Is It Impossible to Prevent Cat Periodontal Disease?


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.

Periodontal disease in cats

Periodontal disease in cats. Left: Gingivitis. Middle: Teeth cleaning kit. Right: Commercial feline dental food.


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

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.


It appears that the Siamese and associated breeds – Oriental SH – are more prone to periodontal disease.

1. Primary Source of information
2. It is vital, I believe, for kittens to be acclimatised to having their teeth brushed.

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Is It Impossible to Prevent Cat Periodontal Disease? — 8 Comments

  1. Poor little Bigfoot has problems on his gums. The question has been whether to have his gums scraped or not because of is issues with CKD, and his heart murmur, not to mention his age. Fortunately, my vet is very conservative. She prescribed antibiotics twice now, 7 day treatment, in over 8 months and it really seemed to give him relief. But only temporarily. Interestingly, I think the antibiotics also may have caught a UTI, as he is no longer leaking urine at odd times. A UTI was never diagnosed, but it suspicious.

    The toothbrush you show above is too rough on the gums if periodontal disease is already present. I have one, and he hates it. But I’ve found Q-tips to be an effective way to treat the gums. On the good advice of a friend, I have been treating his gums with Q-tip swabs of hydrogen peroxide, and on alternate days with Vet strength dental wash that is essentially chlorhexidine. He has learned to expect and enjoy the treatments, with only a moderate amount of complaining, but never trying to get away.

    Just yesterday, I received my order of Oratene, and anticeptic gel formulated for pets. First I put some on my own gums just to see the effect. Pretty innocuous really, so I put some on his gums. I’ll let you know how that goes, but straight away it seems to have had an effect with only two treatments. His breath is not so foul, and he didn’t ask to massage his gums by pushing on my knuckles at all last night. It is hard to know if it is the gel that is working, because I have also switched his food to prescription diet for CKD.

    The adventure is just beginning. Or maybe we are in the middle. It is hard to tell.

    I suggest folks start their kittens getting used to you putting your fingers in their mouths. It will help later in life because this seems to be a problem through their lives.

    I get a good look in Marvin’s mouth, and his gums look healthy. Yesterday, I had the door opened a crack for him to come in and out. He brought in a freshly killed squirrel, laid it on the white carpet, looking up asking for praise. After disposing of the corpse, he did get the praise…but oh dear. GROSS!

    • But I’ve found Q-tips to be an effective way to treat the gums.

      Love your comment DW. Extremely useful and practical. I might copy and paste some of it into the page. Your sort of solution is very good we (cat caretakers) need help on brushing our cat’s teeth 😉

      • Of course. Make note, the last paragraph about Marvin and the squirrel. I know he dines on rodents, and as you stated in your very technical post, maybe his gums are still real healthy because of his supplemental diet of fresh kill.

  2. Having two Oriental Shorthairs whom- in spite of brushing- developed serious periodontal disease and have had most of their teeth extracted as a result (except the front teeth- basically- both have had one canine extracted as well). They also received annual dental cleaning as well.

    Michael is SO right. These commercial dry foods touted as “dental cleaning” products are pap. Ridiculous and the sad thing is people fall for it and as a result do NOT take proper care of their kitty’s teeth. It gets me so angry!

    With younger cats who have teeth- raw chicken or turkey neck bones are GREAT for helping to keep their teeth healthy. But never feed cooked bones to cats. I had a cat years ago who thought that raw poultry neck bones were better than anything- and would take a piece away and chew it to death- and if another cat tried to steal it- WATCH OUT. LOL

    Thanks for this really important article Michael.

    • Thanks Jo, I was trying to really get to grips with this very difficult and very important cat health problem. It really is a major health problem but it seems to be under the radar because cat owners accepted it as a natural consequence of age etc. when I don’t think it really has to be accepted so much. More could be done. As far as I’m concerned the commercial pet food manufacturers could do a lot more in this regard. The fact that wild cat species have, as far as I can ascertain, much less of a problem with respect to periodontal disease, makes me think that a lot of the problem is about diet.

      I think it is impractical to ask people to brush the teeth of their cat. Brushing teeth is a human concept. Shame about Orientals. There is something wrong there in breeding as far as I can tell.

  3. Technical is fine! And I don’t think it is TOO technical at all. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

    Cat breeders need to pay more attention to good health than TYPE. Many reputable breeders are definitely breeding for health -such as the Maine Coon breeders to name but one- Seems to me that the way to do this is for breeders to keep in contact with their buyers and check up on their health they would know far more about what is needed to breed out those conditions. Just my.02.

    Of course there are some mixed breed kitties that carry these genes anyway- and also have dental problems, not just the pure breeds.

    And if you start a kitten out early enough to get used to brushing – it takes about 5 minutes of time to do it. They acclimate well when young.

    • You are right, Jo, that there will be some individual random read cats who have a predisposition to periodontal disease so one shouldn’t over emphasise this weakness with Oriental Shorthair cats. I think that the modern, average Internet surfer who is interested in the domestic cat doesn’t really want thoughtful or detailed articles on topics such as cat health. I think the majority of people are looking for entertainment more than anything else rather than education and rather than articles which might help them to be better cat caretakers.

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