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Feline Dental Health

The Martha Stewart Show, February 2008

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by the time they're 3 years old. February is National Pet Dental Month, and the perfect time to learn the importance of caring for your cat's teeth.

Years ago, people did not brush their animals' teeth and, as a result, people do not realize the importance of dental care for animals. But as cats are living longer, they are outliving their teeth. Look for warning signs that something might be wrong with your cat's teeth; if your cat has discoloration of teeth and tartar or bad breath, or drools, fails to groom itself, changes eating or chewing habits, paws at its face or mouth, or exhibits signs of depression, it may be experiencing trouble with its teeth. In addition to causing discomfort, an infection in the mouth could enter your cat's bloodstream and spread to the heart, liver, or kidneys.

Cats' teeth are located extremely close together and are meant for cutting as opposed to chewing. If you've thought feeding dry food is the antidote to brushing, think again: Only brushing is the solution. When you brush your cat's teeth, use a circular motion over the back and front of the teeth, spending about 30 seconds per side.

Before beginning to brush your cat's teeth, make sure its nails are clipped so there is no chance you'll get scratched. You can use a variety of instruments for brushing, including a good pet toothpaste, your bare finger, your finger wrapped with gauze, a tooth wipe, a plastic fingertip brush, a toothbrush with a long handle, or a silent electric toothbrush for pets.

If your cat resists having its teeth brushed at first, you should stop and introduce the toothpaste slowly. Start with just your finger; put a small amount of feline toothpaste on your finger and see if the cat will lick it off. If your cat is reluctant to lick the toothpaste off of your finger, smear a bit on its paw and it will lick it off. Finally, when your cat is comfortable licking the toothpaste, open its mouth and massage its teeth and gums. Be sure to keep these sessions short and sweet.

Ideally, you should brush your cat's teeth daily; at the least, you should brush them weekly. You can also ask your vet about specially formulated food with proven benefits in plaque and tartar removal. And remember to take your cat to the vet once a year for a professional checkup.

Resources
Special thanks to Marc Morrone, owner of the Parrots of the World pet shop, for sharing this valuable information. The PetVantage Electric Toothbrush is available at most pet stores. For more information about Pet Dental Toothpaste, Pet Dental Finger Toothbrushes, and the Four Paws Green Toothbrush, which are also available at most pet stores, visit fourpaws.com. For more information about National Pet Dental Month, visit petdental.com.

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