Editor’s note: February is National Pet Dental Health Month, an ideal time to republish this post so you can get the information and comment on it.
Veterinarians have been talking to cat caretakers about the importance of dental health and encouraging regular dental care for probably at least a decade, and with good reason. The trouble is, dental cleanings are pretty expensive because cats require general anesthesia for the procedure, and people are reluctant to shell out the bucks for a procedure that may not seem necessary. Yes, dental cleanings are on the spendy side, but I think they’re totally worth the cost, and here’s why.
Let me start off by busting one of the ever-so-common feline myths: Even if a cat eats tuna every day, his breath should not smell bad. If your cat’s breath smells like something is rotting in his mouth, the odds are that he has an infection or tooth decay.
Have you ever had an abscessed tooth or serious gum disease? If so, you know it hurts! It hurts cats, too, but our feline friends are masters at hiding their pain. It’s an ingrained and instinctive survival technique. The only indication you may have of your cat’s pain is a change in temperament. Even with sore teeth and gums, a cat will still eat because hunger trumps pain ÔÇô- until the pain gets too severe, that is.
An infection that begins as gingivitis can progress to the point where your cat develops infections in the bones, lungs, and even the bloodstream itself. The cost of treating a life-threatening systemic infection is a hell of a lot higher than the cost of those annual cleanings.
Diabetic cats with dental disease, for example, suffer more than others because chronic oral infections make it difficult to keep blood sugar levels under control.
Research has shown that dental disease increases the risk of diabetes, infections of the heart and lungs, kidney disease, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, heart failure, and even cancer.
This isn’t hyperbole or hysteria. I personally know several people who have become seriously ill and almost died due to untreated dental disease. As I think back on the cats with whom I’ve shared my life — like the cat who “lost a fang” and probably was in excruciating pain due to root exposure, although I didn’t know it at the time; and my FIV-positive cat, Castor, who developed severe mouth infections as his disease progressed — I’m almost certain dental problems contributed to or exacerbated their other health problems.
While I’m on the subject of dental cleanings, I’m going to offer my two cents on anesthesia-free dentistry. Although we humans understand why our mouths are being poked, prodded and scraped with pointy things, this is not true for cats. I can’t even imagine how anesthesia-free dental cleaning can effectively remove plaque and tartar from a writhing, clawing, freaked-out feline’s mouth, and the process of being restrained while all this stuff is going on must be incredibly traumatic.
Yes, anesthesia has risks. Yes, a dental cleaning done under general anesthesia is more expensive than an anesthesia-free one. But in the long run, I believe the benefits of effective dental cleaning outweigh the risk of anesthesia — and I hope you take this seriously, because I am painfully aware of the reality of that risk: I actually had a cat who died from complications of anesthesia.
What about you? Do you have your cat’s teeth cleaned regularly? Do you know anyone who has used anesthesia-free dentistry for their cat? Do you know of cats that suffered complications from untreated dental disease? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Read more about cats and dental disease on Catster:
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter 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.