Undoubtedly, feline bad breath and its primary cause, feline dental disease, is the area of cat medical care that has been the most frustrating to me during my 20 years as a cat doctor. The reason for that is because feline dental care has, until recently, been the part of cat care that has met with the most owner resistance.
I have often said that I wish cats wore their teeth on the outside of their bodies where their caretakers could see them. Cats are frequently rushed in to see me because they have a problem with their skin or fur. Owners are very quick to seek veterinary assistance at the first sign of skin disease. However, far too many cats have come in with absolutely rotten mouths and that is not even the reason they were brought in to be seen.
Why the owners of these cats did not notice the very offensive feline bad breath is a mystery. I suppose not every cat gets close to its owner’s face. If your cat has dental disease and opens his mouth anywhere near your nose, you can’t miss the odor. Even when they do, many owners disregard mouth odors as being the smell of food or make other excuses to "explain away" this disturbing symptom. Feline bad breath, and the associated dental disease, has serious consequences for your cat, and ignoring it is dangerous.
Why Are Owners Resistant To Feline Teeth Cleaning?
Even more frustrating than the fact that feline teeth cleaning has not been a part of the preventative care of my cat patient is the resistance some owners have to feline dental care even after I have explained to them the serious condition of their kitty’s mouths.
This resistance has generally been due to two main reasons:
(1) People have a terrible fear of having anesthesia administered to their cat. Quite simply, they are afraid their cat will die. This risk is next to zero if you have an experienced veterinarian who uses safe anesthesia and monitoring equipment and thoroughly examines your cat first and evaluates blood work.
In addition, the risk to your cat’s health of not treating feline gingivitis and other dental disease is significant. It’s not just about discomfort, pain, bad breath, and tooth loss. It’s about nasty bacteria in the mouth that enter your cat’s blood stream and go to organs such as the heart and kidneys and damage them. Do you know what your cat's teeth look like? Could they look like the teeth in this picture?
(2) Finances. A proper feline teeth cleaning is more expensive than your teeth cleaning and for good reason. Cats teeth CANNOT be properly cleaned without anesthesia. If anyone tries to tell you differently, don’t believe it. The calmest cat in the world won’t allow a PROPER, THOROUGH scaling of their teeth while awake. The administration of anesthesia to a cat using safe monitoring technique and using safe anesthetic agents is far more costly than when you walk in and sit down in your dentist’s chair and open your mouth willingly.
Due to the need for anesthesia for a feline teeth cleaning, there is another added expense and that is pre-op blood work. You can easily understand this if you simply think about the fact that your doctor would never put you under anesthesia without pre-op blood work. Your cat is no different. We must know that liver and kidney function are normal and that your cat does not have diabetes or hyperthyroidism or anemia or any one of several conditions that would make anesthesia risky if we did not know about it first.
This is cat teeth after a cleaning. And this is what your cat's teeth should look like ALL THE TIME!
The Consequences of Avoiding Feline Dental Care
Ignoring feline bad breath and cat dental health including feline teeth cleaning is dangerous, far more so than the anesthesia. And avoiding it will end up being far more expensive than the care and procedure would be – both financially and emotionally – perhaps even costing you your kitty’s life.
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