When Your Cat Goes to the Dentist

What the Two of You Can Expect

Most caregivers would never consider letting a year go by without an annual visit to the veterinarian for a check up and vaccinations. These visits are important for maintaining the health of our feline companions. So, while making your annual appointments, do not overlook the most common disease that faces our feline friends.

The most common disease in a cat is dental disease, advises Daniel Carmichael, DVM, a veterinary dentist at Animal Medical Center in New York City. A 1990 graduate of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Carmichael, who is a diplomate of the American Veterinarian Dental College, says: Eighty-five percent of all cats over the age of 5 need dental treatment today. For most, the quality of their life would be improved by seeing a dentist.

When planning the trip to the dentist, keep in mind that the goal is treatment and prevention. A cats teeth need to be cleaned to remove the build-up of plaque and tartar. Left untreated, tartar and plaque build-up cause periodontal disease, an infection that can lead to serious health problems.

During the dental exam
A routine dental exam for your feline friend needs to be done at least once a year throughout his life. Juvenile onset gingivitis can be present in cats as young as 6 months of age, Carmichael says. They also check to make sure there are no problems caused by the baby teeth not falling out. A yearly dental check up is extremely important, Carmichael notes. Carmichael says that dental problems could cause a cat to go from being healthy to very sick and in pain within a year.

When Carmichael sees a patient, he says there are five tasks he always performs (see box). He further notes that in the past caregivers may have been nervous about the side effects of anesthesia and so may have avoided dental visits.

Anesthesia today is not what it used to be, he explains. The anesthesia used today is safer than ever because of newer anesthetic agents and better monitoring.

Preventive measures
The single best thing for cat dental care is to brush daily with a special cat toothpaste and a finger brush or soft human toothbrush, Carmichael says. Cat toothpaste is chicken flavored and can be swallowed unlike human toothpaste, which should not be swallowed. This is important because cats dont spit nor do they like the taste of wintergreen, peppermint, or bubble gum.

There are cat foods that help to prevent tartar build up. Hills, IAMS, and Friskies make cat food that is effective in helping control plaque and tartar, but these foods may cause pain if the cat has dental disease. When addressing cat dental care, dont start with the diet, start with a dental examination and cleaning, Carmichael recommends.

Yet, there are no preventive measures for certain feline dental diseases, such as cat cavities (feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions, or FORLs) because the cause is unknown. A cats teeth do not decay like a humans teeth, Carmichael explains.

FORLs are caused by something in the tooth. Because the cause is not known, Carmichael describes it as, the tooth just deciding to commit suicide.

The cost for dental cleaning is typically $60 to $90. Add to that anesthesia and hospitalization, and the visit can range between $300 and $400. It may seem a high price, but the cost for not adequately caring for your feline friend could be much greater finance- and health-wise. The pain associated with untreated dental problems may sometimes be unnoticed. The only way to be sure is to see the veterinarian at least once a year. Make an appointment with your own dentist, and make one with the veterinary dentist for your feline friend as well.