By JeanneBennett

Spirit staff Pet Advocate

As many of you already know, February is pet dental health month and since a majority of pet owners have dogs, there’s always the messaging heavily-weighted towards the canine owner. But PET dental health applies to feline fanciers, too.

Today, one of the more pressing issues veterinarians deal with is getting people to be serious about oral health in cats.

Cats generally, by the time they are six months old, have 30 permanent teeth intended for catching prey, ripping it to pieces and chewing it up. Nearly 70 percent of cats ages three and older have symptoms of dental disease. Many will never receive any home dental care, and the condition of their teeth will worsen every year for the rest of their lives.

Even if the only thing your cat hunts is treats, she still needs to keep the pearly whites in tip-top shape.

Every year veterinarians see countless feline patients with severe and painful mouth conditions, some of which could have been prevented if their owners had spent a little time practicing home dental care on their pet.

Some drool constantly. Some can barely manage to eat. Most suffer from mouth pain all the time and if you have never experienced it, take my word for it, a cat in pain is no fun to be around. Think of yourself. Have you ever had a cold sore in your mouth or an infected tooth? Did you think to yourself, “This is nothing to worry about; it’s no big deal”? Of course not! Dental disease is incredibly painful, as well as detrimental to overall health and happiness in people and cats.

This is the one area of home care in which pet owners fail their pets than any other. Teeth, even cats’ teeth, are not all that difficult to care for. But left untended, they quickly accumulate plaque buildup, which causes the gums to recede and bacteria to take up lodging in your cat’s mouth. And oral bacteria don’t stay put. Over time, they cause infections that enter the bloodstream by way of a cat’s mouth and spread throughout his body.

These bacteria can damage your cat’s heart, liver and kidneys, and compromise nearly every aspect of his health. This process sounds like it should be a rare occurrence, but it is incredibly common.

There are two keys to ensuring your cat doesn’t suffer the effects of poor dental care.

First, make sure your cat gets her regular dental exam with her veterinarian and schedule an appointment to have her teeth cleaned and scaled so you have a clean slate. Since you still have a few days left in the month, if you hurry you can take advantage of some of the dental specials that many veterinarians are currently offering.

Second, start a program of home care. A lot of cat owners don’t think their cats will stand for tooth brushing — and some of them are right. You know your cat’s temperament better than anyone, so don’t force the issue. Instead, try these steps:

  • Don’t give up if your cat isn’t receptive at first.  Work up to brushing. Don’t get all carried away and lunge at your adult cat with toothbrush and toothpaste in a single day. Work up to it. Start by touching your cat around the mouth while you cuddle him. Gently pull up his lip to look at his teeth. Touch a tooth. You may be surprised to find that, when things are calm and your cat is happy, he doesn’t mind this kind of contact.
  • If you can work up to tooth brushing once, twice or, ideally, three times a week, that’s excellent. If a toothbrush scares your cat, you can get nearly the same result by wiping his teeth with a gauze pad or dental wipe from the pet supply store. Use a toothpaste formulated for cats if you can (never use a human toothpaste in pets), but even a regular swipe with gauze dipped in water is much better than no tooth care at all.
  • Choose dental toys and treats for your cat. Your veterinarian can steer you to toys that are impregnated with enzymes to help reduce plaque.
  • Use a dental rinse. One of the most recent innovations in home dental care is an oral rinse that kills bacteria in your cat’s mouth. Ask your cat’s veterinarian if this might be helpful for your cat, especially if your pet is not willing to let you directly clean her teeth.
  • Use toothbrushes and toothpaste made specifically for cats. Products made for humans could prove harmful to your pet. If you are not sure about where to get products made specifically for your cat, ask your veterinarian. If they don’t sell it in their office I am sure they can tell you where to get it.

Cats are simply not the “no-maintenance” pets many people imagine them to be. But preventive care isn’t difficult and the payoff is huge. You can extend your cat’s life and make his days far more comfortable with just a little of your time by adding oral care to your pet’s life.

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