What Every Cat Owner Should Know About Dental Care for Cats
Dental care is important in people, so why shouldn’t it be in cats? Just like the people that care for them, cats need routine professional dental care because dental health is important for overall health. Many cats don't get their teeth brushed regularly, let alone daily, at home. As veterinarians, we generally suggest that most cats should have already had their first dental exam - as well as a cleaning and radiographs or X-rays - by the time they are four years old.
Contact a local veterinarian to find out the best schedule, techniques, and products for your own cat dental care.
Dental Disease in Cats
Dental disease is a very painful disease process, and this is particularly true for cats. Cat teeth are essential to chewing food properly and keeping jawbones in the correct orientation. In addition, taking care of your cat's teeth is crucial to overall health.
Even with regular dental care, some cats can develop painful lesions in their mouths - generally along the gum line - known as neck lesions. And just as in people, cats can develop periodontal disease. It’s not known why some cats are more predisposed to lesions than others, but all cats can benefit from good dental care.
It's not just that lesions in the mouth can become painful. Periodontal disease is a chronic source of infection for your cat and can cause them severe health issues, which is just another reason why dental care for cats is so imperative.
Professional Dental Cleanings
Most veterinarians conduct routine cat teeth cleaning. While you might be able to brush your cat's teeth at home, there's no way to perform a thorough cleaning without having your cat anesthetized. Even more so than in dogs, radiographs of cats’ mouths are important to have taken at the same time. While you can see part of their teeth clearly, over half of their teeth are typically located below the gum line.
Neck lesions occur at the place where the gum line hits the tooth, and that's where most dental disease occurs in cats. Without taking a radiograph, you and your veterinarian can't see the disease that may be occurring below the gum line. With a radiograph, your veterinarian can see where tooth roots may be resorbing and being broken down, which tends to be a very painful process.
When your cat goes into the veterinarian for an annual exam, your vet is going to take a look at his or her mouth and ideally perform a complete oral exam. Your veterinarian will look at the teeth, the gum line, and even the back of the mouth, where some cats develop painful lesions. This will give your vet the information needed to make recommendations about home care and professional dental cleanings.
The Dental Cleaning
When your cat is going to have a dental cleaning, there is some basic prep work that is involved. If your cat is older, your veterinarian will perform blood work, although some routinely do this for all pets as part of a pre-surgical evaluation. If your cat has heart disease, your vet will generally have a radiograph taken of the chest to evaluate the heart. And on the night before the dental cleaning, your veterinarian will have your cat fast.
On the morning of the dental cleaning, your cat will typically have a pre-anesthetic exam. Your veterinarian and vet team will determine a plan of action, which largely depends on how severe the dental disease is. This can affect what kinds of pre-anesthetic medications are given. To provide supportive care, most places also put an IV catheter in place in your cat's leg.
Once it is time for the dental cleaning, your veterinarian's team will induce anesthesia with an IV anesthetic delivered through the catheter. An endotracheal tube will be placed to provide airway support, which is also the way air and anesthetic gases are delivered. After the team does a thorough cleaning, each of the teeth is assessed, including probing the pockets of the gums. Finally, a thorough set of radiographs should be taken to assess the teeth and roots. Any teeth with disease, such as a neck lesion or abscess, should be addressed and possibly subject to cat tooth extraction. It is important to understand that diseased or broken teeth are very painful.
Most hospitals will call the owner with the treatment plan and explain what needs to occur if the exam and x-rays reveal additional issues. After the oral surgery, your veterinarian will take another look in your cat's oral cavity. Sometimes additional treatments are needed for the gums, depending on whether or not there is periodontal disease.
Finally, it's time to wake your cat up. He or she is slowly recovered, and pain medications will often be given if extractions have been performed.
Your Cat's Aftercare
After your cat has had a dental cleaning, your veterinarian may need to send some antibiotics and/or additional pain medication home. Your cat may be sedated when first arriving at home due to the anesthesia or pain medication given. He or she should be able to walk around, and most cats are generally able to eat that night. It may take up to around 24 hours for your cat to recover and be back to normal.
Anesthesia-Free Dental Cleanings
You might be wondering why cats can't have anesthesia-free dental cleanings, especially if you worry about an older cat. Think about how your cat might have to be held down to fully clean the teeth, just on the external surface, let alone if any periodontal therapies or extractions are necessary. It would be a terrible experience for the cat and dangerous to boot, not to mention impossible to do a proper job. The cosmetic job of doing an anesthesia-free dental cleaning has no real benefit to your cat. As such, your cat should have annual dental cleanings under anesthesia to help prevent periodontal disease and allow painful lesions to be treated effectively.
Don’t wait until your cat is in pain. Reach out to a veterinarian near you to schedule cat dental care to ensure a happy, healthy, and ideally pain-free life for your furry feline.