Caring for those feline fangs comes with a little extra bite

Dental disease in cats: cleaning tips

JUST AHHFUL: Cats don't make it easy to prevent or detect dental disease. Picture: Shutterstock

JUST AHHFUL: Cats don't make it easy to prevent or detect dental disease. Picture: Shutterstock


Dental disease affects cats and needs to be taken seriously. But there are some things you can do to keep their teeth as clean as possible.


As cats and dogs don't brush their own teeth - and they certainly don't floss - just like us, they can acquire dental disease.

In fact, their lack of brushing and flossing means they're even more likely to suffer from dental disease than us.

Dental disease can be especially challenging to detect in cats as they don't always allow their owners to inspect their mouths.

You might catch a hint of bad breath (halitosis). You might notice that your cat has red, inflamed gums (gingivitis) or discoloured teeth (usually due to dental calculus) when he or she yawns.

Or you might have spotted a small amount of blood on your cat's bowl.

Other signs of dental disease in cats include difficulty in eating, increased salivation, loss of teeth, and, in severe cases, weight loss.

Most commonly, dental disease is detected during routine veterinary check-ups.

And it's very common.

It is estimated that around 70 to 80 per cent of cats over the age of two years have some degree of dental disease.

Factors that contribute to dental disease include diet, viruses like calicivirus, trauma and wear and tear.

Cats with poorly aligned teeth are at increased risk of dental disease.

If your vet detects dental disease, they will recommend an oral examination, tooth scale and polish and often dental x-rays.

These are performed when the cat is under a general anaesthetic, as this is the only way to complete a comprehensive dental examination in a cat.

Dental x-rays are important, as not all dental disease involves the visible part of the tooth (the crown).

Cats commonly have disease affecting other structures, including tooth roots.

Dental disease can be especially challenging to detect in cats ...

Dental x-rays are also the only way to identify the presence of additional tooth roots (not unusual in cats) or tooth roots that are resorbing (also not unusual in cats).

Diseased teeth are commonly extracted, removing the source of pain.

Post-operatively, cats receive pain relief. Antibiotics may be dispensed if required, but this is not always the case.

An adult cat typically has 32 teeth: 12 incisors, four canines, 12 premolars and four molars.

In cats with dental disease, it is not uncommon to need to remove multiple teeth.

Cats can survive without some or even all of their teeth. They're much more comfortable eating if the teeth that are causing them pain are removed.

It's also much better for their overall health if a source of dental infection is removed.

Chronic dental infections can be harmful to cats' overall health, and negatively impact their quality of life.

With cats living longer than ever, it is common for them to require multiple veterinary dental procedures over their lifespan.

Once dental disease is detected, it is best to act promptly, especially if a cat shows any sign of pain (such as changing the way they eat).

Prevention is always best.

Some - but not all - cats are amenable to having their teeth brushed daily. I stress that this is not for every cat and care must be taken as some cats will bite or scratch.

Some cats enjoy eating dental biscuits or dental chews, but in order for these to clean teeth effectively, cats must chew on them.

I happen to live with a cat who swallows dental biscuits whole.

The most important thing you can do is schedule annual check-ups for cats under the age of 10, and six monthly check-ups for those 10 and over, to keep an eye on those teeth.

Dr Anne Quainis a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian