Fifteen years ago, on the day I picked up my first cat at the local shelter, the volunteer on duty handed me a paper grocery bag full of pet supplies.
"Here are some free samples," she said, tossing the sack into the back of my car. "There's some good stuff in there."
When I got home I found, among the little pouches of kibble and pink fur mice, a tiny red toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste, fish flavored. Soon afterward came my first lesson in feline dental hygiene, and as it turns out, cats don't find fish toothpaste as enticing as you'd expect.
Although they don't seem to appreciate it, brushing your cat's teeth on a regular basis (veterinarians recommend two times a week) is one of the most important things you can do for their health. Brushing removes the plaque on your cat's teeth that can become tartar--the dark, calcified substance accumulating along the gumline that causes both tooth decay and gum disease.
Besides being painful, decaying teeth and infected gums can cause a number of health problems in cats including kidney, liver and heart disease. Elevated levels of bacteria in a cat's bloodstream can tax its immune system, making it more susceptible to illnesses and cancer.
Learning to brush your cat's teeth effectively takes both patience and the right equipment. Be sure to use toothpaste meant for cats. Ingredients in human toothpaste can be toxic to their systems. Use a cat's toothbrush as well. They are much smaller and softer than those meant for people.
The best way to brush a cat's teeth is to place her on a table facing away from you. Lifting the cat's jowls, gently rub the toothbrush along the gumline of her upper and lower teeth on both sides. You may need someone to help you the first few times you try this, but if you're consistent your cat will get used to it, and soon it will become a routine event.
Food, Water and Treats
As a rule, dry cat food is better for your cat's teeth than the canned variety, as it works to remove some of the build-up from their teeth as they chew. Several manufacturers also now make "dental diet" foods and treats which, if fed regularly, can help keep your cat's teeth in good shape. Hill's, Science Diet, and Friskies all currently make dental food products that are readily available at most grocery and pet stores.
Additives for your cat's water are also available to help keep their teeth healthy. These help keep bacteria levels down in the cat's mouth, as well as contain chemicals which fortify their teeth against decay, much the same way that fluoride in human drinking water does. Dental water additives for cats are available in most pet supply stores.
Home Oral Exams
Although your veterinarian will check your cat's teeth during her annual examination it's a good idea to check your cat's mouth for problems more often. According to the animal care Web sitePetEducation.com , 70% of cats show signs of gum disease by the time they are three-years-old.
Be on the lookout for things like swollen, red gums, especially "lumps" along the gumline which may indicate abscesses. Watch for broken, cracked or missing teeth, and keep an eye on teeth that may already be broken for signs of decay. Chronic bad breath is also a sign of trouble. If you find anything that seems problematic, call your veterinarian.
Doing oral exams on a regular basis becomes more important as your cat ages. Older cats tend to have more dental issues than younger ones, and the health repercussions of tooth decay in older cats are often more serious.
Professional Feline Dental Care
If you haven't been brushing your cat's teeth regularly (or at all) don't worry. A veterinarian can clean your cat's teeth in much the same way that your teeth are cleaned at the dentist. Your cat will be anesthetized and the veterinarian will use a sonic device, much like those used by human dentists, to remove the tartar build-up from your cat's teeth. This treatment is very effective, removing tartar even from below the gumline.
Any rotten or broken teeth the vet finds will be removed, and a protective coating will be applied to the teeth. You may also be given an at-home treatment to apply. Depending on the extent of gum inflammation and/or tooth decay present prior to the cleaning you may also need to give your cat an antibiotic for a few days.
The recommended time frame for cats having a professional cleaning varies by individual animal. Ask your veterinarian how long you should wait between professional cleanings.
During a recent oral exam of my own cat, now age fifteen, I found a large abscess beneath her front gums, a problem that can arise in older cats in spite of a lifetime of brushing. The vet told me it was lucky that I'd found it. Had I waited another six months for her regular check up the infection may have caused irreparable health problems.
For all the joy and companionship your cat brings you, brushing her teeth, feeding her healthful foods, and performing periodic oral exams are simple, inexpensive ways to give her something in return. They'll improve your own life, too, because they're sure to help keep your feline friend around for a long time to come.
Courtesy of www.cats.com