Unveiling the secret world of feline oral health: Understanding and preventing teeth troubles in cats

Unveiling the secret world of feline oral health: Understanding and preventing teeth troubles in cats

As veterinarians, we are intimately familiar with the intricate needs of our feline friends, and one aspect often overlooked is their oral health.

Just like humans, cats can suffer from a range of dental issues (from the buildup of plaque and tartar to more serious conditions like periodontal disease), that can significantly impact their overall well-being. In this article, we delve into the world of feline oral health, on the common dental problems cats face and the importance of understanding and preventing these issues.

Cats are notorious for their ability to conceal discomfort and pain, making it crucial to be vigilant about their dental health. While our feline companions may not complain about toothaches or gum disease outright, subtle signs and symptoms can indicate underlying dental issues that warrant attention. By gaining insight into the unique anatomy of a cat's mouth and familiarizing ourselves with the common dental problems they encounter, we can equip ourselves with the knowledge needed to provide optimal care for our furry companions.

Throughout this article, we aim to empower you all with practical strategies for maintaining your cat's oral health, from recognizing the signs of dental problems to implementing preventive measures at home.

First of all... Let’s learn about Cat's Dental Anatomy!

Understanding the anatomy of a cat's mouth is essential for comprehending their unique dental needs and potential problems. While cats and humans share similarities in dental structure, there are notable differences that influence how oral health issues manifest and are addressed.

  1. Teeth: Cats have 30 teeth on average, with slight variations depending on factors like breed and age. These include incisors, canines, premolars, and molars, each serving specific functions in biting, tearing, and chewing.
  2. Gums: The gums, or gingiva, surround and support the teeth. Healthy gums should be pink and firm. Changes in color or texture can indicate underlying dental issues.
  3. Tongue: Cats possess a rough-textured tongue covered in tiny, backward-facing barbs called papillae. This unique feature aids in grooming, licking, and manipulating food but can also contribute to dental problems if not properly maintained, because these papillae can also trap food particles and bacteria.

One features in a cat's mouth is the fact that they have relatively small salivary glands compared to humans, resulting in less saliva production. While saliva plays a crucial role in oral hygiene by helping to wash away food particles and bacteria, decreased saliva production in cats may contribute to the development of dental issues like plaque and tartar buildup.

Which are the Common Dental Problems in Cats?

Dental Plaque and Tartar Buildup

- Plaque Formation: Like humans, cats can develop dental plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that accumulates on the teeth and gums. Plaque formation begins shortly after eating and, if not removed, can harden into tartar.

- Tartar Accumulation: Tartar, also known as dental calculus, is a hardened deposit that forms when plaque mineralizes. The stone is made up of 76% calcium phosphate, 3% calcium carbonate and the rest traces of magnesium phosphate and other metals. Tartar buildup can lead to gum irritation, bad breath (halitosis), and further progression of dental disease if left untreated.

Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease

- Gingivitis: Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums caused by bacterial infection. Common signs include redness, swelling, and bleeding along the gum line. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to more severe periodontal disease.

- Periodontal Disease: Periodontal disease refers to the inflammation and destruction of the tissues supporting the teeth, including the gums, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone. It is a progressive pathology that has several stages. Not all teeth are affected equally. The incisors, fourth premolar teeth and first molar teeth are the ones that first develop periodontal disease. Advanced periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss and systemic health issues if bacteria from the mouth enter the bloodstream.

Tooth Decay and Cavities

- Dental Caries: Dental cavities, or cavities, are less common in cats compared to humans but can still occur, particularly in older cats or those with specific dietary habits. Cavities result from the demineralization of tooth enamel by acid-producing bacteria, leading to decay and potential tooth loss if not addressed promptly.

Oral Tumors and Other Serious Dental Issues

- Oral Tumors: Cats can develop various oral tumors, including squamous cell carcinoma, fibrosarcoma, and melanoma. These tumors may arise from the gums, tongue, or other oral tissues and can cause pain, difficulty eating, and other symptoms.

- Other Dental Conditions: Cats may also experience other dental issues such as fractured teeth, oral ulcers, and stomatitis (inflammation of the oral mucosa), which require prompt veterinary attention and management.

How often do they appear?

Periodontal disease is very present in our dogs and cats. It is known that more than 70% of cats suffer from this pathology. This high percentage puts periodontal disease among the three most common pathologies in dogs and cats.

How can we detect Dental Problems in Cats?

Behavioral Indicators

  1. Changes in Eating Habits: A reluctance to eat or difficulty chewing may signal dental pain or discomfort. Cats experiencing oral pain may show decreased interest in food or exhibit unusual chewing behaviors, such as favoring one side of the mouth or dropping food while eating.
  2. Pawing at the Mouth: Cats in distress may paw at their mouths in an attempt to alleviate discomfort. Persistent pawing or rubbing of the face and mouth area could indicate dental pain or irritation.
  3. Changes in Vocalization: Excessive vocalization, especially during eating or grooming, may indicate oral discomfort. Cats may vocalize more frequently or exhibit unusual vocalizations while eating or grooming if they are experiencing dental pain.

Physical Signs

  1. Bad Breath (Halitosis): Foul-smelling breath is often an early sign of dental problems in cats. Halitosis can result from bacterial overgrowth in the mouth due to plaque and tartar buildup, gingivitis, or tooth decay.
  2. Red or Inflamed Gums: Healthy gums should be pink and firm. Redness, swelling, or inflammation along the gum line may indicate gingivitis or periodontal disease.
  3. Drooling (Hypersalivation): Excessive drooling or hypersalivation in cats can be a sign of oral pain or irritation. While occasional drooling may be normal, persistent drooling accompanied by other symptoms warrants veterinary attention.
  4. Visible Tartar or Discoloration: Visible accumulation of tartar on the teeth or discoloration of the teeth (e.g., yellow or brown stains) may indicate poor dental hygiene and the presence of underlying dental issues.

