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A Cat’s Boycott at Mealtime Might Signal Dental Problems

February is Pet Dental Health Month. Here are ways your cat might tell you his mouth hurts.

Arden Moore  |  Feb 22nd 2016


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.

Ever bite into an apple and notice one of your front teeth is sticking out of it? Or chomp down on a piece of taffy only to have it tear out a filling? These are surprising — and painful — events. Trust me, I know. I’ve been through both of these situations that prompted me to immediately see a dentist to relieve the ache and repair my teeth.

Now imagine that your cat has a dental issue. He doesn’t have a veterinary dentist on speed dial. As a member of a species with a reputation for being predator as well as prey, he is not keen on alerting anyone — even you, his most trusted human ally — that
he is in a weakened, vulnerable state because of 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.

If your cat won't eat her favorite treats, she may have toothache. Cat ignores kibble by  Shutterstock

If your cat won’t eat her favorite treats, she may have toothache. Cat ignores kibble by Shutterstock

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. 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 such as 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!

Cat with sad face by Shutterstock

Cat with sad face by Shutterstock

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:

1. Monitor feeding times

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.

Get your cat a regular dental exam. Vet examines cat's teeth by Shutterstock

Get your cat a regular dental exam. Vet examines cat’s teeth by Shutterstock

2. 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 comprising veterinary dentists who regularly evaluate and determine which products meet their standards of earning the VOHC logo on the packaging.

3. 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 standard by which all is measured for anti-plaque antiseptics by the American Veterinary Dental College. Give him dental chews or chlorophyll-based dental treats to help remove surface tartar.

4. 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 teeth inside a closed bathroom to minimize the chance for escape. Here’s the link to a helpful short video on teeth brushing:

5. Serve 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.

About the author: Arden Moore is a pet behavior consultant and master certified pet first aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey, and very tolerant dog, Chipper. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at fourleggedlife.com, and follow Arden on Facebook and on Twitter at @ArdenKnowsPets.