Ask the Cat Doc: Brushing a Kitten’s Teeth, Cat with Bad Breath, Cat with Mats

Ask-the-Cat-Doc-with-Dr.-Lynn-Bahr

Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.

Dr. Bahr graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991. Unlike most veterinarians, she did not grow up knowing that she would become a veterinarian. “It was a cat who got me interested in the practice and I am forever grateful to him,” said Dr. Bahr. Over the course of her veterinary career, Dr. Bahr found that the lifestyle of cats has changed dramatically. As the lifestyle of cats has changed, so did Dr. Bahr’s client education. In addition to finding medical solutions, she also encourages owners to enrich their home environments so that their cats can live long, happy, and healthy lives.

This new understanding led Dr. Bahr to combine her passion for strengthening the human-animal bond with her veterinary background and knowledge of what animals need and want to start her own solution-based cat product company, Dezi & Roo, inspired by two cats of the same names.

For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

Dr. Bahr is taking a short break and will be back after the New Year.
Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr?
Leave it in a comment and she’ll answer it in January’s column!

When to start brushing a kitten’s teeth?

So I got my kitten a couple of months ago and it was healthy as I can see. I was wondering if when should I start brushing its teeth as I want to take care of its health as I can. – Cleaner Home

Congralutions! I wish you and your new kitten the best life together ever!

It is wonderful to know that you are thinking of dental health now. Prevention is so much easier than treatment and the fact that you are going to start your baby off early is admirable. You will be so happy you did.

The Conscious Cat features a 4-week training program that will help you make brushing your cat’s teeth a success. The key is to make it a pleasurable experience for your kitty. After that it will be a breeze. Always go slow and take baby steps to get your cat used to having its mouth and teeth “messed” with. While in the kitten stage gently and briefly rub your index finger along the gum line often. Remember that your kitten is teething and the gums might be sore and don’t make it a game that encourages biting. Seize opportunities when your kitten is tired and sleepy and watch for signs of resistance which means you should stop.

I would start with the actual brushing once your cat’s adult teeth have emerged. Look for preventative dental products that are backed by science or carry the VOHC seal of approval and use as directed. Ask your veterinarian for a demonstration at your next vet visit and inquire into the products they carry. The internet is a treasure trove of information and the more you know, the better you will do. Thank you again for being a proactive, conscientious pet parent that wants to make sure your baby is kept happy and healthy.  Bravo!

Running, puffy swollen eye and bad breath

My EX feral Tuxedo cat presented with an eye problem….running, puffy, swollen eye JUST the left eye. After several medications and several trips to a Feline Ophthalmologist.with NO success I sough out a Holistic vet who put him on natural liquids. Vitamins and extracts, which eventually got his eye back to normal. I was told that he had a hole in his tooth and needed an cleaning, xrays and extraction to the tune of $1000. I couldn’t afford that. So it wasn’t done. He started having blood dripping down his chest from his mouth so I took him to a new vet that told me there was NO hole in his teeth but he had many mouth ulcers. She gave him a shot of steroids and long lasting (30) days, antibiotics. His mouth is better and he has regained the weight he’d lost and he is frisky and back to his old normal self. BUT his breath is terrible. I can NOT see any tartar or build up, but he will NOT let me brush his teeth. He is a big boy ( 17.5 lbs) and I don’t want to be torn up. HELP please. – Nancy Lillian Crock

Hi Nancy,

I am so glad to hear your boy is back to his old normal self but concerned that it may not last very long. Without getting to the root cause of his dental problem the likelihood of a relapse is high. From your description of his eye and mouth problem, it would not be out of the scope of things to connect the two with something like a tooth root abscess. If they eye and mouth are unrelated then conditions like stomatitis, periodontitis, and even cancer can mimic the clinical signs you have described.  I have not seen your cat and cannot diagnose his problem from your comments but, I can say I am as concerned about him as you are. If you have a veterinary dentist near you, please make an appointment soon. If not, search for recommendations on veterinarians in your area that excel at dentistry and let them have a look.

