When Richard C. noticed that his cat, Misha, was drooling and wincing when she tried to eat, he immediately knew something was wrong. He took the green-eyed, orange tabby to the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH), where she was diagnosed with lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis, a severe inflammation of the mouth that can also affect the gums. The chronic, rapidly-progressive condition was making it nearly impossible for Misha to eat.
During Misha’s two-hour procedure, Dr. Maren Krafchik extracted 12 teeth, including molars, incisors, baby teeth, and a fractured front canine tooth before closing the gaps in Misha’s gum tissue with dissolvable stitches. Three teeth remain.
“Cats are highly sensitive and prone to inflammatory reactions,” said Dr. Krafchik, noting that Misha’s condition was not uncommon. But she added that treatment with medications alone will not solve the problem; dental work is needed to relieve animals like Misha from inflammation and pain.
One of the most common maladies seen by AAH staff is dental disease. In 2014, our team performed nearly 850 dental procedures on dogs and cats, ranging from simple cleaning and extractions to treatment for advanced periodontal disease.
“Leaving a sick mouth untreated presents major risks,” says Dr. Janice Fenichel, one of 10 veterinarians at AAH who routinely perform dental procedures. Health risks of untreated dental issues in pets include jaw fractures due to bone destruction and damage to organs caused by chronic bacterial infection in the mouth. Kidneys in particular are often injured by untreated oral disease.
“Many pets have multiple diseased teeth,” says Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of AAH. “Pets with dental disease are often in severe pain—imagine having not just one toothache, but many.”
ASPCA veterinarians frequently find inflamed gums in cats. In 75 percent of adult cats, dental problems require extractions. Fractured teeth and periodontal disease are the most common dental problems in dogs seen at AAH.
To prevent pet dental problems, Dr. Fenichel says there is “no substitute” for brushing. Dogs should have their mouths screened during regular exams, and all pets should get twice-yearly dental checkups when they reach their senior years.
She stresses dentals “are not about cosmetics,” but rather, “keeping important teeth in your pet’s mouth and keeping your pet comfortable.”
“So often, clients express fear that if their pet loses all of his teeth, ‘How will he manage?’” she adds. “The truth is, after a much-needed dental, they’re eating a lot more comfortably than when they had a mouthful of awful teeth.”
That’s certainly true for Misha, who these days doesn’t let her almost-empty mouth stand in the way of a good meal.
For more information, check out our “Ten Steps to Dental Health” for cats and for dogs.