Health & Wellness
Cat dental care is often overlooked by pet parents because, honestly, who wants to go poking and prodding around those sharp teeth? And, if you did need to clean your pet’s teeth, would you even know how to?
Here’s a debrief on maintaining your cat’s oral health, so you can help your pet avoid any dental diseases and painful tooth extractions.
Dental diseases are more common in middle-aged cats, although it can occur at any age.
According to Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian, when plaque (a film of bacteria from food and saliva that sticks to your cat’s teeth) isn’t regularly removed, it can harden and bond to their teeth and spread beneath the gums — this is called tartar buildup.
Irritation and bacteria from tartar buildup can cause a form of gum disease called gingivitis, which is basically painful swelling and redness of the gums. Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease — which is a serious infection and inflammation that can damage the gums and jawbone and lead to tooth loss if left untreated, Dr. McCullough adds.
Cats struggling with a dental disease may be in pain but not showing it, as cats are really good at hiding when they’re hurting. That’s why it’s important to take your pet for regular checkups, even if they’re acting healthy.
If your cat starts showing the following symptoms, Dr. McCullough says it’s especially important to get them checked out by a vet:
A vet can determine the status of your cat’s oral health through a dental exam, which is typically performed under anesthesia. “A feline dental exam includes a visual examination, dental charting and X-rays,” Dr. McCullough says. Dental charting is when a veterinarian uses a tool called a “probe” to detect any abnormalities in your cat’s mouth. “Examination of other oral structures such as the gums, hard and soft palette, inner cheeks, tongue and tonsils occurs during a cat dental exam as well,” she adds.
If your vet diagnoses your cat with a dental disease, they may recommend removing one (or more) of your cat’s 30 permanent adult teeth.
The most common reason vets extract cat teeth is due to a condition called feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL), or tooth resorption, Dr. McCullough says. Resorption is a fancy way to refer to teeth that are eroding or being worn down. The symptoms of tooth resorption in cats include:
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Tooth extractions likely involve anesthesia plus surgery — they often cost between $300 to $1,300. “The cost can vary depending on the geographic location, whether a veterinary dental specialist is performing the dental cleaning and extent of dental treatment required,” Dr. McCullough says.
Your cat’s mouth will most likely be tender after a tooth extraction. Make sure your veterinarian sends you home with sufficient medication to keep your cat comfortable. Usually, cats start to feel better a few days after their procedure, Dr. McCullough says.
Ask your vet for detailed instructions on feeding and nursing care during the postoperative period. While your cat may not feel up for meals right away, they should be back to eating relatively soon after their extractions. Dr. McCullough notes that soft or canned food is easier on their gums, but if your cat only eats dry kibble, then stick with that (as long as it’s OK with your vet). Consult your vet if your cat isn’t eating within 24 hours after returning home.
According to Dr. McCullough, setting up a routine professional oral cleaning for your cat is always a good idea — they often include thorough examinations of the teeth, gums, tongue and tonsils. X-rays may be necessary to detect signs of injury or disease in your cat’s mouth.
“In general, yearly dental cleanings are recommended to remove plaque and tartar and to treat early signs of periodontal disease,” she adds. “Some cats may require more or less frequent cleanings based on their individual needs.”
A professional cleaning for your cat’s teeth will probably range between $800 to $1,600 — but, similar to having your cat’s teeth extracted, it depends on several factors.
Talk to your veterinarian about the best way to keep your cat’s teeth clean at home. Dr. McCullough recommends slowly introducing dental cleaning to your cat’s daily routine — depending on your vet’s instructions, you may want to try out cat-friendly toothbrushes and dental treats.
“Daily brushing is best, but always start with a clean healthy, mouth, like after a professional cleaning. Because if dental disease is already present, it will make brushing painful and your cat will likely be less tolerant of brushing in the future,” Dr. McCullough says.
When it comes to your cat’s oral health, the best way to avoid costly vet bills is by helping your cat maintain good dental health. But, if your pet ends up needing treatment, Fetch pet insurance covers injury and disease in every adult tooth.
The Dig is the expert-backed editorial from Fetch Pet Insurance. We're here to answer all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park.
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