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The Daily Vet by petMD

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Cats can suffer dental disease and other oral health issues just as dogs, and even people, can. In fact, roughly two-third of cats over the age of three suffer some degree of dental disease. Unfortunately, oral health is frequently overlooked and/or neglected in cats.

Cats can suffer from plaque build-up and tartar/calculi accumulation both above and below the gumlike, just like dogs. They also commonly develop gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and other forms of periodontal disease as a result.

However, there are some forms of oral disease that are seen more commonly in cats than in dogs. Stomatitis is a good example. Stomatitis is inflammation of the mucous tissues of the mouth. In cats, stomatitis can become quite widespread, involving not only the gum tissue on the upper and/or lower jaw, but also sometimes the pharynx (throat area) and even the tongue. Depending on the extent of the disease, it is also sometimes referred to as gingivostomatitis.

Stomatitis is thought to be an extreme reaction to plaque or tartar on the teeth. An association with infectious diseases such as feline leukemia, feline AIDS and Bartonella has been suggested also, but these diseases have not been concretely proven to be a cause of stomatitis at this time.

Prevention and control of feline stomatitis is through good oral care, with regular veterinary cleanings and routine tooth brushing at home to keep plaque, tartar and calculi at a minimum. In some cases, particularly when it is impossible to care for the cat’s teeth properly at home, extraction of the teeth is recommended. It may be necessary to remove all of the teeth for your cat, or your veterinarian may recommend removing your cat’s back teeth, leaving only the canine teeth and incisors. This will depend on your cat’s individual situation.

Feline oral resorptive lesions, sometimes referred to as FORLs, is another common tooth disease in cats, in which there are areas where the tooth is actually being resorbed. They are sometimes also called neck lesions because they frequently occur at the “neck” of the tooth, near the gumline. FORLs are extremely painful lesions and more than one tooth may be affected. Though restoration of these teeth is an option, some veterinarians believe that extraction is the treatment of choice because of the likelihood that these lesions will progress. Your veterinarian will help you make the correct choice for your cat if your cat suffers from this type of lesion.

Regular veterinary checkups are a necessity for all cats and an oral examination should be part of the routine veterinary examination. Your veterinarian will check your cat’s mouth for evidence of plaque accumulation, periodontal disease, stomatitis, FORLs, broken teeth, tumors/growths, and other diseases that could cause problems for your cat.

More information about feline oral resortive lesions, stomatitis and other feline oral health care issues is available through the American Veterinary Dental Society and the Ameican Veterinary Dental College.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Jake Yawn by Wolfhawk / via Flickr

Comments  4

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  • Toothache!
    09/17/2012 06:55am

    Anyone who has ever had a toothache or some kind of mouth problem should realize that the same thing can happen to their critter.

    It's so important to assure the Fluffy or Fido gets the dental care they need. Not only can it be very painful and keep Fluffy or Fido from eating, problems can go systemic and cause more serious problems.

  • cats mask pain
    09/17/2012 11:32am

    My Lacey had her annual vet check in August 2011 (she had the 2012, too, don't worry). On that occasion, her vet said she needed a cleaning. I sighed and said it would have to wait till I got my tax return as I did not have an extra $400. Cut to February 2012 when I schedule the dental service for her. Between August and February, Lacey broke a tooth down to the gumline. I had no idea, she gave no sign that I could discern. The vet told me that even while Lacey was under anesthesia, when they touched the area near the broken tooth, her heart rate picked up. I felt terrible when I heard this bug honestly I had no idea she was in pain. Cats are amazing at hiding pain, something I have now seen first hand.

  • Products
    09/17/2012 12:20pm

    Do any of the liquid dental products work? I have a 8 year old cat with FIV so he is prone to dental issues. I've never been able to brush his teeth (he fights me and has the smallest mouth I've ever seen!). I do give him Greenies but the plauqe still builds up. Do any of the drinkable or spray on products work to clear up or just prevent plauqe/tartar build up? I don't want to have him put under every year for a cleaning.

  • 09/17/2012 01:19pm

    @Danika, one thing we learned early on with our FIV+ boy was that he probably became FIV+ based upon his attitude toward the rest of the world. We couldn't clean his teeth, either, and did have to have him put under yearly, but for a lion cut, (underhairs matting). We would take that yearly event to have any bloodwork, checking and cleaning done. He eventually died of a heart attack caused by the fact that he went into mourning when he lost his best friend, (dog), and kept dropping into fatty liver disease no matter what we tried. He just wouldn't eat, and wore his body out. Whether the heart attack was contributed to by the yearly checkups we don't know, but as there had never been an indication during his yearly checkups, I sincerely doubt it.

    That isn't to say that every cat is different. Our boy had the strongest, healthiest teeth and gums to the end. I think there are specific clades of FIV that are more prone to specific weaknesses such as stomatitis as I haven't heard of it in our area where we have the same type of clade you find in Asia. That may also mean that for your cat, the clade you experience may cause cardiac weaknesses too, I guess.

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