Here are 5 Ways to Avoid Painful Gingivitis, also known as Feline Dental Disease, in Cats
Cats need their teeth cleaned too
Have you looked inside your cat’s mouth lately?
Most cat parents don’t think much–if at all–about their cat’s teeth and gums. And most cat parents who have had a cat with painful gingivitis or feline dental disease had no idea that it was developing and that they could have taken a few steps to prevent the problem. The fact is, cats do need their teeth cleaned too, just like we do.
Imagine if you never ever brushed or flossed your teeth or used a mouthwash. It’s up to us to make sure our kitties do not suffer from painful dental disease.
*This is Part 1 in the Feline Dental Health Series. In Part 2, I explain the easy way to clean a cat’s teeth.
Before I get to the 5 steps to avoiding painful gingivitis and feline dental disease in cats, let’s take a quick look at these conditions.
Signs of dental disease
- Red line along gum line — healthy gums will be light pink along the gum line.
- Depending on how advanced the condition is, the gums may also be swollen.
- Bad breath.
- Tartar — seen as a yellowish calcified layer along base of the tooth.
- Yellow or brown teeth.
- Not eating, eating very slow, or flicking food around while trying to eat.
The poor kitty in the photo below is in severe need of a dental cleaning. Although, that’s not the only health problem this cat has going on. Notice how the fur looks dry, dull, and separates. This is a sign of chronic dehydration, often seen with eating dry cat food over a course of years.
Statistic: 70% of cats have dental disease by the age of 3 — and the irony of dry food for cleaning teeth
The irony about the 70% statistic — which is even stated on the website of a major pet food manufacturer of dry food — is that for many years, cat food manufacturers have promoted their dry cat food (aka kibble) to clean teeth…and the majority of cat parents feed their cats dry food 100% of the time. If dry food supposedly “cleans” teeth and most cats are fed mostly — or only — dry food, then why would SO MANY cats have dental disease?
In my opinion, along with that of most wellness-minded veterinarians, is that it’s just not true that dry food cleans teeth. Granted, I have heard from a few cat parents who feed dry food that their veterinarians have said their cat’s teeth are clean and in good shape. I think this is more a rarity than commonplace.
Some cats are prone to dental disease dependent on several factors. One factor can be their food. And some are prone to dental problems due to hereditary reasons, a weak immune system, or even breeding.
Read about the risks of feeding dry food and how it is impossible that it cleans teeth — and even contributes to dental disease — in 5 Myths About Cat Food That Endanger Your Cat’s Health and What to Do Instead.
The carnivore diet of wild cats keeps their teeth clean
Wild cats eat raw meat and bones, whether they are out in the wild, in a zoo, or in a sanctuary.
The gnawing action on raw meat cleans their teeth. The gnawing and crunching on bones cleans their teeth. This gnawing action also keeps their jaw bones strong and fit. The jaw bones are where the teeth roots connect to and hold the teeth in. Cats would need to be fed chunks of raw meat and bones nearly every day to keep the teeth clean.
Canned wet food does not clean a cat’s teeth
There is nothing about canned food that can clean the teeth. Even ground raw meat cannot clean their teeth, although it’s less likely to contribute to dental disease because it is void of carbohydrates (aka starch/sugar). I feed my cats raw meat–a mixture of ground and chunked–once per day, and canned food once per day. They get raw bones or chicken necks one to two times per week. This is not good enough to keep their teeth pearly white. Thus, we have to resort to cleaning their teeth.
Feline Dental Disease and Bacteria
All creatures who eat have mouth bacteria. This bacteria feeds off of the food left behind in the mouth and stuck on teeth. Bacteria forms into plaque. Plaque hardens and becomes tartar. More bacteria lives in this environment, which irritate the gums, causing redness, inflammation and eventually pain. The bacteria enters the bloodstream via the gums.
In advanced gum/dental disease, this bacteria can enter organs, breaking them down. Death can result from advanced dental disease due to the bacterial infection.
A cat’s upper molars are where tartar primarily develops. Their tongues tend to keep the bottom teeth clean.
