Did you know cat teeth can give you great insight into your cat’s overall health and wellbeing? That’s why it’s so important to keep an eye on your cat’s teeth, gums, and mouth. We all want to give our cats the best care possible, after all!
Cat dental health is something that’s easy to overlook, especially because many cats won’t cooperate for regular teeth brushing or mouth checks. With some practice and training though, both you and your cat can become dental check pros!
Not sure where to start? Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered!
Preparing for Your Cat’s At Home Dental Health Exam
The thought of doing a dental health exam on your cat can be overwhelming, we get it. Those teeth are sharp, and cats aren’t known for their willing participation in such activities. Where does one even start?
The first step to checking your cat’s teeth and gums is to make sure you have the proper setup and supplies. All you need are some treats and a comfortable and quiet spot with good lighting. If lighting is a concern, you can use a flashlight or penlight. It can be difficult to juggle your cat’s mouth and a flashlight though unless you have someone assisting you. You’ll also want a notebook to log your findings.
Pick a time of day when your cat is more relaxed – maybe during their afternoon catnap time. You could even try giving your cat some calming treats beforehand to help get them in the mood.
You want to make sure you are feeling relaxed as well. Cats can quickly pick up on anxious feelings, so the more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your cat will be.
To be honest, when you first start doing dental checks on your cat, it probably won’t be easy, and your cat probably won’t be the most cooperative. That’s okay! Do what you can, and with time, practice, and training, the process will become easier for both of you.
Checking Your Cat’s Teeth
Once you have your supplies handy and a quiet spot set up, you can begin your cat teeth check.
- Tip your cat’s head back and talk sweetly and calmly to them. You can even explain to them what you’re doing. That may seem silly, but the sound of your voice can help to keep them relaxed.
- Use your thumb and index finger to lift the flaps of your cat’s mouth and open it to check their back teeth, sides of their teeth, and front teeth.
- If your cat begins to fight back at all, end the exam and try again another time. Fighting them when they are annoyed will do more harm than good, likely making it more difficult for you the next time around. Always aim to make it as positive of an experience as possible. If you only get to check one tooth this time, that’s okay! Maybe next time you’ll get two.
- Reward your cat with treats when you’ve finished your check.
As you’re looking at your cat’s teeth, you want to check for the following things:
Trauma to the teeth or jaw can cause your cat’s teeth to become discolored. The pulp inside the tooth bleeds and stains the tooth pink at first, but over time the tooth will become purple or gray. Damaged and discolored teeth can eventually lead to infection, so make note of anything you see and talk with your veterinarian.
Visible Tartar Buildup
Plaque is that gummy substance that forms on teeth within a few hours of eating. Within 24 hours, it begins to harden, eventually becoming tartar. Tartar forms a rough surface on the tooth, creating a place for bacteria to grow and multiply, eventually leading to gingivitis and periodontal disease. If you notice any yellow or brownish hard deposits on your cat’s teeth, it is likely tartar.
Chipped, Cracked, or Broken Teeth
A small chip or crack might not seem like a big deal, but it can eventually grow and turn into a more serious and even painful problem. A broken tooth can be extremely painful and may even cause your cat to stop eating. Make note of your findings and take them to your veterinarian, as your cat may need to have the affected teeth removed.
Loose or Missing Teeth
Your cat’s teeth should not be wobbly or loose. You can check this by gently touching the teeth to see if they move. Also, check for any missing teeth. It is not a good sign if your cat is losing their teeth as an adult.
Checking Your Cat’s Gums
If your kitty is less cooperative for their at-home dental checks, you may need to check the cat gums quickly while you’re checking their teeth. However, once your cat gets used to having you handle their mouth, they may allow you to do both a thorough teeth check and gum check.
To check your cat’s gums, you’ll follow the same steps outlined above for checking your cat’s teeth. As you inspect their gums, be checking for the following things:
Your cat’s gums should be pink. If you notice any discoloration (pale, red, black, yellow, blue/purple) it can be an indication that something is wrong. Check for any redness along your cat’s gum line as well. That can be a sign of gingivitis.
If your cat’s gums seem to be receding from your cat’s teeth, your kitty may be suffering from gingivitis. Receding gums can lead to further problems, such as loose teeth, lesions, and fracturing.
It probably goes without saying, but if your cat’s gums are bleeding, something is wrong. Bleeding gums is another sign of gingivitis and inflammation. Bleeding gums is also sometimes accompanied by sensitive gums. If your cat quickly pulls away when you touch their gums, make note and tell your veterinarian.
If you notice any pus or other discharge in your cat’s mouth, it likely indicates the presence of an infection.
Lumps or Swelling
As you run your finger along your cat’s gum line, feel for any lumps, bumps, or swelling. There are a variety of soft tissue lumps that can form in your cat’s mouth, and some are okay. It’s always best to get them checked out though to be sure.
Checking Your Cat’s Mouth
After you’ve checked your cat’s teeth and gums, be sure to give their whole mouth a check too – including the roof of their mouth, their tongue, back of their throat, and even around the outside of their mouth. Keep an eye out for:
All jokes aside, cats should not have smelly breath. If you notice any unpleasant odors coming from your cat’s mouth, this could be a sign of infection, gingivitis, stomatitis, kidney disease, liver disease, respiratory disease, and even diabetes.
Cuts or Abrasions
Your cat could sustain a small cut or abrasion to the inside or outside of their mouth from chewing on something or even from another cat in your home. If you notice anything, make note of it and keep an eye on it. If it’s a minor wound, it probably won’t require any special care, but you want to make sure it doesn’t develop into an infection.
As you’re handling your cat’s mouth and even running your hands across their face and down their jawline, notice if they pull back or seem to be in any pain or discomfort. Even if you didn’t notice an issue during their teeth, gum, or mouth check there could be an issue brewing under the surface that requires veterinary attention.
As you are doing these dental health checks on your cat and notice an issue, please don’t brush it off because your cat seems fine to you or doesn’t appear to be in any pain. Understand that cats are masters at masking problems and hiding their pain or discomfort. Just because your cat doesn’t appear to be hurting, it doesn’t mean they aren’t. Consult with your veterinarian about any signs of concern. It’s better to be told it’s nothing than to ignore it and have a more serious issue to deal with later.
Continuing Your Cat’s At Home Care
You’ve made it through your first at-home cat dental check! Congratulations! Even if you weren’t able to check everything you wanted to, you should still be proud of yourself for taking the leap and trying. Know that it will get easier each time. Be sure too to keep the notes you took so you can reference them later in talks with your veterinarian and compare them with notes from your future checks.
Providing proper dental care is an important piece of your cat’s overall health and wellbeing. We encourage you to take things a step further by performing a full body scan of your cat and joining our Pet Health 5 movement. This includes regular checks of your cat’s teeth and gums, full body, temperature, weight, and heart rate.
What other steps do you take to be proactive about your cat’s dental health?
Checking in on your cat’s dental health is one of the five vital things we encourage all cat owners to do on a regular basis. Join us in our Pet Health 5 movement – The Pet Health 5 Check only takes is 5 minutes of your time, and we’ll even send you a reminder on the 5th of each month with a checklist of what to do and how to do it. Start today by giving your cat a thorough at-home dental exam and signing up for Pet Health 5.
About the Author: Emily is “mom” to seven cats, one dog, and two sugar gliders. She has been writing in the pet industry for over 8 years, with a focus on cats, rescue, and adventuring. When she isn’t writing, playing music, crocheting, or working on her own entrepreneurial pursuits, Emily and her husband enjoy hiking, road-tripping, camping, and canoeing with their three cat adventurers. Follow her on her blog, KittyCatGo.