Hopefully, I am wrong.  Paws crossed that the steroid and antibiotic shot were enough to do the trick. Cats never cease to amaze me with their magical abilities to heal themselves and I hope that is the case with your baby. However, pay attention to his bad breath because that is a typical sign that things are still not right. Good luck and let me know what worked for you.

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Feral cat with open wounds

Hi Dr Bahr – We rescued a feral cat with extensive open & festering wounds in early Spring. Our vet wanted to euthanize her but since she was still eating/drinking I wanted to give her a chance. Her skin had broken down so badly he couldn’t stitch together any of the wounds. The skin tore under the tension of the sutures.

She received a broad spectrum antibiotic injection and , after a week with no apparent change, I also asked that he try another form of antibiotics in pill form. In the interim, I was clearing out stinking pus and obvious infection routinely, including creating drainage openings for subcutaneous cysts. (I have pics but will spare you the gory detail.)

I finally went to plan c and covered the wounds – about 10 of them along her back and sides with Manuka Honey. After 4 days, I removed the bandages and noted significant healing. I retreated a couple of wounds but they too cleared completely within a week. It took about 5-6 weeks for her coat to grow back about 75%.

Now, I am seeing fur loss in a few of the same areas and some minor irritation possibly from grooming. I immediately put some honey on it and the redness decreased but is not fully gone. The vet put her back on antibiotics (oral) but the hair loss is essentially the same if not 10-20% worse in a couple of spots. She does lick the area somewhat frequently or scratch at it with her back foot nail but neither action seems obsessive.

I talked to the neighbor who first noticed she was ill several months ago and he tells me that he thought she was excessively grooming the general area and that he hadn’t see any immediate evidence of a puncture/slash wound. He just noticed that she seemed get sicker and then noticed sores on her back. (Yes, I would like to smack him but just glad we caught her.)

Do you have any sense of what’s happening? If only to give me a path to have a deeper discussion with our vet? Could it be adrenal? There’s no evidence of mites, fleas or ticks. She tends to stay within sight of us at all times so is rarely out so not likely to tangle with anyone. (The feral life is not one she chose apparently!) We do have other cats and a dog and none of them seem to have anything wrong other than being spoiled.

Your observations an/or insights would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. Jane Bond

Hi Jane,

This baby is SO lucky to have found you. Thanks for being the right person for her. Your plan turned out to be a good one.

I have too many questions to really be of much help. How old is she? Some conditions are more common at certain stages of life and it would help to know if she is a kitten, adult, or geriatric cat. What part of the country do you live in? Some conditions are geographic in nature. Where are the sores located on her body? Are they new ones or festering old ones coming back to life? What do they look like? Is there ever a smell to them? Could what you are seeing be draining tracts? How long was the time frame between when her hair grew back to 75% and now?

These are questions your veterinarian should be asking you in order to get a whole picture of your cat’s condition. The deeper discussions should include digging into as much history and observation as possible and then formulating a diagnostic plan that will yield the best results.

In general, along with a complete history, exam, and bloodwork, I would begin with a full skin work-up. There are several quick, easy, and inexpensive tests that can be started in the exam room that enable us to look for ringworm, mites, yeast, bacteria and other common things first. If a diagnose is not evident, then skin biopsies may be warranted next. These, too, can be done fairly easily, quickly and with minimal discomfort.

It’s worth looking for a root cause and I would encourage you to prompt your veterinarian to do so. Do you have a veterinary dermatologist in your area? If so, you may want to go there first. If not, look for a good feline-only practice close to you. Let me know if you have any other questions. Good luck!

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18-year-old cat with mats

My 18 year old cat’s hair has started to mat up! Is she needing something not provided in her food perhaps? She does not like anyone fussing about with her so it is hard to treat her. I have cut a few of the clumps of hair but now there are a lot of them. I brush her several times a day as she wants to be brushed. Her back along the backbone is loaded with mats. Any suggestions are helpful. I do not shampoo her and she used to groom herself a good deal but now she only does it a bit that I see. She only spends a bit of time outside and is on a leash when she goes. She likes to eat grass. Thanks. – Susanne Dennis

Hi Susanne,

Believe it or not, when I see mats along a cat’s spine I immediately begin to look for pain. Arthritis and similar ailments are common among our pets and it is a really good reason for a cat to groom less.  People who experience back problems having difficulty bending or those with shoulder pain may not be able to brush their hair easily. Cats are no different, and those that have neck, shoulder, back, hip, knee or elbow pain will often avoid positions that exacerbate it. As you mentioned, she used to groom herself and so now you know that what you are seeing is something out of the ordinary. You were right to be concerned. Any changes in your cat’s habit, even small ones, are noteworthy because we know that cats are notorious for hiding their pain and illnesses. The mats you’ve noticed along her backside may be a sign that she is not able to bend around to groom herself the way she used to because it is uncomfortable to do so.