Why do they appear?

While cats are known for their fastidious grooming habits, maintaining optimal oral health requires more than just routine cleaning. Several factors contribute to the development of dental problems in cats, ranging from poor dental hygiene to genetic predispositions.

Poor Dental Hygiene

  1. Lack of Dental Care: Without regular brushing or dental cleanings, plaque and tartar can accumulate on the teeth, leading to gingivitis, periodontal disease, and other oral health issues.
  2. Neglecting annual checkups: If regular dental check-ups are not carried out by a veterinarian, oral lesions or congenital dental anomalies that could influence the animal's oral health could go unnoticed.

Diet and Nutrition

  1. Impact of Diet: The type of diet cats consume can significantly affect their oral health. Diets containing abrasive textures or dental-friendly ingredients like raw bones can help mechanically clean the teeth and reduce plaque buildup.
  2. Nutritional Deficiencies: Certain diets, especially those high in carbohydrates and lacking essential nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, can affect dental health and contribute to dental abnormalities and weakened tooth structure.

Genetics and Breed Predispositions

  1. Breed-Specific Factors: Certain cat breeds may be predisposed to specific dental issues due to genetic factors. For example, breeds with brachycephalic (short-nosed) facial structures, such as Persians and Exotic Shorthairs, may be more prone to dental crowding and misalignment.
  2. Hereditary Conditions: Inherited conditions, such as malocclusions (misaligned teeth) or dental abnormalities, can increase the risk of dental problems in cats.

Age-Related Factors

  1. Senior Cats: As cats age, they may become more susceptible to dental issues due to factors such as decreased saliva production, wear and tear on teeth, and underlying health conditions. Senior cats may require additional dental care and monitoring to maintain oral health.
  2. Degenerative Changes: Age-related changes, such as gum recession, tooth root exposure, and loss of dental enamel, can contribute to dental problems in older cats.


  1. Systemic diseases: Some systemic diseases, such as kidney disease or diabetes, can affect the oral health of cats. These conditions can increase susceptibility to dental infections and other oral issues. It's important to address and manage these underlying diseases to maintain the oral health of cats.

How can we prevent it?

Understanding the causes of this disease is crucial for taking proactive measures to prevent its onset. Implementing a comprehensive dental care regimen, including regular brushing, appropriate diet choices, and routine veterinary examinations, can help prevent dental problems.

Regular Dental Care Routines at Home

  1. Brushing Teeth: Establish a regular tooth-brushing routine (several times a week) using a feline-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste. Take a look at our article Your Cat Needs Their Teeth Brushed - All You Need to know to know more about.
  2. Dental Wipes or Gels: For cats who resist tooth brushing, dental wipes or gels can provide an alternative method for cleaning the teeth and gums. 
  3. Dental Chews, Treats and Toys: Offer dental chews, treats or dental-friendly toys. These helps mechanically clean teeth and stimulate saliva production, which aids in natural plaque control. Look for products approved by veterinary dental organizations for optimal efficacy and safety.
  4. Check for Signs of Dental Problems: Regularly inspect your cat's mouth for signs of dental problems, including bad breath, red or inflamed gums, visible tartar or discoloration, and changes in eating habits. Promptly report any abnormalities to your veterinarian for evaluation.

Dental-Friendly Diet and Treats

  1. Avoid Excessive Carbohydrates: Limit the consumption of diets high in carbohydrates, as these can contribute to plaque formation and dental decay. Opt for diets rich in protein and low in carbohydrates to support dental health and overall well-being. Take a look at our article I Started Feeding my Cat Raw. YOU SHOULD TOO! to know more about.

Professional Dental Cleanings by a Veterinarian

  1. Schedule Regular Veterinary Examinations: Schedule routine dental check-ups with your veterinarian to monitor your cat's oral health and detect potential issues early.
  2. Professional dental cleanings: During a dental cleaning, your veterinarian will perform a thorough scaling to remove plaque and tartar from the teeth, followed by polishing to smooth the tooth surfaces and reduce plaque adherence.

What can we do if they have some oral problem?

If a owner notices an oral problem in their cat, it is important to act quickly to seek veterinary care. Some actions an owner can take include:

  1. Schedule an appointment with the veterinarian: As soon as they notice an oral problem in their cat, the owner should schedule an appointment with a veterinarian for a comprehensive evaluation and accurate diagnosis.
  2. Observe and document symptoms: Before the veterinary appointment, the owner can observe and document any symptoms related to the oral problem, such as bad breath, gum inflammation, or changes in the cat's eating habits.
  3. Avoid over-the-counter medications: Owners should refrain from administering over-the-counter medications or home remedies to their cats before consulting with a veterinarian, as this could worsen the problem or cause unwanted side effects.
  4. Follow veterinarian's recommendations: Once the diagnosis has been made, the owner should follow the veterinarian's recommendations for the treatment and management of their cat's oral problem. This may include treatment options such as dental cleanings, tooth extractions, prescribed medications, or other veterinary procedures.

Take Home Message

In conclusion, understanding and addressing the oral health needs of our feline companions is paramount for ensuring their overall well-being and longevity.

Cats, with their unique ability to conceal discomfort, rely heavily on their human companions to recognize signs of dental issues. By familiarizing ourselves with the subtle cues and physical indicators of oral health problems, we can provide the necessary care and attention our furry friends deserve.

Maintaining your cat's oral health requires dedication and consistency, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

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