Your sweet little kitten is adorable, but what's not adorable is what might be going on inside its mouth.
According to pet product company Iams, "70 percent of cats show signs of oral and dental disease by age 3." By the time tooth decay and periodontal disease are discovered, with your pet suffering silently all the while, remedies can be traumatic for your pet and your family, not to mention very expensive -- often more than $1,000 for dental surgery by a specialist.
Spare your kitten a painful future, and spare your family the worry and expense of dental fixes by starting now with a smart plan for your kitten's dental health. Begin, of course, with a visit to your kitten's veterinarian, asking for a check on your pet's oral condition to look for existing plaque or cavities. While you're at the vet's office, ask for recommendations to help you care for your kitten's oral health:
--Kitten food and treats. According to Iams, "there are over 300 types of bacteria that naturally take residence inside your little buddy's mouth. And when your kitten eats, small food particles and saliva combine with the bacteria, and your pet gets something that you probably remember hearing from your own dentist: plaque. Then calcium in your pet's saliva hardens the plaque, resulting in a hard yellow-brown deposit on his teeth called tartar."
Specially formulated kitten food in dry form -- which works through its ingredients and through the chewing process -- can reduce plaque and tartar and remove particles. The occasional treat, such as Greenies dental chews, also works to clean teeth while pleasing your kitten or serving as a reward during training.
--Kitten's water. Many pet owners are surprised to learn that they can put specialty plaque-reducing additives to their pet's water bowl. One vet-recommended product that has the seal of approval from the Veterinarian Oral Health Council is Healthy Mouth, which is made with papaya extract and natural ingredients to prevent plaque formation.
--Brushing your kitten's teeth. It takes, time, training and patience to get your kitten used to the process of tooth-brushing, but Iams suggests slowly introducing your kitten to a special finger brush (a textured thimble-like item that slips over your finger), worked gently over the teeth and gums. Pet stores also carry special pet toothbrushes, such as the U-shaped Tooth Hugger, that you can train your cat to be comfortable with during daily brushings.
You can use a human toothbrush with a small head and soft bristles, but never use human toothpaste. Pet-safe, approved toothpastes or gels often contain hydrogen peroxide to kill oral bacteria. After brushing, reward your pet with playtime.
--Dentist visits. "Just like you, your pet could benefit from annual or semiannual cleanings. In the world of vets, they refer to it as a dental prophylaxis. Besides helping keep your pet's teeth and gums healthy, it's the only way to remove tartar," says Iams. Your vet can teach you how to fine-tune your tooth-brushing skills and suggest additional VOHC-approved products for your kitten's oral and general health. (Tip: Always look for the VOHC seal when shopping for all types of pet care products.)
Always pay attention to your kitten's reactions during tooth-brushing. If he tolerates brushing on one side well but jerks away when you brush the other side, he may have a tooth problem developing on that sensitive side. Here are additional ways to tell if your kitten is experiencing dental issues:
--He seems to have difficulty eating or chewing.
--He seems to be reluctant to eat or accept treats.
--He is chewing excessively on food, more than seems usual.
--He is pawing at his mouth.
--He is irritable.
--He isn't interactive but instead seems depressed.
--He has stopped playing with toys.
These are signs that something could be wrong with your kitten's oral health, or they could be signs of a different type of health or behavioral situation. Always err on the side of caution by taking your kitten to the vet and explaining these demonstrations of your kitten's unhappiness. The pet health pro will conduct a thorough checkup of your pet, keeping him safer, healthier and happier. Veterinarians say that good oral health leads to good overall health and that kittens are happier when their dental needs are well-met.