As is the case with people, the state of a cat’s teeth and gums are often an indicator of the animal’s overall health. If you notice that your cat has bad breath, the first place to look for problems is in the mouth. Check for red, inflamed gums and teeth that have brown streaks (a little is OK), or have brown or yellow buildup on the teeth. This is tartar, the stuff that causes gingivitis, or gum inflammation. If the problem is severe, you will need to have your veterinarian put the cat under anesthesia for teeth cleaning. This is something you will want to avoid, especially in older cats, so here are some tips to prevent the problem from happening in the first place.
Get in the habit of checking your cat’s teeth at an early age. 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 much. A healthy animal will probably not have 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 buildup at bay, and inflammation as well. No need to use special kitty toothpaste; plain water will do. Small chunks of tartar can often be removed with a fingernail before they cause any problems.
It is commonly believed that dry cat food “cleans” a cat’s teeth, preventing tartar buildup. Well, that’s like saying that if we humans eat enough crunchy junk food, we’ll never need to brush or floss! Not true, of course. 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) or even omnivores, so there’s no “scrubbing” going on. Have you ever noticed how your cat turns her head from side to side to chew dry food? Cats’ teeth are for tearing, not grinding.
To best prevent tooth and gum disease, feed your cat a high-quality diet. This means no dry food, which is not healthful. Since my cats have been on a homemade diet, their teeth are perfect. The only one of the three who had gingivitis while on commercial food has no problems now. A premium canned food will have a similar effect, particularly if you supplement with some homemade goodies. 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 healthful routine is instituted, the better!
Helpful Hint: Take a tip from the French (who do this after meals) and give your cats treats of cubed cheddar cheese a few times a week. All cheese, and especially 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)!