Your cat is counting on you to take care of his teeth
Dental health care is just as important for cats as it is for dogs. By the time cats turn 3 years old, many have periodontal disease -- a disease that causes pain and negatively affects their overall health, including infection in the kidney, liver, lungs and heart.
The best way to protect your cat from periodontal disease is to prevent it. The best way to keep your kitty's gums and teeth healthy is to brush them. If you have a kitten, it will be a lot easier to introduce brushing into your regular routine. If your cat is already an adult, it will take time and patience.
Begin by putting toothpaste on your finger and letting him lick it off. Then let him lick it from his cat-friendly toothbrush. Be sure to use pet-specific toothpaste -- it is available in flavors he'll like and won't harm him when he swallows it.
Put toothpaste on your finger and gently massage his gums. Move through these steps at your cat's pace and always offer love and treats. When he's comfortable, it's time to start brushing.
Begin by brushing his upper teeth on the outsides. Gently brush in an oval pattern. As your kitty allows, move to the rest of his teeth. If the process is derailed whenever the brush is introduced, try using a finger brush.
If brushing your cat's teeth is impossible, there are other products that may help. There are dental wipes that are rubbed on the teeth and gums; water additives that are added to the water bowl; and dental sprays that are sprayed on the teeth and gums. Dental diets and treats are also available that help to break down plaque and slow the formation of tartar. But none of these are as effective as a routine of regular brushing.
A dental exam at the veterinarian is also critical in providing the best oral health care for your cat. Cats are wired to hide weaknesses, and often do not show signs of discomfort until the problem is severe. Your cat should have a dental exam at least once a year (every six months is even better).
Signs your cat should see the vet as soon as possible include inflamed gums, bleeding along the gum line or sores on the gums. Other symptoms include excessive drooling, pawing at his mouth or not eating as usual. And, of course, a telltale sign of dental disease is bad breath.
It is common for veterinarians to recommend dental cleanings. These are performed under anesthesia so a thorough scaling and polishing of the teeth and cleaning under the gum line can be performed. To ensure your cat is healthy enough to receive anesthesia, blood work will be done in advance.
How often cats should have their teeth cleaned depends on several factors, including their age, diet, genetics, lifestyle and other risk factors of their current health status.
As cats age, some develop lesions on their teeth. When they occur below the gum line, affected teeth are often extracted. Other factors leading to tooth extraction include severe gum or periodontal disease and root abscesses.
Just as you pay attention to your own oral health, your feline friend is counting on you to look after his, too. And he will reward you with a longer, happier and healthier life (and a lot more cuddles).
• Diana Stoll is the Practice Manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital with locations in Hampshire and Gilberts. Visit the website at redbarnpetvet.com/ or call (847) 683-4788 (Hampshire) or (847) 426-1000 (Gilberts).