February 4, 2014 Updated: February 4, 2014 at 8:25 pm
Dear Ms. Kitty,
I think my 8-year-old tabby cat, Bentley, might need some dental care. He has bad breath and seems to be chewing only on one side. What is involved with a dental appointment for cats? Is it expensive? - Undecided about dentist visit
Thanks for your question! Starting from the time they are kittens, cats need regular dental care to make sure their 30 teeth stay healthy. Dental disease is one of the more common health issues for cats yet often is overlooked. The American Veterinary Dental Society reports that 70 percent of cats show signs of dental disease by age 3. Preventive care for your cat's teeth is an important factor in his overall health.
Bentley's bad breath likely is being caused by tartar, plaque and bacteria buildup, which leads to tooth decay and gum infections such as gingivitis. Untreated dental issues can lead to a sinus infection that could spread to a cat's ears or eyes.
The fact that Bentley is favoring one side of his mouth when eating leads me to suggest that you make an appointment with your veterinarian's office. The cost of this visit will depend on the degree of tooth decay already present and the treatment required. A typical dental checkup could cost anywhere between $85 and $200-plus. Some clinics offer specials in February, which is Pet Dental Awareness Month. Remember to ask about a payment plan if necessary. The office also might know of pet insurance that will help cover treatment costs.
The first step your veterinarian likely will suggest is a dental "prophy," which means teeth cleaning and polishing. You should plan to have this done on an annual basis depending on Bentley's needs. The doctor might recommend a veterinarian-approved treat that can help decrease the amount of plaque and tartar buildup on his teeth. One type of treat is called C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Chews. These chews are made of a leather-like material with a natural antiseptic plus an abrasive texture that releases enzymes in the cat's mouth, helping to break down the plaque and tartar on teeth.
If the dental disease is more progressive, the veterinarian will require that Bentley be anesthetized prior to treatment. The main reason for this is that the doctor will need to probe and clean under his gum line to reach where the disease is. The doctor might also want to do some blood work and possibly a urinalysis to ensure that Bentley is healthy beforehand. If any teeth must be removed due to decay, the clinic will send you home with specific after-care instructions and typically an antibiotic to administer for several days to prevent infection during healing.
The best ways to prevent future dental issues will be with a proper diet and preventive care. If Bentley doesn't care for dry kibble food, you might want to try adding a crunchy treat to his diet. You might also want to try brushing his teeth by using a small, soft toothbrush or a piece of soft gauze wrapped around your finger with tuna-flavored toothpaste made especially for cats. Remember to take this new approach slowly and reward him for his patience and cooperation. There are also specially formulated mouthwashes for cats that are squirted into their mouths, which could be easier to use.
Do you have a question? Send your question to AskingMsKitty@gmail.com and it might be featured. Albertson co-manages Happy Cats Haven at 1412 S. 21st St. Learn more at happycatshaven.org or call 635-5000.