A cat has their teeth examined by a veterinarian.

Why is Dental Health Important for Cats: An Owners Guide

Cats are not just pets, they are beloved members of our families. As a cat owner, you’re probably already diligent in ensuring that your feline friends receive proper nutrition, regular veterinary check-ups, and affectionate care. However, one aspect of their well-being that often goes overlooked is their oral health. Maintaining good dental hygiene in cats is crucial for their overall health and can contribute to a longer, happier life. 

February is both National Cat Health Month and National Pet Dental Health Month, making it the perfect time to start prioritizing your cat’s oral health. 

Understanding Cat Dental Health

Unlike humans, cats can’t complain when they experience toothaches or gum problems. Dental issues in cats can often go unnoticed until they become severe, leading to discomfort, pain, and potential complications. Regular dental care and yearly check-ups with your vet can help prevent these problems and identify issues in their early stages.

Signs that your cat may be experiencing dental pain, may include: 

  • Bad breath
  • Tooth discolouration
  • Decreased interest in eating dry food or hard treats
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Frequent drooling
  • Pawing at their mouth or face
  • Other behavioural changes (such as an aversion to having their face touched, or hiding more often)

The Importance of Feline Dental Care

Dental health is a critical part of your pet’s overall health. In some cases, problems in the mouth can cause whole-body issues or may be caused by seemingly invisible, underlying health conditions. 

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, between 50-90% of cats over the age of four will develop some form of dental disease. 

Some common dental problems in cats to be aware of, include: 

  • Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease: Just like in humans, the buildup of plaque and tartar can lead to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and, if left untreated, progress to periodontal disease. This can result in tooth loss and even affect other organs, such as the heart and kidneys.
  • Bad Breath (Halitosis): Persistent bad breath can be a sign of dental issues in cats. It’s not just an inconvenience; it could indicate the presence of bacteria in the mouth that may be harmful to your cat’s overall health.
  • Tooth Resorption: This painful condition involves the deterioration of the tooth structure and is relatively common in cats. Regular dental check-ups can help identify and manage tooth resorption before it becomes unbearable for your feline friend.

Feline Dental Disease at MEOW Foundation

One of the first things that happens when a cat arrives at MEOW Foundation is a physical exam with one of our partner vets to identify potential health concerns, and more often than not, the cats that arrive at MEOW have some degree of dental disease. 

The stray and abandoned cats that arrive at our shelter come from a wide range of backgrounds. In some cases, these cats may have lived on the streets their whole lives or have underlying health issues like FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), which can contribute to severe dental disease. 

While cats with mild dental disease may not require any additional medical treatment, cats with more severe dental disease often require tooth extractions and in extreme cases, a full-mouth tooth extraction. In most cases, cats can live happy, healthy lives and even continue eating dry food after a full-mouth extraction. 

If you would like to contribute to MEOW Foundation’s rescue and adoption efforts, please consider donating

MEOW cat Gingey (pictured) retired out of TNR life after he needed a full mouth extraction. He is now living his best toothless life at our Adoption Centre, awaiting adoption.

Tips for Caring for Your Cat’s Dental Health

Your cat’s oral health is a vital component of their overall well-being. By incorporating regular dental care into your feline friend’s routine, you’re not just ensuring a radiant smile – you’re investing in their long and healthy life.

Here are some tips to start you off in your feline dental care journey:

  • Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Schedule annual dental check-ups with your veterinarian to catch any potential issues early.
  • Dental Treats and Toys: Provide dental treats and toys designed to promote oral health. These can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup.
  • Specialized Diets: Consider feeding your cat a specialized dental diet, which is formulated to support oral health. Talk to your vet before starting any specialized diets. 
  • Tooth Brushing: Get your cat accustomed to regular tooth brushing using a feline-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste. Start slowly, and be patient – with time, your cat may come to accept this as part of their routine.

How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

Daily toothbrushing is a great way to prevent most forms of dental disease; however, many cat owners may be intimidated by the idea. Taking a slow approach can help get your cat comfortable with daily brushing and create a new healthy routine for you and your cat companion. 

By following Cornell Feline Health Center’s four-week training program, you can help get your cat comfortable with daily brushing. 

To brush your cat’s teeth, you will need: 

  • A cat toothbrush & feline-safe toothpaste (human toothpaste is NOT safe for cats)
  • A reward (usually a favourite treat)

To brush your cat’s teeth, follow these steps:  

  • Week 1: Let your cat become familiar with the smell of the toothpaste. Leave the brush and toothpaste out where the cat can inspect them. Every day, put a dab on your finger, and let him or her smell and lick it. If your cat is shy about tasting it, put a tiny dab near his or her mouth so he or she can lick it off. Give a reward when your cat licks the toothpaste so he or she associates the toothpaste with an enjoyable experience.
  • Week 2: Get your cat used to the taste of the toothpaste. Apply a dab of toothpaste to one of his or her canine teeth every day, followed by a reward.
  • Week 3: Get your cat used to the toothbrush. Put a small amount of toothpaste on the brush and let him or her lick it off. If he or she is shy about licking it, apply a dab near the mouth. Follow with a reward.
  • Week 4: Gently stretch your cat’s lips far enough to insert the brush gently between the lips and gums. Place the bristles at a 45-degree angle to the teeth, aiming for the narrow crevice between teeth and gums. Brush around gently, and work around the upper and lower teeth. It’s only necessary to brush the outside surfaces, as the cat’s own tongue cleans the inside surfaces well.

Make Your Cat’s Dental Health a Priority This Pet Dental Health Month

By staying on top of your cat’s oral hygiene you can help prevent serious health issues and expensive dental care-related vet bills down the road. Spend a little extra time with your kitty this Pet Dental Health Month (and every month) to take care of their dental health. Happy brushing!