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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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Did you know that your cat can suffer from dental disease and you might not even know it? In fact, veterinarians have found that the majority of cats over three years of age already have signs of dental disease.

What types of signs might indicate that your cat has dental disease?

  • Some cats may show no outward signs at all until the disease has progressed significantly!
  • Cats with dental disease may drool, hesitate to eat, swallow abnormally, or may show other signs of a painful mouth such as chewing on one side rather than the other.
  • Bad breath is one of the most common signs of dental disease.
  • Weight loss is frequently a sign, especially if the dental condition has persisted for some time without intervention.
  • Besides causing pain, dental disease can also lead to even more serious diseases for your cat, such as heart disease and kidney disease.

What kinds of dental disease can cats develop? Cats can develop lots of different types of dental diseases, but these are the most commonly seen:

  • Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (inflammation of the tissue surrounding the teeth) can often lead to gum recession and even loss of teeth.
  • Stomatitis or gingivostomatitis is an inflammation of the tissues in the mouth and can include the tongue, palate, and throat, as well as your cat’s gums. It is a painful and often quite severe condition.
  • Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs) occur when your cat’s tooth or teeth are actually resorbed by specialized cells called odontoclasts. FORLs can be quite painful for your cat.

Besides these conditions, tumors can occur in your cat’s mouth; foreign bodies can affect your cat’s mouth when they become stuck in the mouth or, in the case of strings and similar items, wrap around the base of the tongue; and other injuries can occur as well, including fractures, burns and lacerations.

How can you keep your cat’s mouth healthy? By providing regular dental care for your cat, which includes regularly brushing your cat’s teeth. Most cats can be taught to accept brushing. However, for those that simply will not, other alternatives, such as dental chews and water additives, are a possibility. Consult your veterinarian for advice about the best products to use for your cat.

Regular veterinary care is also a necessity in caring for your cat’s mouth. Your veterinarian may be able to do a cursory examination of your cat’s mouth during his regular physical examination, but for a thorough examination and assessment of your cat’s mouth, your veterinarian will need to anesthetize your cat.

While your cat is sleeping, your veterinarian will examine each individual tooth, which may involve taking radiographs (X-rays) of your cat’s mouth and teeth. At the same time, your veterinarian will clean your cat’s teeth, removing tartar and plaque not only from the visible surfaces of your cat’s teeth but from below the gum-line as well. If abnormalities are found within your cat’s mouth, your veterinarian will establish a treatment protocol aimed at correcting or controlling the disease.

Regular dental care is an important part of routine cat care. Overlooking or ignoring your cat’s dental requirements puts your cat at risk for unnecessary pain and illness.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Elena Butinova / via Shutterstock

Comments  1

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  • Dental Care
    02/20/2012 07:06am

    Not all cats are the same.

    I have a couple of kitties that are prone to dental problems and have needed dentals more frequently than others. Luckily problems have been caught early so no extractions have been necessary.

    It breaks my heart to hear people say that the vet indicated that Fluffy needed a dental and the human refused. Anyone who has ever had a toothache should understand how painful and constant the pain is. To deny treatment to a critter with that kind of pain seems heartless.

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