Dental Pain in Cats

Dental Pain in Cats

Health & Safety

Dental disease is very common in cats, particularly those of middle age and older. Although we can't be quite sure what a cat feels, since it has no way of telling us, cats certainly seem to suffer from toothache, just as we do. Once dental problems have been treated, owners are often surprised by how much brighter and happier their cat seems, which suggests that they are now free from the pain they were feeling before. So how can we recognise dental pain in cats, what causes it, how can we prevent it, and how can it be dealt with? Let us take a look at each of those questions in turn...

Clues That Your Cat May Be Suffering From Dental Pain

Unfortunately your cat cannot tell you that his teeth hurt! But there are definite signs if you know what to look for. Bad breath is a common one, so if your cat's breath smells worse than usual, you should investigate further. Another common clue is difficulty in eating, particularly hard food. Affected cats may also paw at their moths, salivate excessively , or seem very sensitive around the mouth. If the cat does any of these things you should try to look in his mouth, but if he won't let you – or even if he will – it might be a good idea to take him to the vet.

Common Conditions Causing Dental Pain

There are a number of conditions which cats get which can cause dental pain. Gingivitis affects the gums rather than the teeth, causing redness and bleeding. This may be due to a build-up of deposits on the teeth, or can be caused by another disease process within the body. Viral infections may play a part in causing this problem. Other diseases which affect the organs can also cause changes in the gums, for example kidney disease. Often the underlying cause cannot be identified, although a disorder of the cat's immune system is commonly at fault. Periodontitis can be caused by an accumulation of soft tartar and hard calculus on the teeth, and this can lead to gingivitis. But whatever the cause, if left untreated, gingivitis can progress to recession of the gums, so that food and bacteria get trapped in the pockets between the tooth and the gum, leading to an infection and sometimes an abscess.

Enamel erosion is a condition peculiar to cats, and is caused by the enamel-producing cells going into reverse and absorbing the enamel back again. This can cause teeth to break, and it can be very painful. Generally the tooth will need to be removed to prevent pain.

Broken teeth are common in cats. They may result from an accident or fall, and often the cause is unknown. Minor chips can be left untreated, but something will need to be done about larger ones to avoid infection going into the tooth root and casing an abscess to develop.

Preventing Dental Problems in Cats

Prevention is better than cure of course, and there are some things we can do to stop our cats having dental issues. Dry diets definitely have a beneficial effect, because they exercise the teeth and gums more than wet food. Some manufacturers make 'oral care' dry diets, and these have extra benefits because they contain lower levels of the mineral that tend to form deposits on the teeth, and the pieces are specially shaped and designed to act as a toothbrush when chewed. Brushing with a special pet toothpaste is a very effective way of improving dental health, but many cats absolutely refuse to allow their owners to do this. It is possible to accustom a cat to having its teeth brushed, but this is best achieved if you start at an early age. Start first using a finger and toothpaste, and when the cat is used to this you can attempt to use a brush. There are various other products which are said to help, but their effectiveness is unproven. Dental chews are very effective for dogs, and feline versions do exist, but many cats are not inclined to chew on them. The best thing is to have regular dental check-ups as we do for ourselves, and an oral inspection should form part of every cat's annual health check. But some cats with problems will need to be monitored more frequently.

Dealing With Dental Disease

Until recently veterinary dentistry just consisted of pulling out teeth which were causing trouble. This is still the case at some veterinary practices. However, recent times have seen a more enlightened approach to dental treatment for our pets, and it has become one of the major areas of expansion of veterinary care. Many vets now have a special interest in dentistry, and a few who specialise entirely in this may carry out advanced procedures such as root canal fillings. But most dental work on cats is simpler than this, just involving extraction of any teeth which are irretrievably damaged, and descaling and polishing the others, so as to leave a smooth surface to discourage any further deposits from forming. In some cases, treatment to the gums is also carried out. An anaesthetic is almost always required, and for some owners, particularly of elderly cats, this can act as a barrier to getting treatment. But doing nothing involves a risk, as an abscess may develop on a tooth, providing an opportunity for bacteria to enter the bloodstream and potentially cause septicaemia and death! And leaving your cat with severe toothache is not a kind option in any case. So bear in mind that modern anaesthetics are very safe, and your vet will assess the health of your cat before carrying out any procedure.


Toothache is as unpleasant for your cat as it is for you, so dental problems should always be dealt with promptly. Your vet will be able to advise you, but a cat with healthy teeth will be a far happier cat. So you owe it to your cat to get his teeth checked regularly.



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