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Ask the pet expert: Cat oral hygiene

I learned the hard way that I should care for/brush teeth when my rescued cat needed to be sedated and have her teeth cleaned (which was very expensive) because the tartar was so bad. She is not a good patient. What should I do for her teeth and how often?

Dental disease is very common, with the majority of cats being affected by the age of 3. It causes significant discomfort, difficulty eating and ultimately results in the loss of teeth. Brushing is considered the best method of home dental care and ideally is performed daily. Supplies to have on hand include toothpaste formulated for cats and a pet tooth brush — these come in various designs.

Remember that cats are very inquisitive creatures and enjoy exploring their environment at their own pace. The first step of acclimating your cat to brushing is getting your cat accustomed to you touching his or her face, lips, gums, and teeth. Slowly begin introducing toothpaste, which comes in a variety of tempting flavors. Next, allow your cat to investigate the toothbrush with the paste applied to it. When your cat is comfortable with the supplies involved, begin by brushing along the gum line, focusing on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Keep the experience positive for your cat, and be sure to offer a reward.

As pet caregivers, we have the opportunity each day to positively affect our cats' dental health, and the rewards are substantial in terms of your cat's overall well-being and health. There are numerous alternative methods of caring for your cat's teeth if your cat is resistant to brushing. Your veterinary office can advise you on options such as diets designed to clean the teeth, oral hygiene chews, rinses or gels, and water additives. It is important that your veterinarian assesses your cat's teeth every six months to monitor for changes. Keep in mind that professional cleaning and treatment is an important and often necessary step that aids in the efforts you are making to keep your cat's smile beautiful!

This week's expert is Katie John, veterinary technician at the Cat Hospital at Towson. Submit your questions to Sun.Unleashed@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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