Cats are susceptible to oral disease and complications when their dental hygiene is less than desirable. Those ailments include gingivitis, plaque buildup, and what’s referred to as “tooth resorption” or lesions — also known as cat or kitty cavities — which are, yep, you guessed it – the feline equivalent to human cavities.
That said, cat cavities aren’t the exact same as human cavities, and in fact, aren’t “cavities” in the true sense of the word. Instead of decaying, the tooth undergoes resorption, which means that the tissue and enamel is reabsorbed, often below the surface of the gums. Approximately 50% of felines will develop a cat cavity, which can range from mild to severe.
There are four primary states of a cat cavity, which includes:
- Mild hard tissue loss
- Moderate hard tissue loss
- Deep dental hard tissue loss that extends into the pulp cavity
- Extensive dental hard tissue loss that extends to the pulp cavity.
In the first three stages, the tooth maintains integrity while in the final stage the integrity is lost.
Though there’s no concrete answer for why or how kitty cavities are formed, it’s hypothesized that poor diet, poor lifestyle, and poor dental maintenance are primary factors. Genetic predisposition, feline stomatitis, and chronic disease such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) may play a part, as well.
Signs Your Cat Has a Cavity
Though we like to tease about our cats being dramatic (how many times has yours purposefully tipped a water glass over or meowed incessantly for grub?), they’re actually very good at concealing pain. Cat cavities can be extremely painful, but because they’re often hidden out of sight — and because cats disguise their pain — the signs are pretty subtle. In fact, sometimes a cat cavity is undetectable without dental radiographs.
In some cases, your cat may change its eating behavior by eating less, eating more slowly, or demonstrating a preference for softer foods. Another subtle sign is your cat’s breath. Cat breath smells slightly fishy in its natural and healthy state, but if it begins to smell particularly foul or sour, this is a sign of an oral issue that should be addressed promptly. Other signs include increased salivation, inflammation or bleeding around the gum line, severe calculus buildup, missing or fractured/broken teeth, and uncharacteristic malaise.
How to Prevent and Treat a Cat Cavity
In the same way humans are supposed to brush our teeth and schedule regular dentist appointments, cats should also undergo routine oral health maintenance. Ideally, cats should have their teeth checked by your vet once a year — usually during their routine annual visit — with a professional cleaning performed once every couple of years depending on what your vet recommends.
If a cat cavity is suspected, your veterinarian will suggest doing a more in-depth exam. This exam will likely include tests that allow for a better view of what’s underneath the surface, including the dental radiograph mentioned above. Once a cat cavity is confirmed, your vet will want to move forward with a thorough, deep cleaning and full extraction of the affected tooth or teeth. Extraction may seem like a drastic measure, but full removal is the most effective treatment because it prevents future infections and other issues from occurring. It also provides near immediate relief, which your kitty will greatly appreciate! Also, teeth affected by cat cavities are already very fragile, and easily fracture or break during the cleaning or removal process anyway. In some cases, your vet may go in to do a deep clean and decide that the tooth wasn’t as affected as they had previously assumed. If that happens, extraction will not occur.
For daily care, many vets recommend brushing your cat’s teeth at a frequency of up to once a day, but at least once per week. There are also dry foods, treats, and oral rinses you can use to help maintain your cat’s gum and teeth health.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do for your cat — outside of loving it dearly — is to be highly proactive when it comes to health. Vet visits should occur annually, teeth cleaning should be a regular deal, and do your best to look out for those subtle signs that your kitty may not be feeling well.
The Healthy Paws Pet Insurance plan covers accidental injury to your dog or cat’s teeth, including extractions and reconstructions. Routine dental care, such as the professional cleanings described above, is considered preventative and is not covered. Find out more about plan coverage and how we keep premiums low with our policy here.