What’s Wrong With My Cat’s Mouth?
by Lorie Huston, DVM on September 7, 2013
Many cat owners look at the grace, athleticism and beauty of their pets and think that they have the â€œperfectâ€ animal. Unfortunately, many of these same cats will have a very “imperfect” mouth, due to a serious and very painful condition that causes teeth to resorb, dissolve and even break! Here’s what we know about tooth resorption in cats.
Ask any cat owner about how they care for their feline’s teeth and most will reply that “he eats dry food” or, more commonly “I really don’t clean her teeth”. While most veterinarians will acknowledge that brushing a cat’s teeth is a challenge for many owners, they will stress the importance of routine oral assessment of your cat’s mouth. These exams help find preventable problems and even some very concerning issues. One of those concerns is a condition known as feline tooth resorption.
Tooth resorption, or “TR” as it is commonly called, refers to a condition seen in a growing percentage of cats over the age of six years. In the past, this disease has been called “neck lesions”, “cervical line lesions” and even the cumbersome “Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORLs)”. Whatever the name, we know that this condition is seen in cats who have a normal looking mouth and that it will continue to develop if not addressed, causing extreme pain and even behavior changes.
Dr. Brett Beckman, a noted board-certified veterinary dentist, says that an exact cause for TR has not been determined yet. Theories about exposure to certain viruses, breed prevalence and chronic inflammation of the mouth and gums have all been proposed as root causes. According to Beckman, a single study suggests that high levels of Vitamin D in cat foods could be linked to resorptive disease, but that research is still ongoing. Interestingly, there has even been evidence of TR in cat skeletons that are 800 years old!
Clinically, most cats will appear normal, but astute and observant owners may note that their feline pet prefers to chew food on just one side or that the cat stops grooming. As TR progresses, some pets will even develop sullen attitudes, as if they are mad at the world!
Eventually, your veterinarian may point out how some of your cat’s cheek teeth are showing lines of inflamed, fleshy material right near the base of the tooth. At this point, we know that affected cats are extremely painful. Even under a general anesthetic, a slight touch of these lesions will cause a cat to “chatter” their jaw, indicating serious pain!
Dental x-rays are the only true way to effectively diagnose TR. When the radiographs are taken, your veterinarian will note specific changes in the density of the x-ray shadows of the teeth and may even see areas where the crown or root of the tooth has completely dissolved away! Many teeth may even present a “moth-eaten” appearance on x-ray.
Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment that can save the pet’s teeth. Watching and waiting for things to get better will not work! A tooth that is showing any signs of resorption needs to be extracted. In addition, a cat with a known history of TR should be evaluated by a veterinarian every six months and that should always include dental x-rays.
The good news in all of this is that once your veterinarian knows about the disease, he or she will work with you to keep your cat comfortable. We also know that cats who were once painful or even aggressive will often have a positive behavior change in just a matter of weeks. The removal of these painful teeth can often bring back your affectionate feline friend.
Owners are often unaware that their pets are experiencing such discomfort. But, regular visits to your veterinarian can help identify the issue and start work that will make your cat feel better. Contact your veterinarian to have a comprehensive oral examination for your pet, including dental x-rays and regular dental cleanings.
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About Lorie Huston, DVM Lorie Huston is an accomplished veterinarian, an award winning blogger, a talented author and a certified veterinary journalist. She is available for writing assignments, blogging and social media consultation, and SEO strategy.
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