New Mexico's Pet Resource SPRING 2008


by Nancy Marano

ďLooks like Sam needs to have his teeth cleaned,Ē our veterinarian said when he finished Sammyís regular yearly exam.

Sammy always passes his physicals with flying colors but now he is becoming a ďsenior cat.Ē At nine years of age Sam still plays like a kitten. But I knew he was reaching an age where I needed to be more vigilant about health problems that might occur.

Heíd never had any dental flare ups and the veterinarian said these looked mild. But he needed to come back for a thorough teeth cleaning and a dental exam under general anesthesia to determine just how significant the problems were.

Seventy percent of cats show signs of dental disease by the time they are two or three years old. Due to the prevalence of feline dental disease, early attention to warning signs benefits your cat in later life. Veterinarians watch for several types of dental problems.

Plaque and tartar:
Bacteria combine with saliva and food debris to form plaque between the tooth and gum. If plaque accumulates, it hardens to form tartar. Plaque is soft and easily brushed off the tooth, but within 24 hours it begins to harden into tartar and can no longer be brushed away. Unless you take proper preventive or therapeutic measures, the buildup of plaque and tartar can lead to periodontal disease.

Periodontal Disease:
This gum disease is the number one diagnosed dental problem in cats and dogs. Symptoms of periodontal disease are red, swollen gums, receding gums, bleeding, pain or bad breath. Bad breath in cats isnít normal. If your cat has bad breath, it is a warning that his teeth should be checked by the veterinarian. Untreated periodontal inflammation and infection is often called a ďsilent killerĒ because it is associated with other serious diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, emphysema, liver disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and pregnancy difficulties, according to Dr. Brook Niemiec, a board certified specialist in veterinary dentistry.

Cat Cavities:
ďCat cavities,Ē also are known as Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORLS) or cervical line lesions. They are found in 60% of cats and are the second most common dental disease. FORLS are erosions in the tooth enamel at or below the gum line. They cause a hole to form into the root canal. These are painful and often make a cat stop eating. The cause of FORLS is not known with any certainty. Some veterinarians treat them with special fillings but usually these teeth are pulled to prevent further disease and to allow for healing.

Imagine what your teeth would be like if you didnít brush them for nine years. I hate to think of that scenario in my case. Unfortunately, that often happens with our catís teeth. People donít realize an animalís tooth problems, if left untreated, can lead to other more serious diseases.

All the veterinary dental experts advise brushing your catís teeth daily, just as you do your own. This goal may not be possible for you and your cat. If you can only brush them three times a week, you may reduce plaque by 90%. For those who can manage a once a week brushing, up to 75% of plaque may be removed. Those are impressive statistics. Brushing is easier to accomplish if you start your cat when he is a kitten. Getting my nine-year-old cat to open his mouth while I brush his pearly whites is going to be a real challenge.

If you want to try the brushing routine, here are some helpful hints.

1. Put the cat in your lap but avoid forcibly restraining him. Keep your tone of voice low and conversational. Make the session pleasant, short and positive.
2. Rub the catís cheeks and the outside of his mouth. If he doesnít resist, put your finger inside his mouth. Next, open his mouth. When you manage that feat without being bitten, you are ready to brush his teeth.
It may take quite a while before you and your cat feel comfortable with these steps, but if you can prevent your cat from having dental disease, they will be worth it.
3. Associate these brushing sessions with something pleasant such as dinner or a cat treat. Positive reinforcement will help you reach your goal.
4. Have the right tools. Use a circular-ended brush designed for a catís mouth. There are many veterinary products available for brushing your catís teeth. DO NOT use human toothpaste, though. Human toothpastes contain ingredients that may make your cat sick. There are foods, available from your veterinarian, designed specifically to aid in maintaining dental health. Fluoride rinses also can be added to a catís drinking water to help prevent dental disease. Ask your veterinarian what he would recommend for your cat.
5. Brushing techniques. Place the brush at a 45 degree angle to the gum line and brush with a circular motion. Try to reach the entire outside surface of the tooth. Most cats wonít let you brush the inside of their teeth but this may not be a problem because periodontal disease usually occurs on the outside of the teeth.

Brushing doesnít eliminate the need for your veterinarian to examine your catís teeth regularly and do a professional cleaning when necessary. However, brushing does allow you to detect potential problems while they are still small and easily treated. All of this effort will help your cat keep his teeth and not suffer pain from dental disease and broken teeth. An oral check-up should be part of your catís regular, yearly physical.

Never underestimate the importance of your catís dental health. Dental disease leads to pain for your cat and may lead to other serious medical issues.

Sammy did well with his teeth cleaning session. He has beautiful white teeth again as well as two teeth the veterinarian is watching. Donít take a chance on your catís dental health when help is as close as your vet.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning author who is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

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