Fight the Plaque for Your Cat: Dental Health in Cats

Cute kitten showing her teeth for dental health awarenessA study by the Cornell Feline Health Center reports somewhere between 50 to 90% of cats four years and older will have signs of poor dental health and even dental disease. Dental care is a much neglected, and an equally important, aspect of pet parenthood. Owners often miss cues that a potential problem is brewing, cats especially. This is a problem that is largely preventable through education and being pro-active, or just a good hard look at your cat when they yawn.

To many cat owners the question often becomes; what does poor dental health in cats look like? How can care be improved at home? In honor of February being Pet Dental Health Month and National Cat Health Month, Pet Sitting by Peggy, LLC looks into the cornerstone of feline health; dental care.

A Closer Look at Poor Dental Health

Dental disease in cats is extremely similar to disease in human teeth. When eating, food attacks plaque which hardens with bacteria and calcium to form tartar. This tartar gathers both above and below the gum-line. It is in tartar buildup that the bacteria grow and create infection. Left to its own devices, plaque can cause anything from inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) to eventual breakdown of the tooth tissue, known as periodontitis (Sonius, 2008). If left long enough, your cat will lose teeth and bone tissue in their jaw.

If your furry friend visits you with terrible morning breath, drooling, tooth discoloration, reluctance to eat, bleeding gums or dropping food from the mouth, these may be a sign they are being affected by more than just plaque buildup.

Why Tooth Care is Important for Cats

Dental care is important since teeth are used for eating, playing and defending themselves in a pinch. If left untreated, though, dental disease can lead to oral cancers, diseases in other organs and a shortened lifespan (Sonius, 2008). Not just bad breath, by the time periodontitis sets in the cat is more than likely to lose a tooth or two during their cleaning procedure.

Cats are at particular risk for poor dental hygiene since they hide their symptoms so well. Both cats and dogs evolved in the wild to mask feelings of pain and illness since it would be seen as a weakness to other predators. Since being domesticated into family members for humans, both animals have kept this survival trait. While dogs are more likely to have dental issues noticed because their teeth are more visible, cats are not.

Cats don’t pant (revealing their teeth) and frequently choose to eat alone, where their symptoms would be apparent. This can hide signs of advancing tooth disease to everyone but those looking for it. Always mention during their yearly visit with their vet to have a thorough oral checkup and regular cleanings.

How to Help Your Cat Have Healthy Teeth

Healthy dental care in cats is usually included in a yearly trip to the vet during their yearly checkup. A quick visual exam of the mouth is used to measure the level of plaque and tartar, and once a year a dental cleaning is recommended. This cleaning is performed under anesthesia for their comfort, and may include x-rays of the jaw. The same dental tools used to clean human teeth are also used to clean cat teeth, and at the end your cat will have less-fishy breath to greet you in the morning.

How to Care for Your Cat’s Teeth at Home

There are two major steps at home that owners can take to improve the dental outlook for their cats; through diet and by brushing their teeth at home. Seeming ridiculous to the newly initiated, feline teeth brushing can increase the time between necessary cleanings by the vet and save a lot of money (Beynen, 2015). The key in brushing at home is to get the cat used to both the taste of the special cat toothpaste and having their mouth inspected. Human toothpaste is toxic to cats, so remember to purchase fish or chicken flavored toothpaste from the local pet store. As with most new things, teeth brushing in cats can be an easy introduction through classical conditioning. Try slowly working in both the taste of the pet toothpaste and examinations of the mouth with frequent treats and lots of patience.

The second method to improve cat dental hygiene is to provide dry and textured foods to your cat instead of wet food. While dry food does not have as strong a smell, usually key in getting cats interested, it has a much better rate of removing plaque from teeth. Speak to your veterinarian today for a recommended dry cat food to help in dental health.

The joys of cat partnership do not immediately make a person think of brushing a cat’s teeth, but it is one step in ensuring good health for your feline. If you’d like to stop waking up to the smell that can only come from a cat in need of a cleaning, it’s time to dial up your vet for a dental visit. Speak with your vet today to hear their best recommendations for ways to fight back the plaque.

NOTE: Some vets in the Birmingham, Al. area are extending their Feb. dental specials into March. I know that Holmes Feline Clinic is one of these. Please check with your individual facilities.

To learn more about how Pet Sitting by Peggy can help you with your cat’s health, check out our Services page, or use the contact form to the right, or call us at (205) 516-7720 or email us at


Beynen, A. C. (2015). Dental Petfoods. Creature Companion, 52-54. Retrieved February 17, 2018 

Feline Dental Disease | Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2018

Sonius, C. (2008). Feline Oral Health. Retrieved February 17, 2018