Cat teeth are very different to those of people and dogs. We see a lot of dental problems in cats, and they’re often overlooked. For some reason, people often seem to diminish the importance of oral health in the welfare of their pets. Many cats have terribly painful mouths, and they’re clearly suffering a great deal. It’s easy to miss just how badly your cat is being affected because cats don’t express pain in the way that people do.

Cats have extremely sharp, triangular teeth that interlock. This is perfect for slicing through the flesh of their prey, and is unlike anything that humans have, with our flat, chewing-adapted teeth.

I’m immediately suspicious of dental disease when I examine an older cat, and she’s resistant to me opening her mouth. Being bad tempered and weight loss are very common too. Of course, we may have to rule out lots of other diseases first that could be causing this, such as diabetes, kidney failure or overactive thyroids, but having done this, it’s important to go ahead and treat the problem that’s causing the cat’s suffering.

Unique Dental Problems

Cats have their own, poorly understood form of dental disease called FORL (short for Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions). This is unlike anything that occurs in humans or dogs. I have a picture here showing a nice example:

Picture of a cat's mouth showing a tooth with a FORL.

This image shows how the tooth appears to have a piece broken out of it (marked with an X). This is a FORL, and the affected tooth is covered by a fleshy outgrowth from the gum. Lesions as advanced as this are extremely painful. A cat’s mouth will often reflexively chatter, even under anaesthetic if these are touched.

The only treatment for these teeth is to remove them, and then the cat is pretty much instantly better. Sometimes, especially in the older cats, we have to remove all a cat’s teeth because of these lesions. When we do this, people are often concerned as to how their cat will be able to eat afterwards. Cat’s don’t need their teeth to eat; at least they don’t need teeth to eat cat food (whether wet or dry). These cats are coming to us with very sore mouths, bad tempered, losing weight, and chronically hungry. We take the affected teeth out, give some pain relief and they go home and eat better than they’ve done for a very long time, the same day.

So it’s important not to be afraid of the anaesthetic if your cat has dental problems. There are occasions when we decide not to operate if a cat has other concurrent illnesses (especially kidney disease), and that’s why we like to test for these first. But if they’re otherwise healthy, it’s important to have this dealt with.