VCA Animal Hospitals

Cat Dental Care and Hygiene

Periodontal Disease in Cats

Periodontal Disease in Cats

Periodontal disease is one of the most common and serious pet health problems, affecting approximately 70% of cats by the age of 3. At-home prevention is as important as regular teeth cleaning by veterinarians. In fact, unless you provide teeth cleaning for your cat at home, feline periodontal disease will progress regardless of the care provided by your veterinarian.

How can you prevent periodontal disease in your cat?

The key to management of gum disease in cats is prevention! As long as the surfaces of the teeth are cleaned frequently, the gums will stay healthy. There are several home care options to choose from and anything you can do to help prevent plaque and tartar buildup will be beneficial.

Brushing your cat's teeth at home—the gold standard

The single most effective way to keep gums healthy and plaque controlled in your cat is daily tooth brushing. Plaque is a soft bacterial film and is easily disrupted by the mechanical effects of brushing. If plaque is removed daily, tartar will not form and progress to periodontal disease.

For best results, tooth brushing should start when your cat is young and will easily adapt to teeth cleaning at home. As cats age and develop tooth and gum disease, there may be pain associated with brushing. In this situation, there are dental wipes that can help control plaque when rubbed daily against the teeth and gums. If your cat completely resists brushing or acts painful, see your veterinarian as they may have particular problems that need to be addressed.

Although brushing your cat’s teeth may seem daunting, with patience and a gradual approach almost all cats will eventually accept it. It is not uncommon for the introduction to take up to 2 months.

Cat Teeth Brushing

Getting Started

It is best to start by letting your cat lick the toothpaste from your finger. Once they have shown interest, offer the paste from their toothbrush. Finally place the brush with paste in your cat’s mouth. It is best to start with the tooth brush on the outsides of the cheek teeth under the upper lip. After they are comfortable with this process, add the brushing motions.

Selecting a tooth brush and tooth paste

Each cat should have his or her own toothbrush. Proper toothbrushes are soft and angled in order to adequately reach the back teeth. Some cats prefer small finger brushes.

Human toothpastes contain abrasives and detergents and should not be used in cats as they will swallow the paste. There are many toothpaste flavors available and most cats seem to prefer the seafood or poultry-flavored types.

Proper brushing technique

Toothbrush bristles should be placed at a 45-degree angle where the gum and teeth meet. Using a gentle oval pattern and covering three to four teeth at a time, the bristles should be moved around the teeth. Ten short oval motions should be completed before moving the toothbrush to a new location in the mouth. The outside upper teeth do the most chewing and should get more attention.

Oral rinses and gels

Chlorhexidine is the most effective antiseptic for preventing plaque accumulation. The rinse is applied by squirting a small amount inside the cheek on each side of the mouth. The gel is directly applied to the teeth using a finger or brush. Many cats object to the taste of these products even if they are flavored.

Dental diets and treats

Most cats will not require a special dental diet. However, if your cat has particularly bad plaque problems your veterinarian may suggest one. Approved dental diets are usually kibbles with a special design or contain chemicals that bind and facilitate breakdown of plaque and/or tartar.

While chew treats are often helpful in the prevention of plaque and tartar accumulation in dogs, there is very little information available for cats. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) has a list of approved foods and dental treats (http://www.vohc.org) which can help cat owners distinguish which products are actually scientifically proven to reduce plaque and tartar buildup. These treats should not take the place of daily brushing.

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