Saturday, September 7, 2013

Thoughts on cats and dental care

cat up a tree
I've always thought of cats as wild creatures that don't need much dental help.
Turns out, I was wrong.
For years now, I've brushed Liam's teeth. Since he's a pug, he likes anything remotely food based, so he'll willingly take part in a nighttime session of tooth brushing with beef-flavored paste. Similarly, I brush Eamon's teeth nightly, as he's old and his teeth show his age.

But, as it turns out, I've been engaging in a little discrimination in this house, and it's starting to impact my bottom line. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm alone in this.

When I added a Boston terrier to the family, I started brushing her teeth almost immediately. She has a pronounced underbite, and as much as she chews on toys, I knew her teeth would suffer as she aged. After a few weeks of practice and adjustment, she's learned to love getting her teeth brushed, and she trots right up to me when she sees the brush in my hand.

But my other cats? It never occurred to me to brush their teeth. I feed them kibble, which should clean their teeth, and I've never noticed bad breath when they come up for snuggles. In addition, I've taken Lucy in for one dental cleaning, so I thought she'd be in good shape for several years.

As it turns out, Lucy's teeth were just dreadful, a mere 2 years after her cleaning, and she had to go back in for another bout of sedation and cleaning. She almost lost 2 teeth in the process, and she spent an entire night trembling, crying and acting miserable when the whole thing was through. I was also out several hundred dollars.

So what's going on here?

Much as I hate to admit it, I think I'm one of those owners who has fallen prey to the independent cat myth. Since my cats are more aloof and self-sufficient, I think they don't need as much of my attention. I figure they can fend for themselves, and they might not need anything from me at all, aside from good food and shelter, in order to stay healthy. In reality, they also need daily care, just like a dog does, in order to stay at an optimal level of health.

This scenario seems to play out frequently across the United States, too, as statistics suggest that owners spend less money on vet visits for cats than they do on visits for dogs. Investopedia suggests, for example, that the average dog owner spends $211 per year on routine veterinary care, while the average cat owner spends only $179. That discrepancy could be due to all sorts of things, including size differences and vaccination differences, of course, but it might also be due to the independent cat myth. It's just easier to subtly neglect a cat, when it comes to health care, and both the pet and the owner pay the price.

I, for one, have learned my lesson. Now, every animal in the house has a tooth-brushing session with me at night. I've also made a point to check each cat for pain or discomfort on a daily basis, just to ensure that I'm not missing anything. I'm also working on brushing the teeth of the outdoor cats, although that is going to take time to accomplish (and merits its own blog entry).

I hope, as a result of all of this, that my cats will be healthier. I also hope that they'll live longer. I owe them that much.

Want more information? Check out this later blog post. Turns out, my stance on cats and dental care has "evolved" just a touch.

And if you're ready to do a little cat tooth brushing (and you should!), try this product C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Kit for Cats. This is the stuff I use, and it works great.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


  1. Um.. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but dry food does NOT clean cat's teeth. Their teeth were designed to rip meat from bone, and kibble, if chewed at all (if you have ever seen a kibble fed cat vomit you'll see that most of the kibble is whole) it simply shatters on the teeth and has no scraping action what so ever. In fact the plant based ingredients tend to linger in the mouth a bit longer and contribute to the build up of plaque... it is a bit like cleaning your own teeth with a saltine.

    Dry food, because of its very nature, is inappropriate for an obligate carnivore on so many different levels and can cause many different long term health issues..

    1. This is a fascinating point, and it merits more research. Thanks for the blog post idea!