Many cat owners do not realize that cats can develop overgrown teeth later in life, leading to a range of health issues. This article provides an extensive look into the causes, signs, dangers and treatments for overgrown teeth in cats.
An In-Depth Overview of Cat Teeth
Cats have a total of 30 teeth, with 16 teeth in the top jaw and 14 teeth in the lower jaw. Each type of tooth serves specialized functions:
Incisors – The Small Front Teeth
Cats have 6 small incisor teeth in both the upper and lower jaws located directly in the front of the mouth. The incisors have a flat edge and are used for biting off pieces of food and grooming.
Canines – The Long Pointed Teeth
The pronounced, longer pointed teeth on both sides of the incisors are the upper and lower canine teeth. Cats have 2 canine teeth in the upper jaw and 2 in the lower. These are used for grabbing prey, killing it, and tearing off meat.
Premolars – The Holding Teeth
Behind the canines are the premolar teeth, which act to hold and shred food. There are 2 upper premolars and 2 lower premolars. These have pointed cusps for penetrating and gripping.
Molars – The Grinding Teeth
Located at the very back of the mouth are the molars, which grind and chew food. Cats have 6 upper molars and 4 lower molars. The molars have broad surfaces to crush food.
This full set of 30 teeth provides cats with the varied functions needed for eating meat and other foods. But without proper dental care, these teeth can overgrow leading to consequences.
Factors That Can Cause Cat Teeth to Become Too Long
A number of factors can cause a cat’s teeth to overelongate over time, including:
- Soft Food Diets – Cats fed exclusively wet, canned, or soft foods do not get the abrasive chewing action provided by dry kibble or other crunchy foods. This lack of scraping against hard food allows teeth to overgrow.
- Insufficient Chewing – Cats that do not have access to enough dental chews, treats, or toys do not get the mechanical wearing down from chewing those items. Missing out on that can contribute to tooth elongation.
- Genetic Predisposition – Some purebred cat breeds are genetically prone to having teeth that overgrow faster than normal. This includes breeds like Persians and Himalayans.
- Health Conditions – Dental diseases like resorptive lesions can damage teeth and cause loss of tooth structure. This allows remaining teeth to drift and overelongate.
- Tooth Extractions – When one or more teeth are extracted, the opposing tooth on the other jaw is left without an antagonist tooth to wear against. This can lead to that remaining tooth becoming too long.
- Mineral Imbalances – Deficiencies or excesses of certain vitamins and minerals involved in dental health may potentially worsen tooth overgrowth tendencies.
- Age – Overgrown teeth become more likely as cats get older. Senior cats are at highest risk due to accumulated dental issues and weaker tooth structure.
With vigilance and proactive care from an early age, cat guardians can help minimize the chances of problematic tooth elongation developing later in their cat’s life.
Early Signs of Overgrown Teeth in Cats
Cats with abnormally long teeth often start exhibiting noticeable symptoms and signs like:
- Difficulty Eating – They may drop food from their mouth while trying to chew, have trouble biting off pieces, or avoid hard foods. Eating becomes inefficient and messy.
- Excessive Drooling – The discomfort of overgrown teeth causes saliva pooling in the mouth and dripping out.
- Bad Breath – Bacteria accumulates on the elongated tooth surfaces and causes foul breath.
- Loose or Broken Teeth – Long, unsupported teeth become unstable in their sockets and fractures or chipping can occur.
- Swollen Gums – Pressure from overgrown teeth jamming into gums causes painful swelling and reddening.
- Bleeding from the Gums – Excessive tooth length wears down and erodes gums leading to bleeding.
- Facial Swelling – Dental abscesses at the tooth roots create visible swelling on face or jaws.
- Pawing at the Mouth – Cats frequently paw at their mouth as if bothered by tooth pain.
- Behavior Change – Subtle changes in temperament like irritability or withdrawal may indicate discomfort.
Cat guardians should watch for any of these potential signs of dental trouble and seek prompt veterinary attention if they occur. Leaving overgrown teeth unchecked can lead to severe health consequences.
Serious Dangers of Leaving Overgrown Cat Teeth Untreated
Allowing a cat’s overgrown teeth to go untreated results in more than just discomfort – it can endanger overall health and quality of life. Potential serious risks include:
- Malnutrition & Dehydration – Inability to chew and swallow food properly results in weight loss and muscle wasting.
- Tooth Decay & Disease – Plaque and tartar rapidly build up on misaligned teeth worsening decay.
- Tooth Abscesses – Gum damage at the tooth root forms pus-filled abscess pockets.
- Spreading Infection – Bacteria entering tooth cavities or abscesses spreads to the bloodstream and body.
- Organ Failure – The released bacteria can overload and start shutting down vital organs like the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.
- Jawbone Damage – Excessive tooth length and pressure on gums can erode and resorb the jawbone itself.
