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Dental disease in cats

Most cats are affected by dental problems at some point in their life, especially as they get older. If left untreated then these issues will continue to progress and can be very painful for your cat. We can help you to identify early signs of dental disease, so you can get early treatment for your pet when needed.

Signs of dental disease

Signs of dental disease:

  • Salivating (Drooling)

  • Pawing at mouth

  • Halitosis (Bad breath)

  • Plaque and tartar build-up on the teeth

  • A change in food preference

  • A decreased appetite/or stopped eating

  • Reduced time spent grooming/matted fur developing

  • Weight loss

What is happening inside your cat’s mouth

Dental disease can occur in several forms. But all types will usually result in your cat needing dental treatment.

Early Dental Disease

Plaque and tartar start to build up over the surface of the tooth. This is formed as the result of bacteria in the mouth sticking to the teeth. In affected cats, you will see staining and areas of the tooth covered with brown calcified material.


As plaque and tartar build-up, the gums become inflamed and reddened. This can progress and cause the gums to separate from the teeth, forming pockets, where food and bacteria can accumulate. In severe cases, affected teeth might need to be removed.

Chronic Gingivostomatitis

Certain individuals can be affected by severe inflammation affecting the gums and mouth. The cause of this inflammation is unknown, but could possibly be linked to certain viruses (Feline Leukaemia Virus, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and Feline Calicivirus). Affected cats will usually need repeated dental care throughout their lives. They may also need teeth to be extracted to keep their mouths comfortable.

Feline Resorptive Lesions (FORLs)

These common lesions can occur in cats of any age. Unfortunately, this is not a condition that can be seen by examining your cat’s mouth. Instead, x-rays are usually needed. FORLs start under the gum line where part of the tooth is eroded away. As the lesion progresses, the crown of the tooth (the bit of the tooth you can see) is lost but the tooth roots remain. This can be very painful for affected cats.


When you bring your cat in for a dental examination, one of our vets will perform a full clinical examination to check your cat’s overall health. They will then look inside your cat’s mouth to check for any obvious problems. If your cat is nervous or painful then they might not tolerate the dental examination.

To fully examine inside your cat’s mouth our vets will usually recommend a general anaesthetic. Your cat will be asleep throughout, so this allows our vets to fully assess your cat’s teeth and treatment can be performed.

  • Dental x-rays will be taken – this gives us valuable information about the health of your pet’s teeth below the gum line.

  • Each tooth will be probed to check for any pockets between the gums and the tooth.

  • At the same time, the mouth will be examined for any signs of infection, wounds, or tumours

Treating mild dental disease

While your cat is asleep, their teeth will be scaled and polished to remove any plaque and tartar build-up. This might be sufficient treatment for cats with early signs of dental disease.

Extracting teeth

Any teeth that need to be removed will usually be extracted during this procedure. Our vets will discuss this with you before removing any teeth. When a tooth is removed both the tooth and the underlying roots will be taken out.

Sometimes our vets might advise repeating x-rays to check that the tooth has been completely removed, because if any roots are left behind it can be painful and cause ongoing problems.


In combination with dental treatment, your cat might also be treated with pain relief medications. Antibiotics might also be needed if any infection is present.

Our vets will discuss with you the best treatment plan for your cat and answer any concerns you might have. Before a general anaesthetic, our vets will also discuss taking routine bloods to detect any underlying disease. They will also recommend any supportive treatment that is needed to make the anaesthetic as safe as possible.

How to help keep your cat’s teeth healthy

All cat owners should follow these steps to help keep their cat’s teeth healthy. If your cat has had recent dental treatment then our vets will advise when you can start preventative dental care.

Daily tooth brushing

Brushing your cat’s teeth every day is the most important step you can take to keep your cat’s mouth healthy and to help stop plaque building up. Not all cats will tolerate having their teeth brushed, so if your cat is not happy about having their mouth handled then have a look at our other tips for keeping your pet’s teeth healthy.

Tips for introducing tooth brushing

  • Make sure you use a cat-friendly toothpaste.

  • It is important to slowly introduce your cat to tooth brushing. Only move onto the next step when your cat is confident with the previous step.

    1. Start by letting your cat lick the toothpaste off your finger.

    2. Rub the toothpaste gently over your cat’s teeth and gums with a cotton bud.

    3. You can then try introducing a soft baby toothbrush to gently clean the teeth. Slowly build up your brushing time starting with a couple of seconds on each side of the mouth.

  • Our veterinary team can also help you introduce tooth brushing.

Dental Diet

While not as effective as brushing your cat’s teeth, there are dental diets you can feed to help reduce plaque build-up.

  • Dental chews can be given as a treat.

  • A prescription dental diet might be recommended by one of our vets if your cat has dental issues and will not tolerate tooth brushing. These biscuits are designed to help remove plaque off the surface of the teeth as your cat chews.

Check your cat’s teeth every month

If your cat will tolerate you opening their mouth, then our vets recommend checking your pet’s teeth once a month.

You should monitor for:

  • Any signs of plaque or tartar build-up, especially over the back molar teeth.

  • Any lumps or wounds inside the mouth

  • Bad breath

If you notice anything inside your cat’s mouth that you are concerned about then contact our veterinary team for advice.

Dental disease is very common and any cat can go on to develop this condition. Picking up any changes to your cat’s teeth early will help prevent serious dental conditions from developing. Our veterinary team are happy to give advice on preventative dental care and are always here to answer any questions you might have.


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