Fortunately, your veterinarian should be able to assess and manage her pain well enough that she will feel much more like her old self again. There are a multitude of treatment options available for cats like yours and I encourage you to explore the benefits or drawbacks of each. We are in an age where we can manage pain so much better than ever before and I am sure your baby will begin to feel a lot better now that you are aware of the problem.  Thank you for writing in and allowing me the opportunity to be of help to you.

4 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Brushing a Kitten’s Teeth, Cat with Bad Breath, Cat with Mats

  1. Cheri Collins
    October 14, 2019 at 8:03 pm (1 month ago)

    When my senior cat began to get mats I was surprised, but realized the was developing arthritis and simply could not reach everywhere to groom the way he had. During a trip to the vet for a check up, one of the vet techs (vet nurses) took care of the mats with amazing speed. She had a particular comb she said was her tool of choice. I found one, and agree. I have a 16 yr-old cat with arthritis now, and use the comb to take out the mats over her hip areas, https://www.chewy.com/safari-shedding-cat-comb/dp/155272.
    I know it’s for “shedding,” but this is the best for removing mats I’ve found. I don’t try to get them all in one sitting / evening. I work until Bennie says, “That’s enough!’ In another day or two, another evening, I work some more.

    Reply
  2. Kathy
    October 14, 2019 at 7:47 pm (1 month ago)

    Concerning the cat with mats–find a good cat groomer in your area. Cat groomers understand cat behavior and will work with you and your cat to remove the excess undercoat hair, thus eliminating the mats. If you cannot find a cat groomer, find a dog groomer who has groomed cats. A good grooming, once in the spring and once in the fall will eliminate a lot of the loose hair, helping the owner to continue to brush and help the cat maintain its coat. A good groomer will also recommend brushes and combs for the cat’s particular coat. Our 16-year-old cat wasn’t arthritic but had teeth/mouth issues and wouldn’t groom herself any more, even after she had dental work done. One trip to the groomer made her into a “new” cat–no mats and a shiny coat that was easier to maintain.

    Reply
  3. Cheri Collins
    October 14, 2019 at 4:02 pm (1 month ago)

    Jane, You might like to know about a product I found which has worked amazingly for my outdoor (by choice) cat. “ResqOrganics with manuka honey skin treatment.” It’s nothing like as messy as using honey alone, and yet just as effective. It’s a cream. For those who don’t know about honey: it’s a humectant (keeping a wound moist helps it heal better and faster; bacteria love scabs) and a natural antibacterial (a jar of honey ‘keeps’ forever). Manuka honey — the name is not a brand, it’s the plants the bees gather from — from New Zealand is so potent it’s actually graded numerically by the antibacterial potency.
    Rosie is allergic to flea bites. And no matter what anti-flea treatment I put on her, they still get to her during the nasty season here. (Her vet encouraged me to treat her every 2 weeks instead of every 4 during the season.) She scratched her fur off, then her skin. She had wounds all around her face and neck. She’s more wild than not, so I had to trap her and corner her to treat her. But once I got this cream onto a wound it healed cleanly in about 2 days.

    Reply
  4. Jo Klein
    October 14, 2019 at 9:19 am (1 month ago)

    Hi Dr. Bahr, I have a 15 year old declawed in the front cat who recently has begun defecating behind my tv. I have had her since she was 9 years old and was already declawed and has always used the litter box, never an accident. She pees and poops in her litter box still, but does some pooping behind the tv. I put some small furniture behind the tv so she cannot do her business there and she has not chosen another spot. Why would she do this? Will this always work?

    Reply

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