By Capt. Nicholas Anderson
Special to GUIDON
Many health concerns affect our feline friends, but one area that gets often overlooked is the oral health of our domesticated cats.
This is a commonly forgotten problem for many reasons. The most influential reason pet owners don’t realize their cat may have dental disease is due to the behavioral nature of cats. Cats are naturally great at hiding any signs of pain or disease. They can mask their discomfort for a longer time than dogs, and will tolerate high levels of pain especially when it has gradual onset.
Secondly, cats don’t readily get their mouth examined by owners.
Lastly, as many cat owners will attest, bringing cats into the vet is not easy, and is often only accomplished when cats are feeling ill and the owner feels the need to see a veterinarian, as opposed to bringing them in for preventative care visits.
The three most common oral diseases for cats in order of frequency include periodontal disease, oral resporptive lesions, and squamous cell carcinoma. There are a few other diseases that happen with some frequency, but are less noted in clinical practice.
Periodontal disease is a progressive disease that slowly degrades the support structures for the teeth and requires life-long preventive measures both at home and at the veterinary clinic.
More than 50 percent of adult cats will develop oral resorptive lesions during their lifetime. These lesions can be difficult to detect on cats even during a physical examination by a veterinarian. The best method for diagnosing this disease is through full mouth oral radiographs (x-rays) performed under general anesthesia.
The disease process includes the tooth being reabsorbed by the body through currently unknown mechanisms, and can include either the crown (the visible part of the tooth above the gum line), or the root (the part of the tooth below the gum line). Unfortunately, this is not a preventable disease currently as more research is necessary to determine the cause and therefore a prevention method. However, it can be a painful disease that goes undetected by owners and veterinarians easily due to the difficulty in diagnosing it and cats’ ability to mask their pain.
Lastly, squamous cell carcinoma is the most common oral neoplasia (cancer) in cats, and is mostly common in older, geriatric cats. This is a rapidly progressive form of cancer that degrades surrounding bone and other tissues of the oral cavity incredibly quickly. Diagnosis is done through examination and tissue sampling performed by a veterinarian. However, without early detection and rapid removal of masses, the disease will progress and be quite difficult to completely treat.
Early detection of all of these disease processes is best done through annual examinations for felines by a veterinarian. Ideally, annual dental cleanings under general anesthesia with full mouth radiographs would be performed by a veterinarian for all cats over the age of 2 to 3 (depending on findings of physical examination).
(Editor’s note: Anderson is a veterinarian at the Fort Leonard Wood Veterinary Treatment facility.)