If you haven’t, you’re not alone. I am also guilty of neglecting my cat’s teeth.
However, I recently learned that February is National Pet Dental Health Month. And I bet after you read this post you will buy a toothbrush so you can start brushing your cat’s teeth.
I hadn’t realized there was even such a month. But it makes sense. Recently, I was sitting in the chair at the dentist for my semi-annual dental cleaning. The dental hygienist had a poster showing an aging person with a bunch of medical conditions caused by poor dental care. I suspected it was the same for pets.
And I was right.
Turns out, dental hygiene is also just as important for animals. Like us, our pets can also suffer long term negative health conditions if we don’t take care of our dog’s or cat’s teeth. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), more than 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by the time they are 3 years old.
CoinciDENTALLY (pun intended), Club Cat is located in the same business complex as Veterinarian Dental Specialists & Oral Surgeries. So when Dr. Robert Furman came by over the holidays last month to tour Club Cat, he explained that many of our pet’s illnesses can be linked back to poor dental hygiene.
Dr. Furman is one of a few. There are only roughly 175 veterinary dentists in the United States. He was kind enough to answer some of our questions about what we can do for our cat’s teeth in order to prevent our furry felines from unnecessary pain and suffering.
CC: What initially drew you to veterinarian dentistry?
RF: I started working in the field of veterinary dentistry 21 years ago as a veterinary technician. I quickly became aware of the importance of dental health and the effect it has on the entire body. The field of veterinary dentistry is constantly evolving and there is a need for additional education for the general practitioner. This has given me the opportunities to give lectures, teach hands on courses, author articles and book chapters. Being a veterinary dentist allows me to diagnose and treat my patients in one session, making the patient and the owner feel so much better and happier. I make such a big difference in the patient’s life.
CC: The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) urges pet parents to get our pets’ teeth checked annually to prevent disease. What specific diseases are domestic cats most prone to if we neglect their teeth?
RF: Periodontal disease (gum disease) is the most common oral disease in cats. 70% of cats by 2 years of age have periodontal disease. Infection of the tissues that surround and support the teeth starts with the formation of a layer of bacteria called plaque. This layer will form within 12 hours of being cleaned. If this layer is not brushed away within 72 hours it will harden into tarter. Once this occurs it cannot be brushed away and makes for a rougher surface on the teeth. This will allow plaque to adhere easier. The bacteria will also begin to migrate below the gum line. It is the bacteria below the gum line that the body reacts to and causes periodontal disease. This includes bleeding gums, inflamed gums (gingivitis), bone loss, gum recession and loose teeth.
Feline Tooth resorption: Tooth resorption is a very common malady. Reports vary as to their incidence, but approximately 60% of cats over 6 years of age have at least one, and those that have one typically have more. These lesions are caused by odontoclasts which are the body’s own cells that are responsible for the normal remodeling of tooth structure. These cells are turned on resulting in tooth destruction. Dental defects which appear as red, inflamed areas from the tooth are actually exposed nerve and pulp. These are first noted at the gingival margin or gumline. However, advanced cases will show significant tooth destruction and may appear as a fractured tooth. The best diagnostic tool for differentiating the severity and determining treatment is dental radiology.
Caudal stomatitis (Lymphoplasmacytic Stomatitis/Gingivitis Complex) This is another relatively recent disease process in cats that is frustrating us at present. The best description is a severe immune mediated reaction to dental tissues, but we really don’t know. The cat will show signs which include anorexia, drooling, gagging, and pain when eating. These cats also tend to be thin pets with unkempt fur. The mouth will have severe inflammation over all teeth. Most commonly it will be worse on back teeth. However, inflammation of the back of the throat (faucitis) is the key clinical finding. Severe inflammation to the gingiva can result from periodontal disease, however faucitis will only be present with caudal stomatitis.
Oral neoplasia: The oral cavity is the fourth most common place to encounter growths. Benign tumors are exceedingly rare in cats. By far the most common malignant oral tumor in cats is a squamous cell sarcoma. Fibrosarcomas are a distant second. Both of these tumors are typically seen in older cats, are aggressive at the site and are late to spread around the body (metastasize). The only therapeutic option at this point is early, aggressive surgery (2 cm surgical margins).
CC: Are mixed breeds more or less susceptible to dental issues?
RF: Many of these oral diseases have a genetic predisposition, making purebreds more susceptible.
CC: Here at Club Cat we see a wide variety of cat food choices. This ranges from dry food only to all kinds of combinations including supplements like probiotics and treats and snacks. How much does what we give our kitties to eat impact their teeth?
RF: The type of diet fed has more to do with the overall health of the cat. Feeding wet versus hard food has not been shown to make a big difference as far as keeping teeth cleaner, unless using a dental specific diet. It is more important to make sure a well-balanced diet is given.
CC: What, if anything, can busy cat parents do other than brushing their cats’ teeth daily to help promote good dental hygiene?
RF: Brushing is best. Dental chews and dental diets too. Prevention is key, making yearly anesthetized oral exams with dental radiographs and cleanings very important to maintain good oral health.
CC: Can you tell us about your practice and core services?
RF: The focus of our practice is all about the health and well being of our patients and their dental health. Unlike most practices, we truly work on one patient at a time. All of our procedures are outpatient. this means the patient will come in at the time of their procedure and leave shortly after the procedure is completed. They are not sitting in a cage all day waiting. Since there is only one patient at the clinic at a time, we are able to focus 100% of our attention on that one patient. This also allows us to get you, as the client, involved with the decision making process. The client will wait in the lobby for the initial anesthetized evaluation to be performed. Once completed, the dentist will then come out and discuss their findings and recommendations. Final decisions will be made and the procedure(s) will be performed while the patient is still under anesthesia. Most patients are able to walk out of the office within 30 minutes of the procedure.
CC: How can we get in touch with you and your team?
RF: Contact us at
Veterinary Dental Specialties & Oral Surgery – Irvine
1350 Reynolds Ave Suite 116
Irvine, CA 92614
Located across from Southern California Veterinary Specialty Hospital
About Dr. Robert Furman
Dr. Robert Furman graduated from the University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine, Scotland, in 2008. He is a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and a Board Certified Veterinary Dentist of the American and European Veterinary Dental Colleges. Dr. Furman has worked with Dr. Niemiec for over two decades. He has lectured extensively on dentistry throughout the world as well as authored several articles and chapters. Although Dr. Furman performs procedures from all aspects of dentistry, his professional interests include maxillofacial surgery, restoratives and orthodontics. Dr. Furman has also worked on bears, lions, tigers, sea otters, sea lions, monkeys, baboons, skunks, wolves, cougars, leopards, bobcats, meerkats, prairie dogs and gorillas. Dr. Furman primarily works at our Irvine, Ontario and Santa Barbara practices.