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STRAIGHT FROM THE KITTY’S MOUTH: HOW I KEEP MY SENIOR CAT’S TEETH CLEAN


Brandy the cat turned 14 on New Year’s Day.

No, that’s not an arbitrary day that my husband and I chose for her birthday, my little tortoise shell-colored was indeed born on New Year’s Day 14 years ago. Her former owner (she was a surrender) confirmed the date.

And while her headstrong temperament (and appetite) may be equivalent to the 14 year-old teenager she is in “human years”, in “cat years” she’s closer to about 72 human years. As spry as she is for her 14 years, and as much as she can fool us sometimes with her kitten-like behavior (she still roughhouses with her catnip toys!), it is very important that my husband and I remember that we share our home with a senior kitty.

What does that mean? Primarily it mans monitoring her diet and physical well-being. She sees a vet every two months to monitor her chronic medical conditions. She takes various vet prescribed medications as well as vet-approved supplements for her urinary tract health, digestive health, nerve and heart function, and joint health. (NOTE: Please check with your vet before introducing new supplements into your pet’s existing diet.)

Her physical well-being of course includes her teeth. It is very easy sometimes, for cat owners (new or experienced) to forget or be unaware of their cat’s dental health until circumstances require major veterinary help.

First of all cats, even less-so than dogs, are not typically amenable to teeth brushing. I can only speak from personal experience, but of the three cats I’ve owned as an adult, and the 10+ my family has adopted or raised, only three would allow us to clean their teeth. Don’t get me wrong, it IS possible to brush a cat’s teeth. Teaching them as kittens or gentle training with an adult cat with a good disposition can certainly make teeth brushing a reality. However, for cats that will not allow you to brush their teeth their are dental care alternatives.

Secondly, cats don’t exhibit tooth or mouth pain readily. Even more so than dogs, often cats will not show signs of pain as an instinct not to reveal “weakness”. Even the most trusting house cats often show no signs of discomfort until it is intolerable.

Of course, it is best to stop severe dental issues before they happen, but even the most vigilant cat parents can be caught off guard. The following are some warning signs that your cat may be in dental or oral distress:

  • drooling

  • pawing at the mouth

  • difficulty eating

  • loss of appetite

  • very bad breath

  • excessive whining at odd times

  • sensitivity to touching their mouth, or near their mouth

This is not a complete list, but it’s what I’ve seen in the past and what vets have mentioned as warning signs. Of course, we always say, know your cat’s (or any pet’s) behavior, and if they begin acting in an alarming way go to the vet. Better safe than sorry.

But it is possible to head off major dental problems in your beloved cat — even if you are unable to brush their teeth.

I’ll be completely honest: I’m obviously not a vet, and Brandy does not have perfect teeth. However, as far as senior cats go her vets have commented that

A) She still has all her teeth. Sounds like no big deal, but many older cats lose their teeth or have to have some — if not MOST — of their teeth extracted.

B) While she has some plaque and tartar build up, Brandy doesn’t have bad breath nor does she appear to have any major “problem” teeth.

As far as senior cats go, my vet says she is looking good.

I have tried to brush Brandy’s teeth in the past, but as she came to us as a very scared adult cat, it has never worked out. So I’d like to share how I keep my cat’s teeth as healthy as possible without a toothbrush. (I should note that nothing replaces brushing, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up and watch kitty’s teeth fall out!)

I realize that every cat is unique, but perhaps this will give you some ideas or options as to how you can keep your cat’s mouth happy and healthy.

Brandy with her various supplements. (Don’t worry the stove was cold!)

Food

Brandy eats a raw diet. She eats either ZiwiPeak Daily-Cat moist cat food (66% raw in a BPA-free can) mixed with some extra raw beef or chicken, or Primal Pet Foods raw frozen diet. I believe that her raw diet has been the number one reason why her dental health is good.

To quote a prior blog for a moment:

Because raw meat, vegetables and fruits (ingredients found in most raw pet foods), are still “alive” so to speak. Unlike kibble, which has been cooked, raw pet food still has active enzymes and good bacteria that can eat away at the plaque and tartar on your pet’s teeth. Once a food is cooked, enzymes and bacteria are killed, leaving perhaps a healthy food, but one that is “dead”.

Canine Dental Service, the folks who do the no-anesthesia dental cleaning, told us that across the board, dogs who eat raw food have cleaner, healthier, whiter teeth than dogs that eat cooked kibble (this goes for cats too!). The higher quality kibbles, some that contain raw freeze dried ingredients or raw enzymes (like Great Life) contribute to healthier teeth and gums, but overall, it’s hard to beat raw food for dental health.

