Dental Care For Cats

What Every Cat Owner Should Know About Dental Care For Cats

Dental disease is a reality for most cats. Statistics show that dental disease affects nearly 80% of cats over 3 years old. Dental disease is a slowly progressing but serious disease that can cause pain and affect your cats overall health and wellbeing. Many cats will not show signs of dental discomfort or pain, because the pain associated with dental problems comes on slowly over time.  Cats simply learn to live with the pain. That is why it is important that all cats see a veterinarian at least once a year to assess their oral health.

What Is Proper Dental Hygiene For Your Cat's Teeth?

There are several ways to ensure proper cat dental care. All of them involve diligence and commitment from you as a cat owner. Your feline friend will not tell you if he or she needs dental care, so it is up to you to proactively address their needs.

  • Good nutrition is the foundation for good dental health. Gone are the days when we believed kibble was best for keeping teeth healthy.  Wet food now reigns supreme for cat health. 
  • When possible establish a cat teeth cleaning routine when your cat is young.  
  • Schedule semi-annual exams for cats
  • Watch for signs of possible dental issues such as bad breath
  • Tell your vet during the checkup about any behaviors you've noticed, or concerns you have
  • Early prevention is extremely important to avoiding or treating serious dental issues

Proper cat teeth cleaning consists of an oral exam and x-rays under anesthesia in order to properly diagnose any dental disease that may be present. Most dental disease in cats is under the gum line, not seen by the "naked eye".

How Often Is It Necessary To Clean A Cat's Teeth?

The recommended frequency of cleaning your cat's teeth depends upon several factors such as:

  • age
  • genetics
  • diet
  • lifestyle
  • existence of other health conditions

Regardless of signs or symptoms, your cat should have a dental checkup annually at a minimum. While you should be looking at your cat's teeth periodically yourself, it is easy to miss the types of problem signs that a trained and experienced veterinarian will pick up on. It is significantly easier to address and resolve dental issues that are spotted early, compared to dental issues that go unnoticed and are allowed to further develop. Therefore, a proactive approach to feline dentistry is recommended.

Many cats will allow you to brush their teeth. You should brush your cat's teeth daily with specially designed brushes and feline hygiene products. Our technicians are trained to provide instructions on how you can brush your cat's teeth at home. Let us work with you to ensure the best possible dental health for your cat.

Cat Dental Radiographs

Dental radiographs are an invaluable diagnostic tool available to help our veterinarians assess the overall health of your pet’s mouth. They allow our veterinarians to visually examine the internal anatomy of the teeth as well as disease below the gum line, including tooth roots and their surrounding bone. In fact, 60 percent of dental disease occurs below the gum line and can’t be seen to the ‘naked’ eye. This is what makes dental radiographs so necessary and invaluable. Taking dental radiographs requires that the patient is anesthetized or sedated and is usually done as part of a dental cleaning, especially when extractions are needed.

Dental Disease In Cats

Dental disease in cats include gingivitis and periodontal disease that may require medication and or dental work to alleviate the pain. Gingivitis, or gum disease, can become periodontal disease if it spreads into the tooth. Periodontal disease is considered the most prevalent illness in cats over three years of age. However, it is also the most under diagnosed, because many cat owners unfortunately just do not realize the importance of cat dental care. Although detection of cat gum disease can be subtle, periodic veterinary checkups every 6-12 months can be effective in helping diagnose cat dental disease before it becomes severe.

Gum disease has four stages:

  • Early gingivitis
  • Advanced gingivitis
  • Early periodontitis
  • Established periodontitis

Gum disease in cats is only reversible if caught early on, and only the early gingivitis stage is considered fully reversible. Therefore, it is your responsibility to keep your cat's mouth, teeth and gums healthy. 

Feline Odontoclastic Resorption Lesions (FORL)

Feline tooth resorption is a common and painful condition in cats.  Tooth resorption affects an estimated 20 percent to 60 percent of all cats and close to three-quarters of those five years of age and older. The teeth become functionally destroyed as a result of tooth (dental) resorption.  his is very close to the area where the tooth meets the gum line.  Initially, it appears that the gingival tissue is growing into the tooth or is covering over the base of the tooth. In some cases, there appears to be a "hole in the tooth".  Some teeth undergoing tooth resorption are not clinically apparent until dental radiographs are taken.

The exact cause of tooth resorption has not been definitively established. It is therefore not possible to effectively prevent tooth resorption.  Early recognition by performing thorough oral exams with intraoral probing and dental radiography is the best strategy to help these cats. It is common that a cat diagnosed with tooth resorption, will likely develop more resorptive lesions in the future.  For this reason, dental radiographs are essential to monitor these cats to allow early diagnosis and prevention or elimination of pain.

