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How to Examine a Cat's Teeth

Updated on October 28, 2012

There is an unspoken agreement between humans and cats that involves not messing with their teeth. They don't like it, we don't like the resulting ferocity, and that's that. While cats are diligent and meticulous with their personal hygiene, maintaining their teeth is something they are woefully unequipped to do, leaving it to our scratched and scarred hands to take care of.

Despite the tricky situation we now find ourselves in, it is best to check a cat's teeth routinely anyway (usually on a monthly basis). In this article I will do my best to outline the best tips and practices when examining a cat's teeth, along with what to look out for should something be amiss.


Say Ahhh, Argh!

There are no easy ways to coax a cat into an inspection, and temperaments can vary greatly. In particularly unruly cases a veterinarian may be needed even for a simple routine check. Some pet owners suggest that the combination of a post-inspection reward and practice (the cat will eventually learn via association that a reward is warranted) are the best ways to ensure long-term success.

In order to be a thorough as possible you're going to have to prop the cat up to eye level in an area where there is sufficient light for you to be able to pick out potential minutiae on teeth. Before we even begin pushing the lips back over the gums, try and get in close and smell the cat's breath.

Cat Halitosis - Detecting a bad odor can be symptom of tooth of gum disease. Seek immediate medical attention if there is a copious amount of brown tartar (serious gum disease), a urine-like (possible kidney problem) or fruity smell (possibly diabetes) or if your cat is continuously clawing at their mouth.

Others Signs

There are other signs that may indicate issues with tooth health that can be detected without a peek on the inside. These are:

  • Drooling is a symptom of gingivitis.
  • Lack of appetite (possible pulpitis).
  • Clawing at the mouth.
  • Foul breath.
  • Weight loss.

Our Teeth Routine Checklist

Expose the teeth by pushing the lips back with two fingers from one hand (ideally), giving you the option of calming the cat with the other. Here's what we're going to look for:

  • Periodontal disease and Gingivitus - Inflammation of the gums characterized by swollen, bleeding, reddened gums. If you can, press softly on the teeth to make sure they are not loose. Consider any of these signs a red flag. If left untreated the cat could lose their teeth.
  • Fractured teeth - If left on their own to heal, fractures can leave the cat in intense pain and lead to infection.
  • Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL) - Also known as a neck lesion, FORLs appear as an erosion of the tooth at the gum that gets progressively worse over time. Tell-tale indicators of the presence of these lesions are weight loss (including anorexia), reluctance to eat and tooth fracture.
  • Stomatitis - Checking for signs of Stomatitis will require you to open the teeth and check the for inflammation in the oral cavity itself.Common accompanying symptoms of Stomatitis include bad breath, red or swollen gums and the presence of tooth resorption (a neck lesion). Any sign of an inflammation can mean the cat is in pain and in danger, so a trip to the vet is always advised!


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