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posted: 2/16/2014 1:01 AM

Take care of your cat's dental health now to avoid problems later

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  • Cashmere, a 10-year-old, male.

    Cashmere, a 10-year-old, male.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Spooky is an 11-year-old male.

    Spooky is an 11-year-old male.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Puma was born in 2012.

    Puma was born in 2012.
    Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

By Mary Hayashi

If you look at the inside of your feline's mouth you will see feline perfection, based on the functionality of the large, fang-like teeth, tearing molars and baby grooming incisors. That is a lot of mouth to keep in great working condition, including teeth and gums.

Why should we be obsessed with our feline's dental health? Prevention of periodontal disease is key. If periodontal disease occurs, you will be dealing with a lot of problems, from tooth loss to infections and, ultimately, bacteria going into a feline's blood stream that can damage major organs.

Water additives, hard food and treats can be a great aid, but not the ultimate end-all cure. Nothing beats simple brushing of your feline's teeth. If your cat refuses to let you use a finger brush, start with something less invasive, like gauze, and work you way back to a finger brush or child's toothbrush.

Pet toothpastes can make the chore more tolerable for both of you. Your feline needs to accept teeth cleaning as a tasty treat. A work of caution regarding toothpastes: NEVER use human toothpaste. You will make your feline sick to its stomach, and the cat will never let you near its mouth again with that type of negative experience.

Before you approach with feline toothpaste just practice handling your feline's head by gently opening the mouth and inspecting the teeth. If this is routinely practiced, your feline will let you take the next progression of steps, i.e., the ultimate goal of brushing.

Sometimes tuna juice or canned food gravy can coax your feline to let you explore the mouth. Feline specific bottled gravy is also available at most pet stores.

Wrapping a feline in a towel or blanket can also have a calming effect. Just know your feline's body language to know how much cleaning can be accomplished in any given session.

You should also start in small sections of the mouth, to see how tolerant your feline is to the experience. If you go slowly your feline will tolerate continued cleanings. You may find that your first experience with brushing may take you a week or more to clean the entire mouth.

Patience is key for both you and your feline in the initial acclimation to tooth brushing or cleaning. A reward with a tasty treat also makes the experience positive for both of you.

Finally, home care is only one part of the battle for a healthy feline mouth. Annual visits to your veterinarian for dental checks and possible cleanings are a must. Professional care is a crucial preventive measure for a healthy, happy feline mouth for the life of your pet.

February, coincidentally, happens to be dental maintenance month, so you have added incentive to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Preventive measure will, in time, actually save you money on veterinary expenses. More is really less.

• The Buddy Foundation is a not-for-profit (501c3), all volunteer, no-kill animal shelter dedicated to the welfare of stray, abused, and abandoned cats and dogs. For more information, call The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806 or visit