It may not seem like it, but dental hygiene is as important for your cat  and dog as it is for you. Plaque buildup on teeth causes gums to recede, opening pockets at the root line that lead to bacterial infections. Left unchecked, these infections can lead to tooth loss, make eating painful, and put the cat’s immune system and internal organs under pressure, causing illness and premature aging. Some common problems associated with kitty’s oral hygiene include:

– Peridontal Disease attacks the gum and bone structure that support the teeth. Inflamed gums, swelling, bleeding gums or bad breath are among the symptoms. As in humans, peridontal disease is the most common dental disease in cats and dogs. Treatment for this disease includes antibiotics, dental cleaning, and extraction for advanced cases.

– Feline Stomatitis is a serious condition involving inflammation of the mouth extending into the throat or pharynx. It is thought to be an immune-mediated disease caused by the cat’s immune system producing antibodies against the dentine of its own teeth. Stomatitis syndrome may respond to antibiotic therapy, although extraction is a last resort.

-Feline Oral Resorption Lesions are painful lesions which start as shallow pits that occur in the enamel and dentine of a tooth. Plaque accumulates, and the tissue surrounding the affected tooth becomes inflamed. If the condition worsens, the pit may extend into the tooth pulp, essentially killing the tooth.

-Malocclusion can occur in cats and dogs as well as humans. There are veterinary dentists who specialize in orthodontics.

Ensuring healthy teeth and gums for your cats  and dogs is one area where you and your veterinarian must work together. While dental scalings and polishings by your veterinarian are an important part of preventive medicine, keeping kitty’s teeth clean between veterinary appointments is something that can, and should, be done by cat lovers.

Brushing your cats and dogs teeth two or three times a week with a child’s toothbrush or fingertip brush, using a toothpaste designed for pets, slows the reformation of plaque and extends the time between dental scalings.
There are also kitty “treats” that do a good job of keeping tartar from building up on their teeth as well.

Brushing your pets teeth is not always easy to do but, if your cat or dog will let you do it, you can make a big difference in their oral health.
Like anything, the key to getting a cat and dog used to having his teeth brushed is to do it in small steps over time and to be patient and encouraging. As with nail trims or other procedures your cat and dog may not appreciate, making teeth cleaning part of a session of petting capped by play may make things easier for you both.

One final note – Although evidence of pain in eating may be a symptom of your pets dental disease, it is usually one of the last symptoms. With daily brushing, regular home examination, a well-balanced diet, and regular veterinary examination, you may never have to witness such evidence of your loved one’s suffering.

Thanks to Dr Rainer Hornung of Coin for his help with this article.

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