Oral hygiene is an area of health that is often overlooked. This is unfortunate because at times, your dental health can be an indicator of other general health issues which include but are not limited to respiratory, heart and kidney disease. The same is true for our furry counterparts, but unfortunately for them, they do not have the ability to communicate when they have a tooth ache or canker sore, and do not have scheduled visits with the dentist every six months. Therefore, it becomes our responsibility as cat owners (or should I say cohabitants with cats?) to monitor their dental health – with help from our veterinarians of course!
If dental issues do arise, it can not only cause discomfort to your kitty, but the solution may end up being fairly costly if oral surgery is required. With that being said, prevention (by creating an oral health routine with your kitties) is the best way to protect your cats and your wallet! Routine check-ups with your vet can give you a good idea of the state of your kitty’s dental health, but it is important to check for yourself between visits. There are a couple of easy ways to do this. The most basic way to check your kitty’s oral situation is by smelling their breath. Now, keep in mind that our cats cannot brush their own teeth – so we shouldn’t be shocked by a little odour, but pungent foul smelling breath should raise some red flags. Another fairly self-explanatory way to check for any issues is to look inside your kitty’s mouth! This may sound intrusive, or difficult, but if timed properly can work out pretty well! If, during a cuddle session and after some cheek and chin rubbing, you gently push up on your kitty’s lip, you should be able to evaluate the state of their gums and teeth. Gums should not be deep red, or light/white, but instead a nice bubble gum pink is what you should look for. Discolouration of the teeth should also be noted, and of course if you see any ulcers/sores in the kitty’s mouth, you should notify your veterinarian.
If your kitty’s mouth looks like it is healthy and clean, you’ll surely want to keep it that way! Wild cats are constantly chewing on raw meat and bones, which help keep their teeth clear of tartar and plaque. We can provide similar stimulation for our indoor kitties with chew toys – although if the material is too hard, or your kitty is a little too rough, chew toys may also hurt their gums. Petmd.com also suggests giving your kitty de-boned raw meat (like fish, beef or rabbit), or uncooked bones (not pork, chicken or fish, as these bones splinter more easily which could be hazardous if eaten) to chew on, as these reflect their natural method of mouth maintenance.
Diet is another factor that can be modified to improve your kitties dental health. An article from “The North American Veterinary Conference” (2007) suggests that large dry kibble will be better at cleaning the teeth of and removing plaque than other moist or sticky foods. Changing your kitty’s diet is also something that is not difficult or labor intensive for the owners, so it is a fairly simple solution, but may not be enough depending on the state of your cats teeth. The same article warned against treats that claim to have dental benefits, as the effects of these treats are largely unconfirmed.
The most proactive, and apparently beneficial way to keep your cats mouth clean is by brushing their teeth. According to many sources on the internet, cats can be taught fairly easily to have their teeth brushed, but the younger they are when you start the easier it is to persuade them. I have not successfully implemented a brushing routine yet with my kitties, but I have done some research on the topic. From what I’ve read, the best way to approach teeth brushing is slowly and with patience. To get them used to the idea, gently rub their cheeks and lips during your cuddle times. When they are comfortable with you touching around/near your mouth, try sneaking your finger in their mouths and gently massaging their teeth and gums. With time you can add feline formulated toothpaste to your finger, and may even progress to using a pet tooth brush! It is important to not use toothpaste create for human use, as the consumption of fluoride may be harmful to your kitty!
Developing a dental care routine with your kitty may take a lot of time, effort and patience but it is important for keeping your cat healthy, and keeping your vet bills to a minimum! Please keep in mind that we are not veterinarians, and our information has come from internet resources – any questions or concerns you may have should be directed at your vet!
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