Care for feline teeth

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Unlike horses, you cannot tell the age of a cat by looking at his teeth although often the condition of the teeth will give you a better idea of how old a cat might be if you have not had him since he was a kitten. Let’s find out how.
Joan Henderson
The teeth of adult cat
Cats have thirty teeth – six sharp small incisors on the top and six below. On either side he has four large teeth and they are called ‘canine teeth’ and there are also three premolars on each side of the upper jaw and two on each side of the lower jaw.
A single molar lies behind the premolars.
3 – 3 1 – 1 3 – 3 1 – 1
Incisors….Canines….Premolars….Molars….
3 – 3 1 – 1 2 – 2 1 – 1
It is not unusual for some cats to only have 28 teeth and this is due to two of the premolars in the upper jaw that have not developed.
Uses of teeth
It is obvious that cats use their teeth to fight, bite and sometimes kill. Tearing and cutting is done with the teeth. He doesn’t always use teeth for chewing because he may just want to get food down to the size he can swallow and digest before another cat steals his meal.
Tooth troubles
If you see your cat pawing at his mouth, the reason may well be that he has toothache and for a cat this can be just as painful as it is for humans. You may realise the cat has a problem if you continue to smell bad breath and if any of the teeth are broken or rotted this can create very painful abscesses
and you will have a very unhappy and stressed cat.
It is often the case that once one tooth has become decayed then another may well be a problem before long so it is a good idea to take the cat back to the veterinarian within three months for a further check up of the teeth and gums.
If your cat has regular check-ups at the veterinarian he will take time to look at his teeth to make sure there are no problems. A bad tooth needs to be extracted and this can only be done with a general anaesthetic. The veterinarian will probably ask you to bring the cat back for a final check to make sure the healing is going well – in most cases he will also administer an antibiotic – firstly by injection and a possible course of tablets.
Cats can sometimes fracture their canines (fangs) and often some of the other teeth when they are fighting or crushing strong bones. Their teeth are often fractured because of their small size and long, thin shape.
One problem that often arises from bad teeth is gingivitis and this affects the gums and can also be very painful. When I was breeding Abyssinians I always kept a vigilant check on their teeth as, along with Siamese and some Longhairs, these breeds seem to have a tendency to have sore and painful gums. Poor appetite and difficulty eating is a good indication that either the teeth or gums are sore and inflamed and need to be checked as soon as possible. However, with the breeds mentioned this is not always due to a poor diet but rather that they are pre-disposed to the condition.
It is rare to see very young cats with gingivitis and this is easily avoided by giving them a good diet and, over a period of time, increasing the size of the meat portion they receive.
Tips for healthy teeth

  • No sloppy diet: We must endeavour to avoid giving our cats a sloppy diet – this will not allow his teeth to be shiny and in good condition. Sloppy food given too often will build tartar on the teeth and the teeth will then begin to deteriorate before he is 4-5 years of age.
  • Meat diet: If we give him large chunks of meat that he has to work at to chew and digest this will help strengthen the teeth and also to make him believe he has had a large meal instead of a small sloppy meal.
  • Thought for food: Never cook chicken necks or legs as the bone softens and can splinter when the cats is chewing it and can stick in their throats and cause major problems.
  • Check his teeth: When grooming your cat, always check the teeth to make sure they look healthy and strong and if you are at all concerned take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Clean the teeth: Use a small toothbrush to clean your cat’s teeth. It is important to be gentle and careful when doing this but before long the cat will allow you to do this and not make a fuss.

A happy and healthy cat will generally have shiny, strong and clean teeth. It is important that pet parents realise that we have to check the WHOLE CAT and not just the coat, ears and eyes. If you commence checking the teeth and gums when they are young kittens a cat will not be stressed when we open their mouth and come to tolerate this as part of their general care.
(Joan E Henderson is based in Australia and she has judged furry felines in many other countries including the USA, Bermuda, Malaysia, South Africa, Hong Kong, Philippines and New Zealand).

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