Monday, January 31, 2011

February is National Pet Dental Health Month!

Do you brush your cats' teeth?

Mine have never taken particularly well to it. My first cat had a terrible problem with periodontal disease. He had fishy breath so bad it'd practically knock you out. I'd read that cats' teeth could be brushed, so I invested in a small-headed toothbrush and some malt-flavored toothpaste for him.

After bandaging up the scratches on my hands and arms incurred while trying to brush his teeth, I figured there had to be a better way. In the end, periodic dental scalings at the vet were the only solution that seemed to work for him, and those were scary because they involved anesthesia. That cat died at age 11 from kidney disease, which may or may not have been related to his poor dental health.

The American Dental Society says that 70% of cats show evidence of gum disease by the time they're only 3 years old. Symptoms can include changes in eating habits, bad breath, drooling, tooth loss, or bleeding gums. Left untreated, it can cause not only severe pain in the mouth, but problems with the major organs as bacteria from the tooth tartar is ingested with the cat's food.

Periapical lesions that can cause teeth to be extracted under anesthesia can also result from poor oral health. The pain from this condition is so severe that cats are known to wince from it when that area is touched, even while anesthetized. And that type of treatment brings all the risks that come along with anesthesia, a special concern for older cats.

So what's the caring cat servant to do? In the wild, cats' teeth get cleaned as they're scraping the meat off the bones of their prey. You may find that your own cats like to rub their teeth on something as a part of their normal grooming routine. You may want to help them with this process. But never use human toothpaste or baking soda to clean a cat's teeth, as some ingredients in them can be harmful or toxic to Fluffy. Several cat-friendly products are available instead to help you introduce your cat to good oral hygiene.

Drinking water additives are probably the most convenient form of caring for your cat's teeth. Dental Fresh is one that just requires a teaspoon a day. If the idea of adding chemicals to your cat's water concerns you, try Better Breath, Teeth & Gums by Natural Pet. It's an FDA-registered, all natural formula with no known negative drug interactions.

Food additives are also a good way to get your cat to painlessly clean his teeth. Native Remedies' Gumz-n-Teeth is one that comes in crystals to be sprinkled on the food. It takes 3-6 weeks for improvement to show, so be persistent and have a little patience if you choose this one.

Treats are a fun way to introduce oral health to your cat. The added bonus is the opportunity for interaction they also provide. Mark & Chappell makes a Breath & Dental Care treat especially for cats. It has a crunchy shell to loosen debris and plaque from the teeth, and a tasty filling with breath-freshening ingredients.

If your cat will tolerate having something sprayed in his mouth, Native Remedies' OralHealth Mouth Spray, contains colloidal silver, a natural antibacterial agent. (I can't personally vouch for its effectiveness, as my cats likely wouldn't stand for this more than once.)

All cats love toys, and there are actually chew toys designed to clean a cat's teeth! Petstages makes some catnip chew mice with a netted covering that acts like dental floss and a gentle gum massage for Kitty. In the same line is a catnip chew ring or a pair of chew toys that come in a set. And their Orka catnip stuffers have a special textured surface to clean Puff's teeth while she chews.

For the brave who want to brush their cats' teeth, Bamboo Pets' Quadbrush has 3 bristle heads that surround the cat's teeth, cleaning all in one motion, while a patented 4th head props Kitty's mouth open. Ingenious! We have Pet dental's fluoride cat toothpaste, too, flavored for cats. No rinsing is required with this product, and it doesn't foam up like human toothpaste does.

There are also complete dental care kits for cats that include several products to clean their teeth regularly at home. Pet dental's kit comes in a handy 2- or 3-pack that's great for multi-cat households. It includes their fluoride toothpaste flavored for cats, a finger toothbrush, and a regular angled toothbrush sized for the cat.

Anyone who's got teething kittens knows the trouble that can bring. Native Remedies makes PupTeeth Granules to relieve the pain of teething within minutes. The formula also promotes the growth of strong, healthy teeth and bones. And despite its name, it works just as well on kittens!

With tartar hardening into plaque in only 36 hours, it's important to clean your cat's teeth daily. If you have a kitten, this is easier to start when they're young. But if your cat is older, start with a thorough cleaning at your vet, then use some of the products described above each day. It may take a little adjustment, but your cats will be happier and healthier because of it.



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