- Constant Pain – The pressure of overgrown teeth on gums and roots is very painful and distressing.
- Premature Death – Unresolved dental disease is directly life-threatening if organs fail or widespread infection develops.
Clearly, insufficient dental care can have tragic outcomes in cats. Annual professional cleanings and ongoing home care are imperative to allow early intervention for overgrown teeth before they become severely problematic.
Professional Veterinary Options for Treating Overgrown Teeth
If a cat is diagnosed with abnormally long teeth, a veterinarian may recommend these treatment approaches:
- Teeth Trimming – The definitive treatment is to shorten overgrown portions of teeth down to normal length under professional anesthesia. This provides immediate relief.
- Tooth Extraction – For severely overgrown, damaged, or diseased teeth, full extraction may be necessary. This also occurs under anesthesia.
- Dental X-Rays – Dental radiographs help evaluate any hidden issues like tooth root abscesses.
- Antibiotic Therapy – Antibiotics treat any bacterial infections associated with the long teeth.
- Anti-Inflammatories – Reduce swelling and gum inflammation.
- Pain Medication – Control pain before, during and after dental procedures.
- Follow-Up Exams – Recheck teeth at regular intervals after trimming or extraction.
- Referral to Veterinary Dentist – In complex cases, a board-certified veterinary dentistry specialist may provide advanced care.
With professional intervention, overgrown teeth can be corrected to restore dental function and comfort. Ongoing home care is still needed after veterinary treatment.
Strategies to Prevent Overgrown Teeth in Cats
In addition to professional cleanings and trimmings, cat guardians can incorporate home strategies to help avoid overgrown teeth and promote dental health:
- Dry Food Diet – The abrasive action of crunchy kibble helps wear down teeth. But also provide some wet food for hydration.
- Dental Chews – Special treats and toys made to be gnawed and scraped help wear teeth.
- Teeth Brushing – Regular weekly brushing helps control plaque buildup before it worsens tooth length issues.
- Dental Cat Treats – Some treats contain specific ingredients to reduce tartar and bacterial growth.
- Raw Meaty Bones – Gnawing on raw meat bones from poultry or other sources provides natural abrasion.
- Routine Veterinary Cleanings – Professional scaling and polishing of all teeth every 6-12 months prevents mineralized plaque buildup.
- Address Health Issues – Managing any diseases like gingivitis improves overall oral health.
- Daily Oral Inspection – Regularly check teeth and gums for any concerning changes.
Proper home care combined with annual veterinary dental cleanings give cats the best chance at maintaining healthy normal tooth length lifelong. Be vigilant for any signs of changes.
Like humans, cats are prone to issues with their teeth overgrowing into later adulthood. This overelongation is often due to insufficient wear and tear from lack of chewing hard foods or abrasive treats. Excessive tooth length causes difficulty eating, oral pain and serious health risks if left unaddressed. Veterinary dental care to trim or extract problem teeth and dedicated home dental care are imperative for managing this issue in cats. With vigilant prevention and early intervention, cats can retain properly aligned teeth and enjoy excellent dental comfort into their senior years.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: At what age do cats’ teeth typically start to overgrow?
A: Overgrown teeth become most common in older cats over 5 years of age. However, some cats may show signs of elongation much earlier depending on if they have underlying dental disease, breed tendency, or lack of chewing abrasives in their diet. Routine veterinary dental checks starting from kittenhood allow early detection.
Q: How can I check my cat’s tooth length at home between vet visits?
A: Gently lift your cat’s lips and visually examine their teeth. Look for teeth that appear longer than normal, extend past the gumline, no longer align properly with the opposite tooth, or have red and swollen gums surrounding them. Take pictures to share with your vet. Any concerning findings warrant a prompt veterinary oral exam.
Q: Should cat teeth trimming be done under anesthesia?
A: Yes, cat teeth cannot be safely and properly shortened without general anesthesia. Attempting to trim or file teeth on a conscious cat would be extremely difficult and painful. Sedation ensures proper patient safety and comfort while allowing the veterinarian complete access to examine and treat all teeth accurately.
Q: What types of chew toys help wear down cat teeth at home?
A: Some recommended cat chew toys to provide abrasive wearing action include:
- Treats filled with ground shell powder or vegetable fiber
- Rubber toys with nubs and ridges
- Dental chews made from pressed rawhide or vegetable starch
- Catnip-filled toys made with hemp fabric or sisal fiber
Provide a variety and monitor for safety and interest. Rotate new toys regularly to keep your cat engaged.
Q: How often should my senior cat get their teeth professionally cleaned?
A: For senior cats over age 7, professional dental cleanings and exams every 4-6 months are ideal to closely monitor tooth length and dental disease. Biannual cleanings can catch problems early before they become advanced or painful. More frequent dental care may be advised based on your cat’s unique oral health status.