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Why your cat needs a dental exam

Keep your cat's mouth healthy

February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association, it was created to help remind pet guardians about the importance of oral health.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, oral disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem for pets. A whopping 70 percent of cats are diagnosed with oral health issues by the age of three. As a matter of fact, periodontal disease is the most common health problem that veterinarians find in pets.

Poor dental health affects more than just the mouth. According to veterinary dental specialist Dr. Curt Coffman, “Dogs and cats having periodontal disease are more likely to have histopathologic changes in the heart, kidney, and liver.” In other words, periodontal disease can shorten a pet's life.

Obvious signs of dental problems include:

  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Pain while chewing
  • Drooling
  • Blood in the mouth
  • Pawing at the face
  • Discolored teeth
  • Red gums
  • Redness along the gum line

Preventative care is paramount for dental health. Keeping plaque and tartar from building up is a priority. While regular brushing is recommended, it isn't always possible. For stubborn cats, enzyme-based products that work to prevent build up, eliminate plaque and tartar and freshen breath, like gels by PetZlife have proven results.

Karen Becker, DVM, also recommends a balanced, raw food diet for cats. "As your pet chews the bones in her raw food, they help to scrape away tartar and plaque on her teeth. The cartilage, ligaments and tendons in the raw meat act as a natural dental floss."

The importance of having your cat's teeth examined annually by a veterinarian cannot be stressed enough.

If a professional cleaning is advised, blood work may be advised to make sure your cat is healthy enough for anesthesia. Prices for blood work plus a cleaning cost on average between $400 - $500 (x-rays and extractions may be additional). Many veterinarians offer discounts throughout National Pet Dental Health Month, so it is a good time to make arrangements.

The actual cleaning consists of a thorough examination of the teeth, gums, mouth and tongue. The use of anesthesia is safe for most cats and important as it allows the veterinarian to probe below the gum line where more than 60% of plaque and tartar accumulate. It also allows the vet to take x-rays.

Because cats are especially susceptible to Odontoclastic Resorption, it is advised that all adult cats should undergo dental X-rays.

Tooth resorption is the gradual destruction of a tooth or teeth caused by cells called odontoclasts. It usually starts on the outside of the tooth at the gum line, appearing as skin overgrowth or obvious lesions. Although most common in the lower jaw, resorption can occur in any tooth. It is estimated that more than 50% of adult cats develop this very painful disease.

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