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6 Signs That Your Cat Might Have Dental Disease

Cats are good at hiding pain, so look for subtle ways your cat shows that she’s hurting.

JaneA Kelley  |  Feb 9th 2016


February is National Pet Dental Health Month, so now is a great time to give you some tips about how your cat may be trying to tell you — or more accurately, trying not to tell you — that she’s got some problems in her mouth. Because cats are experts at hiding discomfort until they’re so sick they can no longer hide their problems, it’s up to you to be on the lookout for these subtle indications of pain.

Red cat yawning by Shutterstock

Red cat yawning by Shutterstock

1. Your cat has become a sloppy eater

If your cat is dropping her kibbles all over the place or leaving pieces of half-chewed kitty niblets on the floor, she might be trying to tell you that her teeth are hurting.

2. She has bad breath

No matter what anybody says, it’s not normal for cats to have nasty breath. Sure, your kitty’s breath is going to be a little bit smelly just after she eats, but if she licks you and you smell grossness in her saliva, that’s a sign she needs to go to the vet.

Cat licking her cheek by Shutterstock

Cat licking her cheek by Shutterstock

3. Her fur smells gross

A healthy cat typically smells something like fresh-cut hay: grassy with an extremely light tinge of sweetness. If your cat’s fur doesn’t smell fresh, there’s something wrong. Either she’s not grooming or she is grooming but her saliva is nasty. Either one of these things can be caused by dental disease. When your cat’s mouth is painful, she’s not going to be delighted to use it for anything, including grooming. Even if she’s not in enough pain to avoid grooming entirely, the smell in her mouth is going to get on her fur when she does clean herself.

4. She’s drooling

Speaking of saliva, if your cat is drooling, she may be in pain or suffering from dental disease. I’m not talking about cats who drool when they purr because they’re so deliriously happy; I’m talking about cats who drool when they’re just sitting somewhere or who drool while looking wistfully at the food in their dish.

5. Her temper has changed

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a toothache, but trust me when I tell you that dental pain does not have a positive effect on your mood. The same thing holds true for cats: A cat with sore teeth and gums may become grumpy or start avoiding affection. She may also react by pulling back, swatting, or nipping if you try to rub her around her cheeks. Of course, this isn’t always true; my Thomas had terrible teeth but I wouldn’t have known it if I hadn’t taken him in for a cleaning.

6. She has a broken or missing fang

Sure, this isn’t exactly a subtle sign, but you may be surprised to learn that a lot of people disregard broken canine teeth or figure the tooth just fell out naturally. This is almost never the case: If a tooth breaks, especially if it breaks at the root, it’s because the cat had resorptive lesions (“kitty cavities”) that weakened the tooth to the point that it broke. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, a cat’s pulp cavity goes very close to the end of the canine tooth, so even a small chip off the end of the fang can lead to serious pain.

Snaggletooth cat by Shutterstock

Snaggletooth cat by Shutterstock

The importance of regular dental care can’t be stated strongly enough. Untreated dental disease can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream and lead to problems with the heart, kidneys, liver, and gastrointestinal tract. For this and many other reasons, it’s well worth the cost to make sure your kitty gets regular dental checkups and cleanings as recommended by your vet.

Read more by JaneA Kelley:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.