a little later on. First things first: what exactly is dental disease?
Dental disease involves any condition affecting your cat's teeth or the way they chew their food.
It can happen for several reasons.
There may be an underlying medical issue causing pain or discomfort when eating certain foods (this can include dry food). This makes your cat less likely to eat enough nutritious food, which weakens their immune system and leaves them more susceptible to infections like gingivitis (the earliest stage of periodontal disease).
The result is bad breath (or halitosis in cats) and plaque buildup on their teeth, which can lead to infection if left untreated. Assisting your cat in caring for their teeth is critical.
Preventing Feline Dental Disease
Depending on the cause of your cat's dental disease, you may be able to treat it at home or you'll need to take your cat to a veterinarian.
You can help prevent plaque buildup by brushing your cat's teeth and gums regularly with a toothbrush designed for pets. You can also use dental wipes or dental chews as supplements to brushing daily.
Although cats are carnivores and their teeth are specialized for meat-based diets, they still have the same types of teeth as humans do: incisors (front), canines (center), premolars (behind) and molars (back). However, unlike humans, who are omnivores, cats' jaws cannot move side-to-side as we do when chewing food. They only move up and down, like our jaw moves back when we swallow food.
This means that if there's space between the back molar on one side of your cat's mouth and its front teeth on the other side, called malocclusion, food will get stuck there instead of being swallowed properly without getting ground into mushy pulp first. Brushing your cat’s teeth can help get the excess food out of their mouth, preventing decay.
There Are Other Signs Besides Just Bad Breath in Cats
Signs of dental and oral disease in cats can be subtle and may not show up until the cat has developed a serious illness or damage. Cats are masters at hiding pain and discomfort, so they won’t necessarily show signs of illness even when they are very sick. They may also not show signs until their teeth are so badly damaged that the problem is irreversible.
If your cat is suffering from dental disease, managing their health will be more difficult. You should work with a veterinarian to keep track of the symptoms and how they impact your cat's quality of life.
The following are indications that your cat’s dental health is deteriorating:
- Your cat may not appear to be in pain, but that doesn't mean they aren't suffering. They can have difficulty eating or drinking and may struggle to breathe normally because of an infection in the mouth.
- Difficulty eating/drinking. If your cat has had issues with their teeth for some time, it might be easier for them if you give them canned food instead of dry kibble until their teeth can be cleaned by a professional (though this isn't always possible). Cats need water at all times because dehydration is dangerous for cats. It's important that you keep fresh water available at all times so your feline friend doesn't suffer from dehydration over time due to a lack of hydration during eating/drinking cycles.
- Sickness. Infections in the mouth can spread throughout the body if left untreated, leading to more serious illness.
Your Cat’s Dental Care is Important Starting at a Young Age
Dental care should begin at an early age, even with kittens. The best way to ensure your cat's teeth are healthy is to maintain a regular dental hygiene schedule. This involves brushing, using products like toothbrushes or cat treats that clean the teeth, and offering foods that clean plaque off their teeth.
When you brush their teeth, don’t use a human toothbrush. There are specialized toothbrushes and toothpaste for cats. Human toothpaste can cause health issues in your cat, but toothpaste has been specifically formulated for your cat’s needs.
The best way to keep your cat’s teeth healthy is by feeding them a combination of wet and dry food. You can also try adding some raw meat for additional nutrients and stimulation that will help keep their teeth strong and clean.
The Link Between Your Cat’s Gut Health and Dental Disease
There has been a connection identified between cat gut health and dental disease due to an imbalance of the gut microbiome. When a cat or a dog consumes too much dietary sugar like that found in commercial food (i.e. kibble), the gut microbiome is altered.
Diet has an impact on the types of metabolic waste products produced by the oral and gut microbiomes, as well as the identification of the microorganisms that live there and the type of compounds they create.
When sugar is present in the diet (commercial kibble contains up to 60% sugar), oxalic acid, lactic acid, propionic acid, acetic acid, and others can affect your cat’s teeth.
The existence of these organic acids encapsulated in plaque creates microenvironments with pH as low as 3.8-5.5, which not only causes local inflammation, but also encourages the growth of acid-tolerant bacteria like Enterococcus faecalis, Streptococcus spp., and fungi.
These microorganisms are linked to inflammation and impaired wound healing, which is a major issue in animals with dental problems and irritable bowel syndrome.
Despite limited research, there is a significant correlation between gut health and good bacteria. Providing your cat with a daily probiotic, such as Daily Cat, is recommended to balance their microbiome and minimize their risk of not only periodontal disease but also other ailments.
Ask Your Veterinarian
The best action you can take for your cat's oral health is to get their teeth cleaned regularly by a veterinarian. A vet will not only be able to identify potential problems but will also instruct you on the best way to keep your cat's mouth clean.
Dental disease in cats is entirely preventable if they are given regular dental checkups and proper care at home. The most important thing is to brush your cat’s teeth regularly. This should ideally include daily brushing until they are three years old, or until they have lost their baby teeth, which happens around this age in most kittens.
After that point, it’s still important but less frequent (about once every two weeks). If possible, try doing this while they are sleeping so that they don’t associate being brushed with something unpleasant. However, don’t forget to show off your cat’s teeth at their annual veterinary visit.
Dental disease can be prevented by proper oral hygiene, a healthy gut microbiome, and the right diet. Cats with good dental health will live healthier and happier lives. A regular dental cleaning routine at home and annual check-ups from a veterinarian are important in maintaining the health of your cat's teeth and gums.
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