For humans, good oral health is essential to living a long, happy life – and the same is true for our feline friends. One sign that all is not well in your kitty’s mouth is tooth loss, though it’s not always easy to tell when your cat is losing teeth, since most of us probably don’t make a habit of pulling back kitty’s pretty pink lips to examine her fangs.
It’s important to pay attention, though, because poor oral hygiene can lead to other more serious health problems including heart disease – and cats are excellent at hiding their pain. If you happen to notice your cat is losing teeth, drooling more, or experiencing discomfort while eating, figuring out the reason why is essential to solving the problem and getting your kitty’s oral health back on track.
Much like young humans, kittens have baby teeth – or milk teeth – that begin to emerge at about three weeks old. These sharp, translucent teeth are not permanent – in fact, the kitten will begin losing them three to four months later. At this stage in a cat’s life, tooth loss is absolutely normal and expected. By the time the kitten is eight or nine months old, she will have all 30 of her adult teeth, which ideally should keep her chewing and chomping until she’s an old and crabby tabby.
While many adult cats will lose a tooth or two throughout their life, that doesn’t mean a cat losing teeth is normal – in fact, it’s usually a sign of injury or infection and will likely require veterinary attention.
If your cat is losing teeth, there are likely three main causes: disease, injury, or diet. Periodontal disease (or gum disease) is the most common feline dental ailment. In fact, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center, as many as 85 percent of cats over the age of six may have periodontal disease, which is caused by a buildup of plaque along the gum line that eventually causes teeth to loosen and fall out.
“Cats who are older are more likely to lose their teeth than younger cats,” says Nicole, a veterinary technician at Heritage Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kansas. “Cats will develop tartar and plaque on their teeth throughout their life, and these will eventually lead to gingivitis, which is a risk factor for tooth loss and can also lead to heart disease.”
A cat with gingivitis or another type of infection that may be related to a broken or injured tooth will likely have bad breath, and he may also drool, be unable to close his mouth, groom himself excessively, or stop eating due to the pain. Smelly breath could also be a sign of an abscessed tooth.
Any of these symptoms – including tooth loss in cats – merits an immediate visit to your vet, especially if your kitty’s gums are red and bleeding and he has sores in his mouth or discolored teeth. In addition to getting your cat started with different types of preventive care to avoid further tooth loss and damage, your vet may need to extract any broken or abscessed teeth.
According to Heritage Animal Hospital’s Nicole, the best way to prevent your cat from losing teeth is with routine dental care. “The gold standard is brushing your cat’s teeth, but you want to make sure any products you are using are labeled for cats; never use human toothpaste on cats,” she says. Nicole often refers patients to the Veterinary Oral Health Council to find toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other dental products that are safe for use on cats.
Your vet may suggest your kitty get his teeth professionally cleaned to prevent buildup of tartar and plaque. A good cleaning is generally recommended every one to two years, and the process frequently includes an examination, X-rays, anesthesia, and a thorough scraping above and below the gum line.
Nicole also recommends feeding your cat a diet designed to promote feline dental health. “You can find these products either through online websites such as Chewy, or your veterinarian may carry them,” she says. “Brands such as Hill’s, Purina, and Royal Canin make dental food – they may require a prescription but your vet can approve that for you.”
Thumbnail: Photography by ©Seiichi Tanaka | iStock / Getty Images Plus.
Angela Lutz is a writer and editor who has been fascinated by felines since childhood. She has more than a decade of experience writing about everything from health care and books to yoga and spicy food. She has written for Catster since 2012. Angela lives near Kansas City, Mo., with her husband, son and three cats.