Diet and Dental Health in Cats

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Jun. 7, 2013

The best way to ward of many forms of dental disease in cats is to brush teeth. I always recommend tooth brushing to my clients, but let’s be honest, it is just not feasible with some individuals.

The most common form of dental disease in cats begins when saliva, food, and bacteria accumulate on the surface of teeth, forming a sticky substance known as plaque. Within just a couple of days, minerals in saliva infuse the plaque and harden it into tartar. Plaque and tartar are irritating to the gums and contain a lot of bacteria, leading to gum inflammation and infection, otherwise known as gingivitis. Progressive inflammation and infection eventually damage the tissues surrounding teeth, producing periodontal disease and possibly tooth root abscesses and loose teeth that may eventually fall out.

Cats with dental disease frequently have bad breath and discolored teeth, but they may also drool, lose weight, have red gums that bleed easily, exhibit oral pain, and develop pockets of pus that drain onto the surface of the face or into the nose, causing sneezing and nasal discharge. The infection and inflammation associated with dental disease can also spread throughout the body and adversely affect the liver, kidneys, and heart.

As I said at the offset, the best way to prevent dental disease is to clean your cat’s teeth daily. A pet toothpaste or gel applied to soft bristle toothbrush, finger brush, or even a piece of gauze or a washcloth is ideal. But for those individuals that won’t tolerate having their mouths handled, offering foods and treats specifically designed to remove plaque and tartar from the teeth is certainly better than completely ignoring oral care.

Research has shown that “regular” dry food does not offer any advantage over canned when it comes to dental health. The best products are those that carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal. The ability of these foods and treats to remove plaque and/or tartar has been tested and the results reviewed and certified by VOHC. If your cat eats primarily a canned diet, you can offer a few dental treats or kibbles of a VOHC certified food once a day and still see meaningful results.

Even when owners do a wonderful job with home dental care, either through tooth brushing or through the use of a VOHC approve food/treat, dental disease will probably still develop at some point in a cat’s life. Plaque and tartar eventually find a foothold, so to speak, in a cat’s mouth and some types of dental disease (e.g., feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions) appear to be immune to all forms of preventive care. Your veterinarian can recommend appropriate treatment options when the time is right.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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