Like people, cats need dental help. I bet you didn’t know that many felines will have some form of periodontal disease by three or four years old. Cats are often considered low-maintenance, and they can be in comparison to other animals and humans. Yet, they need dental checkups too. Think of it this way: if you didn’t have a dental checkup for five years, no matter how well you took care of your teeth, you would probably have something wrong. You would likely have plaque and tartar buildup, if not something more pressing. Think of your cat’s dental care like that. Just like in humans, periodontal disease can cause major dental issues, pain, tooth loss, and has also been linked to kidney, liver, heart, and other chronic illnesses.
There is a common myth that lives on amongst cat owners: “If I feed my cat dry kibble, he/she won’t have any dental issues because it takes care of the plaque and tartar buildup. But if I feed them only wet food, their teeth will be terrible.” This isn’t 100% true. While allowing your cat to gnaw on raw bones or dental treats can be beneficial, consuming a dry kibble-only diet is not good for their digestive health. Sure, it may help break up some tartar and plaque buildup, but it will likely cause some damage to their digestive tract down the line.
I know what you’re thinking. “There is absolutely no way my cat will let me brush his/her teeth.” And you may absolutely be correct with this (my cat is one of thooooose…), but like with most things with cats, it takes some easing in. So don’t give up immediately!
If possible, it’s best to start their dental routine when they are young, as brushing their teeth is the best way to battle and prevent periodontal disease. So here are a few things to add into your cat’s dental repertoire that don’t consist of 100% ignoring dental care or just feeding an all-kibble diet.
Yearly Dental Exams
I know this seems kind of silly, but it’s necessary. While you’re at the vet, be sure to mention that it’s time for a dental checkup. Ask them to thoroughly check teeth, gums, and breath. Be sure to mention if you’ve noticed any bleeding in your cat’s mouth, specifically around the gum area, or any changes in their appetite or eating habits.
To get a thorough exam, your cat may need to be put under anesthesia and have x-rays to determine if there are any issues. If this concerns you, talk to your vet about the side effects of putting your cat under. And don’t worry, there are some vets and clinics that offer dental cleaning without anesthesia. Talking with your vet can help you make an informed decision based on your cat’s health and track record.
Dental Treats and Bones
There are specific dental treats that are made for cats. Some are common household names like (Feline) Greenies and Emerald Pet, but there are also higher-end ones that contain enzymes that help break down the plaque and tartar like Vetriscience and Virbac C.E.T. Finding the right dental treat for your pal should be based on chatting with your vet to find out what he/she needs. Most commonly though, like most things in life, it is nothing but trial and error. If your cat has a chicken allergy, be sure to check the ingredients very carefully as many treats (as well as food) use chicken as a binder.
Additionally, some cats, like dogs, enjoy chewing on bones. If your cat prefers to go the bone route, be sure to use a raw bone as cooked bones tend to break and splinter more easily which can cause a slew of problems on their own. Don’t give your cat chicken, fish, or pork bones as they are very brittle. As always, be sure to check with your vet if bones are better for your pal than dental treats.
There are many different types of dental rinses or water additives that can help reduce (but not completely eliminate!) the bacteria in the mouth that causes periodontal disease. Some are applied to the gum line (this could go one of two ways: your cat may allow this and it may ease you into a brushing future, or they could hate it). Additionally, there are water additives that are put directly into the water. This option may be easier but again, brushing is the best so try to ease your cat into it!
If your cat is younger, there is no better time to start their tooth brushing skills! Like humans, it’s easier to mold the brain and get into habits when you start young (think healthy eating, dental care, exercise, overall healthy lifestyle, second languages, etc). Cats are no different. However, if your cat is older there is still a chance you can get him/her to a place where they allow you to brush their teeth.
First and foremost, never ever use human toothpaste. Normal toothpaste is made for humans and humans alone. There are many different kinds of toothpastes (flavors, consistency, etc) that are made specifically for cats. Cats require different things in their diets than humans do, so it’s no surprise that their toothpaste has different requirements as well.
Don’t jump right into brushing their teeth with a toothbrush. Start small with either a gauze or a finger brush. They’re less intimidating and less invasive. Put a dollop onto the gauze or finger brush and start slowly. The front teeth are the easiest to handle. It gets tougher when you’re trying to get the sides and back. Don’t push it though, if it isn’t going well. You don’t want to make it so your cat doesn’t trust you anytime you try to get near his/her mouth. Do your best and keep building up to it. If you’ve built up to where your cat allows you to brush his/her teeth, CONGRATS! This is top-notch level of impressive. Be sure to give your cat a (dental) treat to thank them for cooperating.
Many of the items mentioned here can be found at online retailers such as Chewy, Amazon, PetSmart, & Petco. Always discuss any changes to your cat’s diet and dental health with your vet first! If you’re looking for a great cat sitter who can keep up your cat’s dental routine while you travel, be sure to book an experienced Meowtel sitter.