The back upper molar has a crevice where tartar easily develops (see photo below). After a period of time, the tooth will turn brown. The tartar will deteriorate the tooth and can be very painful. There is no way that dry food or any dental cleaning treats can clean out that crevice!
Your cat’s dental care is VERY IMPORTANT. Do not underestimate this.
Now that we have those things covered, here are 5 ways to help keep your cat’s teeth and gums clean and healthy.
1) Routinely check your cat’s mouth
This is so very important as a routine wellness check for your cat.
A cat’s mouth, teeth and gums are indicators of anything going on wrong. Check once per week. Gently pull up and back one upper lip at a time. Then pull down and back one lower lip at a time. Another way to do this can be seen in the photo above. It’s best to do this while they are resting and calm.
Here is what you’re looking for:
>>Red and/or swollen gums along the base of the teeth (the gum line).
>>Tartar seen as hard yellow buildup.
>>Teeth turning brown or yellow (although this is possible due just to old age).
>>Smell for breath that is worse than typical mild cat fish breath.
2) Have regular veterinary dental cleanings
February is Feline Dental Awareness Month. Most veterinary clinics send announcements to patients and offer discounts up to 25% off during February. So, this is a good time to get your cat in for a dental cleaning. Trying to get your cat in for a dental cleaning is not just a way for veterinarians to milk more money out of you. Just as we go to the dentist one or two times per year for cleaning and x-rays, our kitties need it too. Yes, a dental cleaning is quite expensive. Depending on where you live, anywhere from $300-$700. This is quite less expensive, and less traumatic for your cat, than taking care of feline dental disease in advanced stages.
Cats need to be put under anesthesia during a dental cleaning. Some vets require a pre-office visit to check your cat’s teeth first and determine if they may need to do extractions for any broken, infected, or rotting teeth. They may then have you schedule the work for another day.
If you have an older cat, you may be more wary of having cleanings done due to the anesthesia. However, anesthesia has come a long way and is much safer than it used to be. Most veterinarians recommend, some even insist, on having a blood panel done for cats over 6 years old before using anesthesia.
But a lot can happen in your cat’s mouth in-between veterinary dental cleanings. So what can you do in between these dental cleanings to keep your cat’s mouth healthy and clean? Maybe even avoid them all together?
*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a very small commission if you purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). It is a great way to say thanks if you find my information helpful for you and your cat. I personally use or have used any products I recommend.
3) Brush your cat’s teeth
I’ll admit, I don’t even brush my cats’ teeth! Oh, I tried, but the pet toothbrushes were too big. Plus I don’t like the look of the ingredients in the pet toothpaste that comes in the dental kit. They contain things like preservatives, sorbitol (a sugar alcohol), carageenan. (You can get a copy of my 10 ingredients you definitely want to avoid in cat food HERE.) There is a toothbrush designed for a cat’s mouth. It’s the CET Oral Hygiene Kit by Virbac for cats. However, the toothpaste included in the kit has those questionable ingredients. My cats like the flavor from the poultry digest ingredient, and I’ve used the product to get them to accept my finger in their mouth. But for long term use, no.
A thin, damp washcloth works just as well, and this is what I use occasionally along with dental gel. Some cats don’t mind having their gums and teeth gently massaged with a washcloth, so it’s definitely worth the effort. My cat, Tiger, seems to enjoy the massaging of his gums.
Since cats don’t like to have something stuck in their mouths and don’t like change, it will take time and patience to get them accustomed to cleaning their teeth. Again, it’s worth the time and effort to avoid feline dental disease. You can find videos on Youtube demonstrating how to brush a cat’s teeth.
4) Use a dental gel for cats (and dogs too)
Next to brushing, a good non-alcohol dental gel applied daily is your best bet. There are quite a few brands to choose from. Most of them contain questionable ingredients. Here’s what to look for and avoid.
