If your answer is a resounding “No!” you’re not alone. Few cat owners regularly inspect their cat’s mouths because, let’s face it, cats can be reluctant subjects. And wouldn’t our cats tell us in some way if they were suffering from oral pain or infection? Wouldn’t it be obvious?
While it’s true that some cats suffering from severe dental disease may have bad breath, drool, have difficulty chewing or stop eating altogether, the most common sign that your cat has dental disease is… well… no sign at all. Cats are masters at hiding pain, and dental disease frequently goes unnoticed (and untreated) for months or even years.
Dental disease is Number 1
Veterinary surveys consistently rank dental disease as the most common illness to affect our feline companions. In fact, fully 70% of cats have dental disease by the time they turn 3 years of age. Feline oral health problems include gingivitis (red and swollen gums that bleed easily), broken teeth, ‘resorptive’ lesions (cavity-like depressions in the teeth), periodontal disease (inflammation of the supporting structures of the tooth), and tooth root abscesses. These conditions typically cause pain, infection, tooth loss, and result in a much diminished quality of life for your cat.
Many factors likely contribute to the development of dental disease. A cat’s genetic makeup, its environment, diet, and exposure to certain viruses and bacteria are all thought to have a role in causing oral health problems in cats.
Prevention, prevention, prevention
The best way to deal with dental disease in cats is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. An oral health discussion should be a part of every veterinary visit. Tooth brushing (every day!) is still the most effective way of preventing the build-up of plaque and subsequent gingivitis and periodontitis. Don’t think you can brush your cat’s teeth? Watch this video from the Cornell Feline Health Center for excellent instruction:
Dental diets are also highly effective at preventing plaque and gingivitis.
Of course, if your cat has already been diagnosed with dental disease, early intervention is essential. Your veterinarian will address how best to treat your cat’s problem; this will likely involve a thorough dental exam under general anesthesia often with x-rays, scaling and polishing of the teeth, and extraction of any severely diseased teeth.
“I just didn’t see the pain she was in”
Kerry’s cat, Jane, is 16 years old and had advanced periodontal disease – her mouth was sore and eating was difficult and painful. Jane was drooling, and her weight was declining. Kerry agreed to treatment for Jane’s dental disease – which involved extraction of numerous teeth – and Jane hasn’t looked back.
Kerry wrote these words to us a few weeks after Jane’s dental procedure: “Jane is doing just fantastic! She looks great and is eating very well… she just seems so much better than when you first saw her. Her coat is healthier too. Now it doesn’t hurt to groom herself. I feel bad now for not having brought her in earlier; I just didn’t see the pain she was in and I wanted to protect her from stress. I am so thrilled to see what a difference it has made in her quality of life…”
We couldn’t be more pleased!
[Dr. Glenys Hughes]
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