The only effective treatment is extraction of any affected teeth. Treatment is curative. However, cats who produce these lesions are likely to produce more in their lifetime and will require annual care.

There will be various levels of resorption in affected teeth, and the destruction can occur at varying speeds until it progresses to a point at which it must be clinically addressed.  A cat may lose just one tooth in its lifetime because of this problem, although it can have a little bit of resorption on other roots that may not require treatment.

The clinical signs of tooth resorption include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Swallowing food without chewing
  • Suddenly preference for soft food
  • Clear demonstration of pain when it bites down on an affected tooth
  • Normal appetite, but the cat tilts its head and tries to chew on just one side of its mouth  
  • Food may fall out of mouth


Cats with lymphocytic, plasmacytic, gingivitis or stomatitis have inflammation of the oral cavity. It occurs in cats of all breeds and of all ages.  Some breeds such as Himalayans, Persians are over represented.

Cats having stomatitis have red and inflammed gums (gingiva) and often have bad breath (halitosis). As the condition progresses, the inflammation spreads from areas adjacent to teeth to all over the mouth. Eating and  swallowing become difficult and painful for many of these cats. Cats with stomatitis can be in tremendous pain.  They have a life threatening condition and the optimal treatment is full mouth dental extraction.  The earlier we treat these cats, the better their chance for long-term improvement.  

The history of oral inflammation along with a thorough oral examination are typically enough to establish a preliminary diagnosis of stomatitis.  For example, a long duration of oral inflammation with a widespread location of tissues involved is typical of feline stomatitis.  However, a short duration of oral inflammation may be the beginning of stomatitis or an entirely different disease such as allergies, foreign body irritation, periodontal disease or tooth resorption.  Therefore an early, correct diagnosis is very important.  If the inflammation is not widespread and is localized to a specific area, other diseases should be considered. Biopsies may help differentiate stomatitis from oral cancer or a localized infectious disease process.

Treatment for feline stomatitis is dependent on the individual case.  Stomatitis affects cats differently, so there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The ability  to provide home care (daily teeth brushing) is also a factor in treatment planning.  Medical, surgical and combination therapy options are available. Medical therapy has provided short-term control for feline stomatitis; however, the long term results are extremely disappointing.  Dental extractions offer remarkable, immediate pain relief with long-term control of feline stomatitis. 

Cat Tooth Extraction

Cat tooth extraction is an important and beneficial dental procedure.  The vast majority of dental extractions are performed as a result of advanced dental disease and a means to manage dental pain. Depending on which teeth need to be removed, different techniques are used. Tooth removal is permanent and non-reversible. It is however extremely effective at removing a constant source of discomfort and pain from a diseased tooth. 

Other reasons for cat tooth extraction include:

  • Retained deciduous or maloccluded teeth are less common causes for extraction
  • Dental caries, FORLs or teeth that are severely infected are always considered for extraction
  • Cats that suffer from root abscess or jaw fractures may be treated with either root canal therapy or tooth extractions based on the severity

Gum healing takes approximately 10 to 14 days. After having teeth removed most cats find it easier to eat soft food during the healing process.

The cost of cat tooth extraction is based on the type of procedure performed, and may include hospitalization, anesthesia, pre-anesthetic blood work, IV catheter and fluids, monitoring, x-rays and surgical supplies. Therefore, it's best to always take preventive measures to avoid surgeries and cat tooth extraction procedures.

Common Cat Dental Problems

  • Plaque build-up
  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontal disease
  • Tooth loss
  • Mouth sores and ulcers
  • Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORL)
  • And, like in humans, kidney, liver, and heart disease

Cats are very adept at hiding symptoms of pain and illness. Bad breath is the only symptom of dental problems that you are at all likely to observe in your cat. If your cat has noticeable bad breath, you should schedule a dental exam with your veterinarian. However, in severe cases you may also notice one of the following symptoms:

  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Drooling
  • Problems eating, loss of appetite
  • Red, swollen, bleeding gums
  • Loose, broken, missing teeth
  • Blood in saliva or nasal discharge
  • Lesions in mouth

Your cat may very well have dental issues that require attention and NOT show any of the symptoms listed above. However, if any of the above symptoms are observed, please schedule a veterinary appointment right away.

Schedule A Cat Dental Care Appointment

Scheduling a cat dental care appointment is as easy as picking up the phone, or sending us an email. Our staff is here to help make your trip teasy for you, while making it as painless and comfortable for your feline friend as possible.

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