Avoid alcohol-based dental gels
One of the most popular brands found in pet stores and sold at veterinary clinics contains alcohol, and the salmon and mint flavors taste terrible! Yes, I tried it. The stuff smells so awful, I thought it can’t taste very good. So, I had to try it. My poor babies, I had been forcing that stuff into their mouths for a month before I finally tasted it. They certainly resisted the stuff.
In my quest to find a better dental gel, I found out that alcohol can be deadly for cats and dogs, even in tiny amounts. And definitely when given daily over a period of time. Their livers cannot process it. Not only had I been giving them something that tasted nasty, I had been forcing alcohol in their mouths for a month before I learned that it is dangerous. I figured “it must be safe if it’s in the product and being sold in veterinary clinics.” Please avoid dental gels containing alcohol.
DentaSure, a truly natural and safe non-alcohol dental gel for cats
DentaSure is nearly odorless and tasteless. It’s ingredients? Simple, safe, and healthy:
- Purified water
- Organic grapefruit seed extract
- Grape seed extract
- Propolis extract
- Xanthum gum (a thickener to make it gel, which is better and safer than carageenan)
- Stevia (a safe sweetener that does not affect blood sugar levels in a bad way)
The ingredients have positive properties:
- Organic grapefruit seed extract and grape seed extract inhibit bacterial growth and strengthen the immune system
- Bee propolis strengthens the health of the gums
- Stevia is an antioxidant
To dissolve tartar, the instructions are to use two times daily for 30 days. Results vary as far as how long it will take to dissolve tartar. In some cases, the tartar will be gone before the 30 days. After this period, the company recommends to use the gel once daily to prevent tartar.
Does a once-daily application prevent tartar?
I wanted to test the gel at the once-daily application. After using this gel for over a year, I have not seen that a once-daily application prevents tartar for all cats. Formation is slowed down, but not prevented.
Some cats form tartar quicker than others. My cat Tiger has no tartar with once-daily application. The other cats still develop tartar with a once-daily application.
If I keep with the once a day routine, it is still necessary to remove some tartar. I have removed tartar by flicking it off with my thumbnail. A veterinarian did this for one of my cats once. He basically put himself out of a dental cleaning job. Now, this won’t remove all plaque that you cannot see at or below the gum line, so don’t rely on this method as the only one to clean your cat’s teeth.
You can also try a professional dental kit with a scraper and a pick. The tools are very sharp and care must be taken.
Based on my experience, it is very important to be consistent with twice daily application to prevent tartar for some cats. My cats don’t care for the twice daily application or having me remove tartar. But, oh well, such is a cat’s life. I always ask them, would you rather go to the vet and be put under anesthesia? That means a needle stuck in your vein? Meh, they say.
Buy DentaSure gel HERE.
And be sure to check out “The Easy Way to Keep Your Cats Teeth Clean,” to learn how to train your cat to become accustomed to having your finger in her mouth to apply the dental gel.
5) Feed a raw food diet to your cat
Feeding a raw food diet that includes bones to crunch on and chunks of meat to gnaw on is both natural and healthy for cats, who are true carnivores. Some cats are prone to gingivitis, stomatitis and tooth resorption (autoimmune dysfunctions where there are swollen, red gums sometimes even with clean teeth). In such cases, you want to help build their immune systems. There are multiple ways to build the immune system, and food is the most important. We are what we eat. Overly processed, commercial dry cat food puts a lot of strain and stress on a cat’s organs and immune system.
At the minimum, start by changing from dry food to canned food, then consider moving to raw meat. Cats with painful gums won’t be able to start with chunks of meat and bones. You will have to start with ground meats.
Good bones for cats are:
- chicken necks, cut in half or into thirds for one serving
- chicken party wings
- cornish game hen bones
If you need help with changing your cat over to canned or raw food, you can get support and encouragement with Thrive Nutrition Programs right HERE.
See how Opal, the scrappy stray Siamese cat, transformed into a healthy beauty with the Thrive Nutrition Program.
Healthy Life Cat Coach
*Photo of orange tabby cat yawning courtesy of: Ryan McGuire-Pixabay. All other photos are courtesy of Cats Gone Healthy.