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Your cat's dental health

by Arden Moore

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A sudden boycott at mealtime might be due to dental pain.

Ever chomp down on a piece of taffy only to have it tear out a filling? This is a surprising - and painful - event. Trust me, I know.

I've been through this situation that prompted me to immediately see a dentist to relieve the ache and repair my teeth. Now, imagine your cat has a dental issue. He doesn't have a veterinary dentist on speed dial. And as a species with a reputation for being both predator and prey, he is not keen on alerting anyone - even you, his most trusted human ally - that he is in a weakened, vulnerable state due to mouth pain. Even though he might prowl strictly indoors, he doesn't want to show any sign of weakness to avoid drawing the attention of any predator - real or imagined.

Dental issues are more common in cats than most people realize. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 70 percent of cats develop some degree of gum disease by the age of 3. Yes, you read right: the young age of 3. That's why you must take on the role of pet detective and look for any clues that your cat might be experiencing a dental issue. And a key "crime scene" occurs at mealtime.

Be on the lookout for these serious clues:

  • Your sweet cat suddenly swats you when you attempt to pet his head.
  • Your feline foodie now stares at his filled food bowl and walks away.
  • Your normally neat eater is littering your kitchen floor with pieces of kibble.
  • Your steady eater is taking twice as long to finish his meal.
  • Your cat seems to have difficulty swallowing food or treats.

All these clues can point to the fact that your cat might be dealing with a dental issue like a broken tooth or infected gum. Or worse: He might be coping with stomatitis, or a life-threatening disease, such as hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).

Many of us brush our teeth at least twice a day and gargle with mouthwash. We book semi-annual visits to our dentist to undergo cleanings and professional exams. We would not consider going a week without brushing our teeth - yuck!

Sadly, that's not the case for our cats. Without our help, they are at serious risk for developing tartar buildup, gingivitis, and abscesses. They can suffer tooth loss, incur oral tumors, and even develop infections that can spread to their lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys, causing life-threatening conditions. That's why I urge you to be "down in the mouth" with your cat and pay attention to his teeth and gums.

For the sake of your cat's health:

  • Monitor mealtimes. Cats who eat slower than usual, back away from a bowl, or suddenly spill kibble might be experiencing oral pain. Report these changes immediately to your veterinarian.
  • Shop smartly. Purchase cat treats, dental chews, dental toys, oral gels, and toothpastes that carry the VOHC seal of acceptance. VOHC stands for Veterinary Oral Health Council, a group comprised of veterinary dentists who regularly evaluate and determine which products meet their standards of earning the VOHC logo on the packaging.
  • Look for effective brush-free options. If your cat won't let you mess with his mouth, minimize the accumulation of tartar with feline-safe dental mouth rinses that contain chlorhexidine, considered the gold standard for anti-plaque antiseptics by the American Veterinary Dental College. Give him dental chews or chlorophyll-based dental treats to help remove surface tartar.
  • Establish a dental routine. If you are lucky to live with a laid-back cat like my tabby, Casey, who doesn't kick up a fuss when you handle his mouth, brush his teeth daily or at least a few times a week. Use only cat-safe toothpaste and toothbrushes (or finger brushes). Teeth brushing works best if you wrap your cat in a big bath towel and work on his pearly whites inside a losed bathroom to minimize the chance for escape.
  • Dish up dental-friendly diets if warranted by your veterinarian. Several commercial pet food companies offer dental-friendly diets that contain fibrous materials that scrub surface tartar off teeth as well as enzymes that aid in blocking plaque from attaching to your cat's teeth.

Happy & Healthy, 2017 Volume Three Edition, is published by Lumina Media, LLC. This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax, medical and/or other advisers with respect to any information presented. CareCredit, Synchrony and any of its affiliates (collectively, "Synchrony") make no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions are the sole opinions of Lumina Media, LLC and its authors. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions. © 2017, Lumina Media, LLC.

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