With major advances in treating serious infectious and other pet diseases, oral disease – most importantly periodontal or gum disease caused by the buildup of plaque and tartar – has become the number-one health problem for cats. It’s estimated that without proper dental care 70% of cats will show signs of oral disease by age three. With your help, your pets can have healthy teeth and gums throughout their lives.
You simply need to provide them with a few things:
- A nutritious diet including raw bones (NEVER cooked) - ask your veterinarian about the best type.
- Chew treats
- Regular brushing at home
- Yearly dental checkups by a veterinarian
Good dental health begins with the proper diet
The wrong kinds of food can cause dental distress in pets. Feeding your cat a dry food rather than a moist, canned one will, through its mild abrasive action on the teeth, help remove the bacterial plaque that can harden into tartar. Dry food also provides adequate chewing exercise and gum stimulation. Avoid giving your pet sweets and table scraps as they may also increase plaque and tartar formation. Your vet may recommend the use of special dry foods designed to reduce plaque and tartar buildup, especially if your pet is prone to dental problems due to their breed or individual genetic history.
Brushing your pet’s teeth
Cats can have their teeth brushed in order to eliminate the dental plaque that can cause tooth decay and the formation of tartar, which can lead to gum disease. You should begin a regular, daily brushing routine as soon as you bring your new kitten home. Even older cats can be trained to accept having their teeth brushed. You simply need to introduce the activity gradually and make the experience a positive one for your pet. Reassure and praise them profusely throughout the process and reward them with a very special treat when it’s finished. Here’s how it can be done:
• Start by dipping a finger in tuna water or warm water.
• Rub this finger gently over your pet’s gums and one or two teeth.
• Repeat until your pet seems fairly comfortable with this activity.
• Gradually, introduce a gauze-covered finger and gently scrub the teeth with a circular motion.
• Then, you can begin to use a toothbrush, either an ultra-soft model designed for people (baby tooth-brushes work well for cats) or a special pet tooth-brush or finger brush, which is a rubber finger covering with a small brush built in at its tip.
• Finally, once your pet is used to brushing, introduce the use of pet toothpaste in liquid or paste form. Most of these contain chlorhexidine or stannous fluoride – ask your veterinarian for his recommendations. Don’t use human toothpaste, as it can upset your pet’s stomach. Your veterinarian may also advise the use of an antiseptic spray or rinse after brushing.
Don’t forget a yearly dental checkup
Doing your best to ensure that your cat receives the proper diet and regular brushing at home will help maintain his teeth and gums in top condition. To provide optimum dental care at home, you need to start with a clean bill of dental health. That’s where your pet’s veterinarian comes in.
He will give your pet a thorough examination of the entire oral cavity to determine whether there are any underlying problems and, especially important, tartar buildup. Brushing removes plaque but not tartar, so if your pet’s teeth do have tartar, your veterinarian will have to remove it with a professional cleaning and polishing, usually accomplished under anaesthesia. After removing the tartar above and below the gum line, your veterinarian may treat your pet’s teeth with fluoride and will provide you with instructions for home care and follow-up.
A few tips:
- Chew treats can help remove plaque, and provide stimulation for the gums.
- Watch out for wood – throwing sticks to dogs or letting your cat pick up a piece of wood with their mouth can result in splinters and gum damage.
- Don’t let your pet chew on hard materials like stones. They can wear down, even break teeth, damage gums and lead to infection.
A few statistics:
- Kittens have their first 26 “milk” or deciduous teeth at 2 to 3 weeks of age. Their 30 permanent teeth begin erupting around 3 months.
- Cats have the fewest teeth of any common domestic mammal.
- Puppies develop their deciduous teeth at 2 weeks of age, with their 42 permanent teeth starting to appear at 3 months.