Looking after your cat's mouth
Just like ours, our cat's mouths need looking after. Bad dental health can lead to a number of nasty diseases and even cause tooth loss.
A cat's mouth isn't the cleanest of places at the best of times. A lot of bacteria will get in your cat's mouth every day from eating, grooming and whatever they get up to during their day. To keep your cat as healthy as possible you'll need to give them a bit of help with their hygiene.
There are plenty of things you can do to help improve your cat's dental health.
It may seem like an impossible task, but brushing your cat's teeth can really help them. It's easier if they get used to this as a kitten, but older cats can learn to let your do it too. You'll need:
- Cat-safe toothpaste. Never use human toothpastes on your pets, as they can't spit it out
- Cat toothbrush, finger brush or microfiber cloth designed for tooth cleaning.
You'll need to slowly get your cat used to having their teeth brushed. Follow these simple steps and remember to only move on when your cat is totally happy with the step you're on:
- Give them a little of the toothpaste on your finger around the same time every day. This will get them used to the taste and smell. If they won't take it off your finger at first, you can offer it to them on a food bowl or put a small spot of it on their front leg so they lick it off, and work up to feeding it on your finger.
- Gently touch their lips at the sides of their mouth, avoiding touching their whiskers. Work up to lifting their lips so you can see their teeth.
- Start to gently touch the outer surfaces of their teeth and gums to get them used to being touch around and inside their mouth.
- When they are happy with that, you can start to introduce a little toothpaste on your finger.
- Next, use the toothbrush, making small, circular motions on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Always brush gently and don't brush directly on their gums.
Remember, if your cat already has a problem with their mouth or teeth then they might be quite sore and sensitive around this area. If they show signs of pain or their gums look sore or bleed during any of these steps, then stop the process speak to your vet for further advice.
If your cat really won't tolerate you brushing their teeth, you could try dental gels. You won't need the brush with gels but you will need to put them on your cat's teeth. Try getting them used to having their mouth and teeth touched in the same way as brushing. Once you're both comfortable it should become a daily routine.
Gels don’t remove plaque from your cat’s teeth so they’re not as effective as tooth brushing. They can help to slow down problems from developing.
Like dental gels, mouthwash products that you put in your cat’s water may help slow down the build-up of plaque, but won’t prevent or reduce it like brushing will.
Feeding your cat the right diet can really help keep their mouth healthy. Feed a complete, life stage appropriate commercial diet.
It’s up to you whether you give your cat wet or dry food, or a mix. Dry biscuits can help improve dental health, but wet food will keep them hydrated which can be important if they are prone to certain medical conditions. Feeding them both means they are getting the benefits both types of food have. If you need any guidance you can read up on what to feed your cat.
If your cat is prone to dental problems, your vet can recommend a specially formulated food, designed to stop the build-up of plaque.
You can buy treats for your cat designed to help keep their teeth clean. These are fine as an occasional treat but you shouldn’t rely on them for your cat’s dental health. Try not to feed your cat too many treats to keep their weight down.
The best way to make sure you are keeping your cat’s mouth healthy is regular check-ups with your vet. It’s best to get your cat’s mouth checked every 6-12 months. Signs your cat may have dental problems include:
- sore red gums
- gums that always bleed
- bad breath
- being off their food (their teeth may be too painful to eat)
- grooming themselves less, or not at all
- excessive drooling
- swelling around the jaw or cheeks
- pus or blood coming from the mouth or nose
- loose teeth
If you start to notice these signs, speak to your vet. They’ll be able to give your cat a thorough check.
If your cat has dental problems
Dental problems are fairly common in cats. As soon as you start to notice any symptoms of potential problems see your vet for advice.
Taking care of your cat’s mouth can help to prevent a lot of dental issues. But if your cat does get mouth problems there are steps you can take to make their life easier:
- Keep their mouth clean so the problem doesn’t get worse.
- Make sure any rotten teeth or teeth causing pain are dealt with by your vet. This will usually involve an anaesthetic to remove these problematic teeth.
- Make sure your cat takes the full course of any antibiotics or pain medication prescribed. If you don’t, it could mean your cat doesn’t fully recover. It also gives nasty bugs a chance to develop their own protection against antibiotics , meaning these vital medicines might not be as effective in the future.
- Feed them soft food if they are having trouble eating, or add a bit of warm water to dry food to help soften it before eating.
- Keep their diet balanced as this will help keep their body healthy to fight infection.
- Make sure they have access to plenty of fresh water.
If your vet spots early signs of plaque and tartar build-up causing problems like sore gums, they may recommend a “scale and polish” – similar to a professional clean you would get from your own dentist. This will stop the problem from getting worse and damaging their teeth. It should always be done under anaesthetic so that the vet or vet nurse can properly clean plaque away from under the gums.
Plaque and tartar will come back if you don’t brush your cat’s teeth regularly. Once your cat has had their ‘scale and polish’ it’s important to try to brush your cat’s teeth to avoid them needing more treatment in a year or so.
In later stages of dental disease, some of your cat’s teeth may become rotten, loose or damaged and need to be removed. This is to stop pain, prevent your cat’s jaw bones from getting infected and help stop other teeth rotting. This operation will be done under a general anaesthetic. There is a small risk with any anaesthetic, but dental disease is very painful and it’s important that it is treated to help give your pet a good quality of life. Your vet will look at the risks and benefits and help you decide on what is best for your cat.
Always follow your vet’s advice and call them if you are seeing further problems.
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