Feline Gum Disease

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Feline gum disease is among the many cat dental problems your favorite feline may face in his or her lifetime. Why? Well, considering that cats have teeth, just as we do, but don't brush those teeth and do not usually have regular cleanings at the veterinarian, feline gingivitis can become a big problem for many cats.

Needless to say, after being in practice for over 20 years, I've seen far too many cases of serious periodontal disease in cats. I've spent my entire career trying to educate cat owners about the importance of a healthy mouth. In the beginning, it was difficult. When I suggested to an owner that they get their cats teeth cleaned, they looked at me like I was crazy. As the years have passed, they have come to know and expect that dental care is an important part of their cat's health.

Unfortunately, I've seen many cats who show no signs whatsoever even when their mouths are absolutely rotten. Only if an actual abscess develops and they get a fever do they stop eating and become lethargic. The other unfortunate thing is that the front teeth of a cat are often the least affected so owners see those teeth and think everything is fine. The back teeth, where most cats don't allow their owners to examine, are always the worst. Regular vet check-ups, including a good dental exam, are essential for all cats.

I've also tried over the years to teach owners to brush their cat's teeth, but that is rarely successful. Many of them use Greenies to try and make up for this inability to brush. Fortunately, cats love Greenies.

My own cats have had their share of dental problems even though they live with a vet and have had regular cleanings. Some dental problems are hereditary and nothing helps. One of my cats had to have all his teeth extracted last year. It was a traumatic time for him and for me, but I knew the end result would be worth it and it has. He has a clean, comfortable healthy toothless mouth now, better than it ever was during his entire life. Of course, we try to avoid this if possible, but in some cases, it can't be avoided.

The following question and my answer to the reader helps explain and illustrate the importance of having a regular cat teeth cleaning for your feline's dental health and overall well-being, and the links at the bottom of this page include more information about cat dental problems and dental care.

QUESTION:

My Persian can was seen by a vet. He said my cat has feline gum disease and possible cavities. He wants to remove some of his teeth. My cat seems ok. He is eating and pooping just fine. What happens if I do nothing with his teeth?

Joyce

Hi, Joyce,

Dental care is as important for cats as it is for people. It is well-known now that bacteria from the mouth travels through the bloodstream and can infect and cause serious disease in many organs in the body including the kidneys, liver and heart. I can't encourage people enough to stay on top of their pet's dental health or lack of it. It's critical to health in the rest of the body and while a dental cleaning may cost a bit, it is certainly less costly than an emergency dental procedure or worse yet, the death of a pet.

Cats with teeth problems will often appear to be eating well and to have no problems with pain or discomfort. It seems that cats are just more stoic than we are. They absolutely have pain from cavities and feline gum disease.

Signs Your Cat has Dental Pain
As our friends at Nutro explain, cats are often harder to read and more reclusive when in pain than dogs are. For this reason, cat owners should look out for these more subtle signs of feline dental pain:

1. Your cat grooms less or stops grooming at all.
2. Your cat acts more distant than usual.
3. Changes in your cats’ eating or sleeping patterns.

Often the first sign of dental disease is bad breath, but sometimes owners will notice the more subtle signs of oral pain. If nothing is done when a cat has gum disease and possible cavities, the condition will just worsen. The gingivitis will become more severe, the cavities will deepen, the risk of infection spreading throughout the body becomes greater, teeth will become loose, pain will increase, absesses may develop requiring emergency care, teeth may fall out eventually and somewhere amidst all that your cat may stop eating and become very ill. Heart disease and kidney disease may be the result also.

The only thing I question is that you said your vet said there are "possible" cavities, and yet that your vet wants to pull teeth. The decision to pull one or more teeth is a decision that is best made under sedation during the process of examining and cleaning the teeth. Unless, of course, under regular exam, loose teeth with severe gingival recession that are quite obviously in need of removal are seen.

If you trust your vet, have been seeing him/her for some time, know others who have had good experiences there, etc. then you should follow the vet's advice. Otherwise, get a second opinion. However, doing nothing is absolutely not the thing to do.

Thank you for writing. You have brought up a very important topic.

Best, Dr. Neely



What Other Cat Lovers Have Said About Cat Dental Problems

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