From “Clean Teeth, Happy Pets!“

Not to mention, many prepared raw foods like Primal have ground bone in them that also act as an abrasive against tartar and plaque on the teeth.

I know that raw, soft food may seem to be antithetical to crunchy, “scraping” dry food, but I like to offer this analogy to customers:

You eat potato chips, and they are crunchy, right? But you wouldn’t consider eating a bag of potato chips to be helpful in cleaning your teeth. The same goes for your pet’s food. Just because it’s crunchy, doesn’t mean it’s “scraping”. In fact, some kibbles actually stick to your pet’s teeth causing MORE tartar and buildup!

If your cat will ONLY eat kibble (trust me, I’ve been there) try to find a high quality one that has a whole ingredients, a solid meat content, and if possible active raw enzymes Foods like Great Life (which is sprayed with raw enzymes) are excellent kibble choices for your cat.

Safe Chewing Bones

Brandy occasionally gets a raw chicken neck.

Just like dogs, a cat’s teeth can benefit from the gnawing and scraping action of chewing on meaty bones. Just be sure that there are no tiny bones that your cat could swallow (I like to stick with necks for cats, but I still give every piece a quick once over), and that the bones are not cooked. Cooked bones can splinter and shard, puncturing your cat’s mouth, esophagus, or stomach. Always give your cat (or dog) raw bones.

Your cat will love getting a raw meat treat a few times a week, just be sure to introduce it slowly.

Give it to your cat for only 5 minutes the first time. Then wait a day or two then give it to them for 10 minutes the next time. You need to give your cat’s stomach time to adapt to a raw bone, especially if they aren’t used to raw feeding. Brandy only gets to gnaw on a bone for a max of 15 minutes, but she is rather methodical. If your cat voraciously chomps on a raw bone, keep an eye on them. I generally don’t let Brandy eat an entire chicken neck in one sitting — closer to a quarter.

Consider the raw bone a part of your cat’s diet, and cut back on their food appropriately on days they consume part of a meaty bone. Remember, it does add calories.

Primal Pet Foods offers a reliable and wholesome raw chicken neck appropriate for cats. This is probably the safest way to give your cat a raw meaty bone. Plus their feeding calculator is a good way to figure out how much raw meaty bone is good for your cat’s diet.

Supplements

Brandy gets regular probiotic supplements as well as Pet Naturals of Vermont’s Oral Health for Cats.

Probiotics, aside from being great for her digestion (especially as a senior cat) also help regulate the amount of bacteria in her mouth. If a cat has healthy gut bacteria, it is likely that the bacteria in his or her mouth will be healthy too. Probiotics, as you may remember, are live bacteria that help maintain a healthy digestive environment in a cat, dog, or human for that matter. A healthy gut environment can inhibit bacteria that cause dental problems (and bad breath!).

By giving Brandy probiotics (she gets The Real Meat Company’s BioticBoost Mixed Meat Food Seasoning everyday with dinner, and The Honest Kitchen’s Pro Bloom Instant Goat’s Milk with probiotics and digestive enzymes two to three times a week) not only is the environment in her mouth a little more balanced, but we’ve also avoided that “old cat breath” that so many older cats develop.

In addition to her probiotics, I add a little oral maintenance powder to her food. I currently use Pet Naturals of Vermont Oral Health for Cats. “…formulated with Zinc Ascorbate, Taurine, direct-fed microbials (Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus), Natural Zeolites, Yucca Schidigera Extract and Cranberry Powder,” Pet Naturals’ Oral Health for Cats does a pretty good job of keeping tartar buildup at bay. The primary mode of doing this is also through the mode of good bacteria to balance Brandy’s oral environment (edge out the bad bacteria).

Since I added Pet Naturals’ Oral Health for Cats to our “dental arsenal” a couple years ago, I’ve noticed that the buildup, especially around her gumline, has improved.

So that’s how I help Brandy keep her mouth healthy, and avoid having to get “kitty dentures”.

Like I said before, every cat is different, and this is just what works for us. Brandy’s vet always checks her teeth and my husband and I regularly get up close and personal with her mouth while she chews. Because she is an older cat, putting her under for a full cleaning is inadvisable, so we do everything we can to ensure her oral health.

If nothing else, I hope this post shows you that there are many options for feline dental care. If one thing doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean you are out of options.

And as always, if you have any questions feel free to call or email us at the store. We will do our best to help you and your pet!

Give your kitty a scratch for us,

~Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger

As always, check with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet or body care. The Calvin & Susie Blogger always researches to the best of her ability, but she is not a vet. This blog is not in any way meant to replace veterinary advice or care. When in doubt always ask a vet.


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