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Recognizing when your cat needs a dentist


Many cat owners don't give much thought to their pets' oral health, but dental problems are one of the most common feline health issues. About 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society, and a study performed by the American Animal Hospital Association showed that approximately two-thirds of pet owners do not provide the dental care that is considered essential by most veterinarians.

Besides being extremely painful for your cat, feline dental issues may lead to problems eating and, left untreated, can lead to serious damage of the heart, liver and kidneys.

So how do you know if your cat needs a trip to the dentist? Besides taking your cat to the veterinarian on a regular basis, you can keep an eye out for these symptoms:

  • Yellow and brown tartar buildup along the gum line
  • Red, inflamed or bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Excessive salivation

If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your veterinarian right away for a professional examination. Let's look at some of the more common dental problems in cats.

Resorptive lesions

Resorptive lesions, also known as cavities, are the most common feline dental problem - 28 percent of cats develop this problem at least once at some point in their lives, according to www.petdental.com. The molar teeth are more commonly affected. These lesions cause the affected tooth to erode and eventually be reabsorbed back into the body.

Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is an infection of the tissues that surround your cat's teeth caused by plaque and tartar. Without routine care, plaque - caused by a thin film of bacteria - may build up on your cat's teeth. Untreated, this plaque can calcify and harden into tartar, which provides a surface for even more bacteria to grow and can cause gums to become red and swollen. If plaque and tartar buildup continue below the gum line, the bacteria can eat away at the surface of a tooth, cause an infection in the roots and even erode the bone socket that holds the tooth in place. It's this tissue damage and infection that causes bad breath in many cats.

Broken or fractured teeth

Another common dental problem for cats is broken or fractured teeth. These can lead to abscesses and become infected, initiating problems in the heart, liver or kidneys.

Lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis (LPS)

Caused by an atypical immune system response, this disease causes the tissues in the mouth to become bright red and inflamed. It's relatively common in adult cats and can be very painful. As a result, some cats stop eating completely. Often LPS can be treated with a professional cleaning and anti-inflammatory medicine.

The home oral exam

Many dental problems don’t have immediately noticeable symptoms. Veterinary dental specialists recommend that cat owners conduct a brief oral exam once a month—it might help you catch a problem before it becomes serious.

First place your cat on a table in a well-lit room and examine his face and neck, paying special attention to the eyes and near the nose. You're looking for any swelling that might indicate a broken tooth, infection or abnormal lumps.

Next, smell her breath to see if you detect any foul odor. If you can do so safely, open your cat's mouth and look for redness, swelling or bleeding near the gumlines. Gently press on her teeth to see if any are loose; often caused by periodontal disease, loose teeth may cause difficulty eating. Look for any cavities, especially near the gum line. If possible, run a cotton-tipped swab around the gumline near suspected lesions—if your cat's jaw starts to quiver or chatter, it may indicate a cavity. As a final step, check for oral tumors, especially around the gumline, under the tongue or inside the cheeks.

If you find anything suspicious, make an appointment with your veterinarian for a full oral exam.

Preventive care

One of the best ways to prevent periodontal disease is by brushing your cat's teeth on a regular basis, daily if possible. It may seem difficult at first, but even adult cats can eventually come to enjoy, or at least tolerate, having their teeth brushed. Start slow with short sessions. Dip your finger in some tuna water and rub your cat's teeth in a circular motion. Eventually, you can work your way up to using a toothbrush and toothpaste especially designed for pets. (Don't use human toothpaste; your cat may swallow it.) It may not be possible for you to brush your cat's teeth as often as you like, so your veterinarian may also be able to recommend special foods that help keep your cat's teeth free from tartar buildup in-between brushings.

While there are many things you can do at home, there's no substitute for regular checkups with your veterinarian. He or she may be able to spot problems you haven't found and help you with professional cleanings and follow-up care, as necessary. You should schedule an appointment that includes an oral exam at least once a year.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be doing a lot to help your cat live a long, healthy and comfortable life. Do you have a story to share about your cat and dental issues? Let us know in the comments section below!

Sources:

“The Dental Care Series.” By Jan Bellows, D.V.M., DipAVDC. Veterinary Information Network. Accessed August 2, 2010, at: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=SRC&S=1&SourceID=13

“Pets Need Dental Care Too.” Website accessed August 2, 2010, at: http://www.petdental.com

“AAHA Dental Care Guidelines.” American Animal Hospital Association. Website accessed August 2, 2010, at: http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/DogCareArticle.aspx?art_key=53d99aad-e759-473e-8977-f8f75eefb754

“Pet Columns: Dentistry.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine website. Accessed August 2, 2010, at: http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/classification_search_result.php?FLAG=DISPLAY&CLASSIFICATIONID=12&CLASSNAME=Dentistry


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