Jeff and I have had pets for our entire life and yet, we had never experienced teeth problems with our cats and dogs in the past. Some weeks ago we brought Sable and Soleil to the vet at the Cedar Grove clinic for their recalls and the vet found that both of them had a bad gingivitis. The vet explained to us that gingivitis is a very common condition for both cat and dogs in Ireland and the UK, so we didn’t worry that much. We feed them only with quality cat food, a mix of wet and dry, and they’re always been healthy. We went home with an antibiotic for them both, to be taken for the next ten days, and some informative paper on dental disease in cats. Here’s what we discovered, instead.

Dental disease in cats

Ireland and the UK is a rabies free zone. However, it seems that there are some other issues typically affecting cats and dogs. Dental disease is here one of the most frequent ailments seen by veterinary surgeons and can be found to some degree in the majority of cats over two years of age. The most common problems are due to periodontal disease, gingivitis and neck lesions (also called resorptive lesions or odontoclastic lesions).

Symptoms

There are a number of signs which should alert the owner to the possibility of dental disease or other mouth problems being present. The cat could show no interest in food or approach the food bowl and then be reluctant to eat, or back away. They may chew with obvious caution or discomfort, drop food from the mouth or may swallow with difficulty. Dribbling may be seen, possibly with blood and there may be a marked unpleasant odour to their breath. In some cases the cat may be seen pawing at their mouth or head shaking. A reluctance to eat may lead to weight loss which can become quite marked.

In our case, only some of the symptoms were there, but we couldn’t recognise them: we thought they were being fussy with their food – and anyway, being slightly overweight, we didn’t worry too much about them not eating much. Since we have moved to Belfast they have been indoor cats and they move much less than when they had the garden in Bray. When noticing bad breath, we also bought a special toothbrush that one can slide on the finger, together with a cat’s toothpaste. We tried only once – partly because they didn’t seem to like it and partly because we were lazy. We were probably on the right path but it was painful for them and we didn’t know.

Causes

The most common cause of dental disease in cats is due to tartar accumulation. As in humans, cats accumulate bacteria plaque on the surface of their teeth, which if not removed quickly becomes mineralised to form tartar (also called calculus). The bacterial products and decaying food stuck to tartar are a potential cause of bad breath. Tartar is easily identified by its light or dark brown color – it is normally first seen at the gum edge, especially on the back teeth (premolars and molars). In severe cases it may entirely cover the teeth.

The accumulation of tartar and bacteria on the teeth surfaces will, sooner or later, lead to infection and gingivitis  (inflammation of the gums). If the disease is caught at this early stage then through professional veterinary treatment may permit a full recovery. However, if gingivitis is allowed to persist untreated, then irreversible periodontal  disease will occur. During this process the bone and ligaments that support the tooth are destroyed leading to excessive tooth mobility and eventually tooth loss. Infection around the socket causes the formation of pus and a foul odour, and may be spread deep into the tooth socket creating and abscess , or even more severe problems. Once periodontal disease starts, the degenerative changes cannot be reversed. These changes make it easier for more plaque and tartar to collect, so resulting in further disease.

More bad news…

img_5327When we went back to the vet for a follow up, we had the confirmation that Sable was healed, but not Soleil. And not only that: besides having a bad tartar condition, one of his teeth had a visible hole. The vet told us that he needed a dental treatment to remove the tartar and plaque and that the bad tooth would have to be removed. We were advised to have Soleil’s teeth examined with an MRI and then cleaned or removed as needed under general anaesthesia.

We took a few days to understand what was involved in the treatment and finally booked the day at the clinic for Soleil. I must say that the vets at Cedar Grove were very patient with us and gave us plenty of information. They answered all of our questions and gave us some more resources to be informed at our best on the problem and its treatment. Finally, yesterday we brought Soleil in and we left in the hands of the vets.

In the afternoon we received a call from the vet who was taking care of him, to inform us about Soleil’s condition after the MRI. She told us that both his pre-molars had F.O.R.L. (Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesion) and needed to be extracted. She also informed us that this wouldn’t be the last extraction that Soleil will need in the future, as the condition of his teeth are really bad: one of his canines has gingivitis and the other one has sensitive FORL; he shows gum recession and gingivitis also with all of his molars. With this dark picture in our minds – the picture of a soon to be toothless cat – we gave our consent to proceed with the extraction of his pre-molars.

Where do we go from here?

We picked Soleil up at the clinic yesterday evening. He was alert but still groggy from the anaesthesia. We were told to feed him only soft food for a few days and to give him medications (a pain reliever and an antibiotic) for a few days. As we were home, he immediately jumped out his carrier and – in spite of some lack of coordination – he looked very happy to be home. He ate with appetite and brushed his head a lot against all his favorite spots in the house. He slept all night cuddled up on our feet in the bedroom and this morning, just before dropping out of exhaustion on the bean bag, he was restless. He tried to gnaw at whatever was at an easy reach.

I’m sure he will go back to normal soon, yet the problem is all but solved. The perspective of a toothless cat – especially at a young age – raises many questions. While the vet couldn’t give us a precise cause for his disease (food, predisposition, or simply how things are), we still can follow all the precautions to give him a better oral hygiene.

Oral hygiene tips for cats

This is what our vet suggested us.

  • Brushing is the most effective method to prevent dental disease in cats. It should be a fund and enjoyable experience for your you and your pet. Keep sessions short and positive. How to manage to do that? Here’s a few tips:
    • Get your cat used to you putting things in their mouth. Dip your finger in tuna water or something your cat will like.
    • Progress to moving your finger in a circular motion over the teeth, starting with the canines at the front of the mouth.
    • Once confortable progress to using a toothbrush or finger brush and paste. Slowly increase the number of teeth you are brushing and ensure plenty of praise!
  • Dental chews help reduce tartar and plaque that can build up on your pet’s teeth between brushings. Be careful not to overfeed.
  • Logic gel doesn’t require brushing. It contains surfactant to ensure optimal distribution in the mouth and production of saliva to stimulate the enzymatic action.
  • Prescription diet with food designed to remove plaque and tartar from teeth. This needs to be the cat’s sole diet.
  • Dental toys are another way of keeping the teeth healthy and clean.

We hope that all of the above will spare Soleil from having all his other teeth removed sometime soon . As the vet explained to us, the process is irreversible, however, we can try to maintain his teeth clean and, hopefully, longer in his mouth.

If you have never had a look at your cat’s teeth and gums as we did, I hope this post will help some pet owners to be aware of the consequences of dental disease.

Categories: Life in the UK

2 thoughts on “Soleil goes toothless

  • Sam Sussman

    Boy does this sound like a lot of work and expense.
    You must love your cats!
    My best
    Sam

  • Dear Sam, we love them and they give us a lot of love in return… They’re part of the family. Furthermore, there are very good pet insurances that cover most of the cost of the vet for any types of condition. 🙂

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