Tuesday, September 29, 2009 4:44 PM

Keeping Your Cat's Gums and Teeth Healthy

Just as with people, the condition of a cat's gums and teeth are often an indicator of the animal's overall health. If you notice bad breath, the first place to look for trouble is in the cat's mouth. Check for reddened, inflamed gums and teeth that look heavily streaked with brown (a little is OK) or have brownish or yellow buildup on the teeth. This is tartar, the stuff that causes gingivitis. If the problem is pretty severe, you will need to have your veterinarian put the cat under anesthetic to have the teeth cleaned. Since this is something you will want to avoid, especially in older cats, let's talk about how to prevent the problem in the first place.

Get in the habit of checking kitty's teeth early on. Cats aren't crazy about having their mouths prodded, but once they are in the routine of having their teeth and gums gently examined by you, it won't bother them. If the animal is in good health, there will probably be no gingivitis. Look for a red line along the gum line, and swelling. Checking often and cleaning with some gauze wrapped around a finger should keep this from happening. No need to use kitty toothpaste; plain water will do. Small chunks of tartar can often be removed with a fingernail before they cause trouble.

It is a common belief that dry cat food "cleans" a cat's teeth, preventing tartar buildup. Gee--that's like saying that if we humans eat enough crunchy junk food, we'll never need to brush or floss! Of course, that is untrue. Dry cat food is mostly made up of carbohydrates (sugars) which are the enemy of healthy teeth. Also, cats don't have grinding teeth, like herbivores (plant eaters), so there's no "scrubbing" going on. Have you ever noticed how your cat turns its head to eat dry food? Cats' teeth are for tearing, not grinding.

The best prevention against tooth and gum disease is to feed your cat a high-quality diet. This precludes dry food, which is not a healthful food. Since my cats have been on a homemade diet, their teeth are perfect. Goldie, the only one of the three who had mild gingivitis, has no problems now. A premium canned food will have a similar effect, although Goldie had gum issues when he was on such a diet. Careful screening, along with such a diet and perhaps a monthly cleaning at home will probably stave off any real problems. The sooner this new routine is instituted, the better!

Helpful Hint: Take a tip from the French and give your cats treats of cubed cheddar cheese a few times a week. All cheese, particularly cheddar, contain enzymes that neutralize bacteria that cause tooth and gum disease. And, of course, cats love it!
Eat a cube yourself after every meal, as well!
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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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