Oral Health Checks

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Filed in Cats, Health

From time to time you should inspect your cat's mouth for signs of tooth problems, gum disease or other dental problems. Some of the symptoms associated with mouth problems are excessive salivating, pawing at the mouth, tentative or exaggerated chewing, or a noticeable change in eating habits.

How Do I Examine My Cat's Mouth?

Whenever you need to work around your cat's head it is best to totally immobilize the cat. By immobilizing your cat you don't have to worry about scratching, clawing, or excessive squirming, and you reduce the stress on the cat.

To immobilize your cat, wrap it securely in a small (depending on the size of your cat) blanket or towel. Once your cat is securely wrapped, open your cat's mouth by gripping it below the whiskers with one hand while gently moving the jaw down. A note of caution, never place your fingers in the cat's mouth! Their claws may be immobilized, but their teeth work just fine.

What Am I Looking For?

The things you should be most concerned with are the condition of your cat's gums, tartar buildup, loose or diseased teeth, foreign objects lodged between the teeth or stuck in the roof of the mouth, and open sores inside the mouth or on the tongue.

How Do I Recognize Tartar Buildup?

Tartar is a yellow/brown, cement-like substance that accumulates on the teeth. Tartar will not damage the tooth directly, but if allowed to accumulate to any extent it will cause gum damage. Left untreated, damaged gums allow bacteria in, causing infection and even loosening the teeth.

To control tartar buildup and prevent gum disease your cat needs a regular, comprehensive dental care program. An effective dental care program encompasses regular (weekly) brushing, proper diet and the use of tartar control treats, and annual descaling. Some people have described brushing a cat's teeth like trying to wrestle an octopus with one hand tied behind your back. However, with proper preparation brushing your cat's won't be more difficult than brushing your own.

With a kitten, it is simply a matter of making the toothbrush part of their regular routine. As you are probably aware, kittens like to chew. So, to begin getting your kitten used to the toothbrush, simply flavor the brush with something your kitten likes (tuna oil or juice from canned cat food works well) and let your kitten chew on it.

Once your kitten is used to the brush begin introducing small amounts of cat toothpaste to the brush and make brushing a game that you and your kitten play. Remember to reward them with a treat after brushing.

With adult cats the process can be a bit more difficult. To start out, try introducing your adult cat to the toothbrush the same way you would a kitten. If this works, great! If not, the real work begins. If your adult cat will not willingly accept the toothbrush you will need to immobilize it before brushing (see above.)

Other Conditions

Pieces of bone can often become wedged between teeth or against the roof of the mouth. If found, they are easily removed by with a toothpick or other small instrument. If no foreign objects are found in the mouth, examine the tongue for smooth, red, ulcerated areas. These ulcers can be caused by your cat licking an irritating substance. However, a virus may also be the cause. It's importatn to keep a close eye on these issues and when necessary, contact your vet. Your cat may need antibiotic therapy.

Bad Breath

Bad breath in cats, just like in humans, can have many causes. The most common is poor oral hygiene, which can be corrected by brushing your cat's teeth, adjusting the diet, adding an oral health supplement, and using tartar control treats. You can also use a breath freshener if your cat's breath is really offensive. Persistent bad breath could also be indicative of dietary or digestive problems and may need to be evaluated by your vet.

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