Dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem for cats. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, an astounding 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3.
What is dental disease?
Normal teeth should be white or just a little yellow. Gums should be light pink and smooth (except in breeds with pigmented gums). Oral disease begins with a build up of plaque and tartar in your cat’s mouth. Without proper preventive and therapeutic care, plaque and tartar buildup leads to periodontal disease, which manifests in red and/or swollen and tender gums, bad breath, and bleeding. When the gums are swollen, they can be painful – a good rule of thumb is that if it looks like it might be painful, it probably is. Cats are masters at masking pain – when in doubt, assume that your cat is experiencing at least some discomfort.
The inflammation and infection associated with periodontal disease can lead to damage to other organs such as the heart, kidney and liver, and lead to other serious health problems. Dental disease can also be an indicator of immune system disorders.
Brushing your cat’s teeth is the most effective way to prevent dental disease
And before you say “my cat would never let me brush her teeth,” think again. Ideally, you get your cat used to having her teeth brushed when she’s a kitten, but with a little patience and persistence, even older cats will accept having their teeth brushed. I started Allegra and Ruby on a regular brushing program at ages 2 and 1, and it’s become so much a part of our nightly routine now that they will actually remind me if I forget to bring out the brush.
Use only toothpastes made for cats. We use C.E.T. poultry flavored toothpaste and a pediatric toothbrush. I started out using a toothbrush made for cats, but found that the pediatric brush works better for us.
The only dental treats I recommend are the C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews for Cats. They come in poultry and fish flavors. The enzymes in these treats are supposed to reduce the build up of tartar and plaque. The ingredients are not the greatest, but they’re not horrible, either.
Dry food and crunchy dental treats do not clean teeth or prevent dental disease
The myth that dry food keeps your cats’ teeth clean is one that just won’t die. If this were true, dentists would tell us to chew on hard pretzels! Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in. What little they do chew shatters into small pieces. Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole. Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.
Raw meaty bones can help remove plaque
Unlike chewing on dry kibble, chewing on raw, meaty bones can help remove plaque. Never give cooked bones to your cat, they are brittle and can splinter and lodge in your cat’s intestines. Raw chicken necks are a good size option for cats. I’ll be honest, though, I tried it once with Allegra and Ruby, and I found that even though I feed raw, the bones exceeded my comfort level. The girls were interested, but I didn’t care for them dragging the greasy bones all over the house. Allegra developed diarrhea from the rich, fatty meat that was attached to the necks. So while this may be a great solution for many cat parents, it’s just not for me.
Oral rinses and water additives
Oral rinses or gels will not control plaque by themselves, and are not a substitute for brushing. Unless you’re able to apply the solution directly to the cat’s gums, the concentration won’t be high enough to be effective. And if you’re able to apply a rinse or gel inside your cat’s mouth, why not brush their teeth instead?
EFAC Periodontal Health Advance Formula
EFAC is a product that surprised me with its effectiveness. These gel caps contain a proprietary blend of Esterified Fatty Acid Complex, which has been shown to have a positive effect on gum health. There aren’t a whole lot of convincing studies, but after using it for Allegra for a few weeks, I’m seeing an improvement in a problem area on her gums, so I’m going to keep using it. They’re easy to use: simply open the softgel capsule, squeeze the contents on your finger, and apply them to your cat’s gums. The only drawback: the smell of these capsules is absolutely atrocious. This doesn’t seem to bother Allegra; she loves the capsules and seems to consider them a treat.
Leba Dental Spray
Leba Dental Spray has been touted as a product that actually removes tartar and plaque, and the photos on Leba’s website are quite dramatic. There is very little information available about its efficacy for cats. If you have tried this product, I’d love to hear from you.
While regular home dental care may not completely eliminate the need for a professional cleaning under anesthesia, it will slow, and possibly prevent, dental problems.