By: Bethany Shewmaker

Most of us are unwilling or unable to look in our cat’s mouth, but what we can’t see may actually be hurting them. Dental disease affects 80% of cats by two years of age and is the number one health problem diagnosed in veterinary clinics. Dental disease can range from mild problems like gingivitis, to more severe conditions like tooth root abscesses and feline odontoclastic lesions. Unfortunately, since cats are masters of hiding discomfort, many of these problems go unnoticed by owners until their cat is in significant pain. Some cats never show overt symptoms of discomfort, even when serious periodontal disease is present, which is why routine veterinary care is so important.

Signs your cat may be experiencing oral discomfort:

  • Decreased interest in food or a change in dietary preferences (canned food over dry food)
  • Increased drooling or bleeding from the mouth
  • Halitosis or bad breath
  • Shaking of the head or pawing at the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing (chewing on one side of the mouth or dropping food while eating)
  • Behavioral changes, such as sleeping in unusual places or decreased grooming

Dental disease in cats begins when bacteria in the mouth produce layers of plaque that harden on the surface of teeth. The hardened plaque promotes inflammation of the tissues surrounding the teeth, a condition known as gingivitis. Tarter and gingivitis that build in the mouth result in periodontal disease. If caught early enough, routine dental prophylaxis can remove accumulated tarter, decrease gingivitis, and help restore the integrity of teeth and surrounding tissues. However, if periodontal disease reaches a stage where irreparable damage to teeth has occurred, treatment must include extraction of affected teeth. Teeth in this condition are often very painful, and without intervention they generally abscess, become mobile, and fracture or fall out on their own.

Dental Health In CatsA dental concern specific to cats is the resorptive lesion, or feline odontoclastic lesion. Nearly 50% of cats will be diagnosed with this type of “cavity” in their lifetime. Although the exact cause is unknown, often plaque that has accumulated on the surface of a tooth results in a defect that the body is unable to repair. The lesion continues to progress as the tooth is resorbed, destroying enamel and exposing the sensitive dentin layer. These lesions are very uncomfortable and the only treatment is removal of the tooth.

Although dental disease cannot be prevented entirely, you can take steps to slow its progression. Like us, cats require regular oral examinations and dental cleanings in conjunction with home dental care. Bacteria associated with dental disease not only affect the mouth, but if left untreated may cause damage to other organs, including the heart, liver, and kidneys. Therefore, routine dental care is a crucial component of helping your cat live a longer, healthier, more comfortable life.

Has your cat had a dental cleaning? Most cats will require several dental cleanings in their lifetime. Performed more frequently, dental cleanings may prevent painful conditions in your cat and reduce the need for extractions in the future. Dental cleanings are performed by a veterinarian under general anesthesia and include scaling, polishing, and fluoride treatment of teeth. While the patient is anesthetized, a thorough examination and probing of each tooth occurs. Teeth with significant periodontal disease or with resorptive lesions are extracted. Cats have a total of thirty teeth and actually utilize very few of them on a daily basis. Even after dental extractions, cats are able to function normally and do much better without the chronic source of discomfort.Dental Health In Cats

So what can you be doing at home? While daily brushing is best to slow the progression of dental disease, this is often very challenging in cats. Even weekly brushings with a Q-tip or pet toothbrush along with specially formulated toothpaste can prolong time between dental cleanings. If brushing is not an option for your cat, there are still things you can do at home to promote dental health. Many of the products listed below have been awarded the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval, meaning their efficacy at reducing tarter in cats has been clinically proven. Preventative dental care can be as easy as giving your cat daily treats!

Diets Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d Feline Dental Health
Purina Veterinary Diets DH Dental Health Feline Formula
Science Diet Adult Oral Care For Cats
Oral Gels And Sprays Cat ESSENTIAL healthymouth Anti-Plaque Oral Gel
Cat ESSENTIAL healthymouth Anti-Plaque Oral Spray
Oxyfresh Pet Gel
Treats Feline Greenies Dental Treats For Cats
Tarter Shield Cat Treats
Temptations Dentabites Cat Treats
Virbac C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Chews For Cats
Water Additives Cat ESSENTIAL healthymouth Anti-Plaque Water Additive
Oxyfresh Pet Oral Hygiene Solution
Tarter Shield DentaTabs
Virbac C.E.T. AquaDent Drinking Water Additive

For an instructional video on brushing your cat’s teeth, please visit For more information on dental health, please see