- incissor teeth – function: grooming and tearing prey1 (and to grasp it as well3)
- canine teeth – function: grasping and killing prey
- premolar teeth – function: shearing, cutting up and chewing food
- molar teeth – function: shearing cutting up and chewing prey (or cat food if it is the domestic cat)
The picture below shows these teeth and the chart immediately below shows the number on the upper and lower jaws. When the jaw is closed the canine teeth interlock and the lower incissors rest just in front of the upper incissors. The molars are behind the incissors and premolars. The last upper molar on the top jaw and the lower molar together make up the “carnassial teeth” (the large teeth found in many carnivorous mammals, used for shearing flesh and bone in a scissor or shear-like way5). These provide the shearing action that cuts food into pieces before swallowing. You can see your cat use these when he or she has to cut up a particularly tough piece of food. There are relatively few molars1.
Photos above by Jeremy Burgin (skelton) and thian_un (live cat). Both published under a creative commons license.
Cat Teeth – Medical Information
Cat teeth can be chipped and broken or lost in fights with other cats. Dental problems in domestic cats are sometimes due to diet4. In fact it is believed that dental and periodontal (gum) health is important to the rest of the body as bacteria from infected gums can spread to other organs of the body in the blood stream6. It is wise for a cat keeper to inspect their cat’s teeth regularly to check for basic health issues and if possible to train your cat to accept brushing of teeth6. Veterinary cleaning under anesthetic might be required. Cleening teeth without anesthetic is considered impractical6. Placing a cat under a general anesthetic carries a risk of injury or rarely death (1 in 100 or 1 in a 1,000 – ask you vet before requesting this procedure). See also:
- Bad Breath in Cats
- Cat Teeth Cleaning [link]
- Cat Teeth Neck Lesions
- Denal Gel For Cats
- Feline Gingivitis
There may be some soreness during teething4. This may effect apparent appetite. Sometimes baby teeth are “retained”. Usually baby teeth are reabsorbed when the permanent teeth replace them. If not, then the permanent teeth are pushed out of alignment when they erupt causing a bad bite. When that happens the baby tooth that remains should be pulled out4. Sometimes cats have an abnormal number of teeth. If there are too few there are no health issues. If too many it may cause overlap and twisting of teeth requiring extraction. Incorrect bite: mostly inherited due to jaw growth or retained baby teeth. Overshot bite means that the upper jaw is longer than the lower. The undershot bite is the opposite. There is a third cause of incorrect bite: wry mouth caused by one side of the jaw growing faster than the other. The flat faced Persians (“ultra” Persian) tend to have more incorrect bites than other purebred cats.
Telling a Cat’s Age from their Teeth
In the wild the amount of wear on the cusps of the teeth can be a reliable guage of age. As domestic cats rarely use their teeth for grinding there is little wear but the general condition of the teeth and gums provide indications of age. For young cats accurate determinations of age are possible as the baby teeth erupt at different times4:
|Cat Teeth||Age they erupt|
|Incisors (baby)||2 – 3 weeks|
|Canines (baby)||3 – 4 weeks|
|Premolars (baby)||3 – 6 weeks|
|Incisors (permanent)||3 – 4 months|
|Canines (permanent)||4 – 6 months|
|Premolars and molars||4 – 6 months|