A cat cannot be healthy without oral health. Periodontal diseases are infections caused by bacteria in the biofilm (dental plaque) that forms on the oral surfaces. The disease affects the health of the specialised tissues that surround and support teeth. Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums, a part of periodontal disease. Effective plaque control could prevent a large percentage of gum disease cases. Dental care means effective plaque control and home dental care is “critical” to successful periodontal disease management but it isn’t done. Commercial cat food is a contributing factor to the increased prevalence and severity of periodontal disease in domestic cats.
Although, brushing a cat’s teeth is “an effective means of plaque control”1, in general terms, cat owners are unable or unwilling to brush their cat’s teeth. A comprehensive study in America concluded that in 15.5 million cats and dogs with various stages of periodontal disease “appropriate care was not received”1. Even when cat owners know their cat has gum disease they are often unable or unwilling to try and manage and minimise its effects. It simply proves too difficult for the vast majority of cat caretakers, in my view and personal experience2. Therefore, the cat caretaker is obliged to rely upon the best kinds of commercially prepared cat food to minimise periodontal disease in conjunction with the occasional visit to the veterinarian to clean her cat’s teeth.
Visits to veterinarians are expensive and dangerous for the cat in respect of treating periodontal disease because a general anaesthetic is required. Also, a lot of cat owners will be put off by the cost. These barriers to controlling feline periodontal disease results in a very high incidence of the disease in the domestic cat population.
Surveys demonstrate that the disease affects 60% to more than 80% of dogs and cats. It is one of the most common or most common feline health problem. “Most”1 cats of 5+ years of age have some sort of periodontal disease. For the most part, therefore, many cat owners rely upon the right kind of cat food to minimise periodontal disease if they’re concerned about it. Natural foods are almost never used but can help (see below).
Specialist Dental Foods
Fiber-containing foods are nature’s toothbrush. These foods exercise gums, promote gingival keratization and clean teeth. They affect plaque and calculus accumulation hence help to maintain periodontal health.
Kibble shatters on initial contact and does not provide cleaning properties. Dental cat food should promote chewing although cats do not chew as a cat’s teeth are used for sheering flesh. It is a myth that dry cat food cleans a cat’s teeth. It has the wrong texture.
There are foods that are meant to have cleansing properties compared to wet or dry food. They have enhanced textural (size and pattern) characteristics by maximising contact with the teeth and promoting chewing.
Numerous studies demonstrate that “dental foods” with enhanced textural characteristics provide significant plaque, calculus and stain control when used after prophylaxis (this word means, “treatment given or action taken to prevent disease”)1.
Natural diets have a “plaque retardant effect”1. Wild felids are not affected by the “generalised form of periodontal disease seen in domesticated pets”1. However, reports conclude that cats fed a natural diet have varying levels of gum disease and tooth fractures. Although anecdotal reports indicate that a natural diet of raw meaty bones does improve oral health in cats. However, there are health problems such as dental fractures and the ability of the person to store and prepare natural food properly.
I conclude therefore that, realistically, the only way readily available way a cat owner can assist in controlling gum disease is by feeding dental foods with textural characteristics. You’ll have to Google for those because I don’t have a list. I am sceptical about their efficacy to be honest. I am also sceptical about whether the veterinary profession want them on the market. Think about it: periodontal disease is a major source of revenue for vets. It is perhaps the primary cat health problem.
1. Primary Source of information
2. It is vital, I believe, for kittens to be acclimatised to having their teeth brushed.