Better Teeth and Gums: A Possible Benefit To Being an Indoor/Outdoor Cat

A cat allowed out to hunt mice is likely to have better gums than a cat confined to the indoors and fed commercial cat food. Have you ever read about wild cats of any species with gum disease? I haven’t. But I am sure that you have read about the high incidence of gum disease in domestic cats. Although not in the top ten, it is one of the big problems with cat health and cat ownership.

Cat Yawn
Cat Yawn. A fleeting moment when your cat’s mouth can be inspected.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

I am sure that if you asked your vet what the most common reason for anaesthetising cats is, they’d quite possibly say gum disease. The bones and fur of the domestic cat’s natural prey is the best that nature can provide to maintain healthy gums.

I don’t really like to think of my cat crunching on a freshly killed mouse but his teeth are damned healthy. Yes, he is still young but I’d predict that his gums will remain more healthy for longer than my other beloved but now passed cat companions.

My cat is a great hunter. He regularly feeds on mice. He is dewormed. He has to be because mice can carry tape and round worms. That’s a negative aspect, certainly, but gum disease is a real problem for cat owners. It can actually end up killing a cat because vets have to anaesthetise cats to clean teeth, remove teeth and do periodontal work. There is a significant or at least notable risk of injury or death to a cat when placed under anaesthetic. It is something that cannot be ignored when deciding to have your cat’s teeth dealt with by a veterinarian.

Cat stalking and sniffing prey
Cat stalking and sniffing prey

Today my vet noted that Gabriel had healthy teeth and commented on the fact that his hunting improves gum health. I believe that you’ll find that a lot of vets agree that most feline tooth and gum disease can be avoided if a cat learns to eat bones. There is a danger from shards of bones but I think this is overemphasised. There is also the health hazard from eating raw chicken of salmonella poisoning. Also bone can get caught between the teeth in the roof of the mouth.

Gabriel baring his teeth about a year ago
Gabriel baring his teeth about a year ago

All these hazards are trumped by the benefits from a cat gnawing on bones. The ideal way to gnaw on bones is when the bones are inside a mouse. These bones are much lighter, thinner and easily broken in the jaws of a domestic cat. In fact, a domestic cat can crunch up the skull of a mouse with ease. There is almost no danger from bone shards under these circumstances. Throw in the mouse’s fur and you have effective teeth and gum line cleaning material.

These are just my thoughts; there is a hidden benefit to letting a cat go outside especially if he is a hunter. I know there are downsides too in respect of preying on endangered species such as some bird species. These downsides can be factored in when deciding to let your cat go outside or not. I am neither absolutely for or against letting cats go outside. It depends on the individual circumstances.

The biggest factor is road traffic. That’s obvious. Cats should never be let out when there is a busy road nearby.

4 thoughts on “Better Teeth and Gums: A Possible Benefit To Being an Indoor/Outdoor Cat”

  1. well, indoor kitties can be fed raw chicken necks:) They love to chew on them!! And they are safe as long as they are NOT cooked. No cooked bones should ever be given to a cat (or dog for that matter).

    Somehow, here in the USA at any rate, I would far prefer to give our kitties some raw chicken necks on which to chew then to send them outdoors to hunt. Where we live it is impossible to let them outdoors anyway as the danger from cars, stray cats and dogs who are allowed to freely roam in our neighborhood are much too dangerous. You guys are lucky that you can let your cats outdoors.

  2. Monty is an indoor/outdoor cat and is able to do some hunting in his enclosure. Once in awhile (not too often) he is successful at this. But he is getting no benefit for his teeth because he refuses to eat his prey.

    He does lick it. The mouse he brought up from the basement last fall, which I unfortunately picked up mistaking it for a toy mouse in the dark, had been thoroughly licked. I think Monty would love to eat a mouse but he would prefer that I chop it up for him and put it in his dish.

    He’s an amazing animal. I love to watch him climb his tree in his enclosure, stalk prey, run like the wind when I call him in for a snack. But he is a little less amazing than he would have been had I not done such a good job of supplying his every need.

    He is a cat who can rarely catch prey and when he does he is too helpless to do anything but lick it, because tearing the flesh from the bones is too much work.

    • Wow, this is interesting Ruth. I am not sure that the only reason why Monty does not eat his prey or catch prey that well is because you have provided his every need (which is admirable). I believe some domestic cats are just more interested in hunting. This is a product of domestication. The domestic cat has evolved like this whereby hunting has become a character trait rather than being automatically imbued with the motivation to hunt and eat prey. I could be wrong though.

      Gabriel is by far the most active and best hunter I have lived with. He is prolific. Every other day or every three days he’ll catch a mouse and sometimes he’ll catch and eat two in one day. Prey is definitely part of his diet. He’ll eat a mouse in 60 seconds sometimes and eat it all so there is no trace. Most often he’ll leave the gut. In one way I am pleased because there is no better diet really.

      • Wow, we had cats like Gabriel when I was a kid. They were so independent. Sure, we fed them, but often the food we put down went untouched because they were already full from eating mice, moles, voles, shrews, bunnies and the occasional bird. It’s like what we provided was just a supplement or in case the hunting was bad.

        And those cats could go up the highest tree and never have a problem coming down. I had to rescue Monty again recently when he went up a tree back there, one we did not cone to restrict his access. I thought he could get down that one. But we removed the shed and he used to jump out of that tree onto the shed roof and now it is not there. I grabbed a large vine that is wrapped around the tree, found a foothold on the uneven trunk and pulled myself up there. He jumped onto my shoulder and rode down on me. After reaching the ground I bent down and he jumped off. He was so helpless up there, crying and trying to come down like a squirrel, head first. Any of my childhood cats would put him to shame with their both their hunting abilities and their climbing skills.

        Plus the fact that Monty still can’t leave the bees alone despite being stung several times. As the weather gets warmer I have to supervise him constantly out there. Every other cat I ever lived with just seemed to know to leave the bees alone. I suppose one stung paw was enough. Not Monty.

        I love him dearly, but he is more like a very dependent child to me than the independent cats of my youth who seemed like adults while I was yet a child. They had their own mysterious lives and amazing abilities. I never felt like I was their mom, though I cared for them. I am definitely Monty’s mom and he is stuck in perpetual kittenhood. Not to mention the occasional tree.

        I wonder whether it is just Monty or if I failed somehow as a cat parent.


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