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What’s Wrong With My Cat’s Mouth?

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Ask any cat owner about how they care for their feline’s teeth and most will reply that “he eats dry food” or, more commonly “I really don’t clean her teeth”.  While most veterinarians will acknowledge that brushing a cat’s teeth is a challenge for many owners, they will stress the importance of routine oral assessment of your cat’s mouth.  These exams help find preventable problems and even some very concerning issues.  One of those concerns we are seeing more frequently is called Feline Tooth Resorption.

Tooth Resorption, or “TR” as it is commonly called, is a condition seen in a growing percentage of cats over the age of six years. The same strange condition is also seen in dogs and in people, but it is not nearly as common.

In the past, this disease has been called “neck lesions”, “cervical line lesions” and even the cumbersome “Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORLs)”.  Whatever the name, we know that this condition is seen in cats who often appear normal.  The process will continue to develop, causing extreme pain because of the exposure of the root canal.  This can even lead to behavior changes and lack of normal appetite.

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Dr. Brett Beckman, a noted board-certified veterinary dentist, says that an exact cause for TR has not been determined yet.  Theories about exposure to certain viruses, breed prevalence and chronic inflammation of the mouth and gums have all been proposed as root causes.  According to Beckman, a single study suggests that high levels of Vitamin D in cat foods could be linked to resorptive disease, but that research is still ongoing.  Interestingly, there has even been evidence of TR in cat skeletons that are 800 years old!

Clinically, most cats will appear normal, but observant owners may note that their cat prefers to chew food on just one side or that the cat stops grooming.  They may “toss” dry food into the back of their mouth.   As TR progresses, some pets will even develop sullen or aggressive attitudes, as if they are mad at the world!

Eventually, your veterinarian may point out how some of your cat’s cheek teeth are showing lines of inflamed, fleshy material right near the base of the tooth.  At this point, the erosion has exposed the tooth to the bacteria of the mouth and this is when affected cats become extremely painful.  Even under a general anesthetic, a slight touch of these teeth will cause a cat to “chatter” their jaw, indicating very serious pain!

Dental x-rays are the only way to diagnose TR.  When the radiographs are taken, if TR is present, your veterinarian can see changes in the density of the roots and crowns of the teeth.  All teeth can be affected, but the major “signal” tooth is the first one in the lower jaw.  Some teeth can be partially affected, while others may have completely dissolved away leaving a “ghost image”.

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment that can save the pet’s teeth.  A normal cleaning and polishing will not work!  Veterinary dentists have even tried root canal therapies (endodonics), but they fail, as this resorption occurs on a microsopic basis.  A tooth that is showing any signs of resorption needs to be extracted.  Some cats will need full mouth extractions.  All cats with a known history of TR should be x-rayed every six months to a year. It is likely other teeth are affected and they must be monitored.

The good news in all of this is that once your veterinarian knows about the disease, several things can be done to keep your cat comfortable.  Experience has shown that cats who were once not eating well or even aggressive will often have a positive behavior change in just a matter of weeks.  It is surprising how the removal of these painful teeth can often bring back your affectionate feline friend.

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Owners are often unaware that their pets are experiencing such discomfort.  But, regular visits to your veterinarian can help identify the issue and start work that will make your cat feel better.  Contact your veterinarian to have a comprehensive oral examination for your pet, including dental x-rays and regular dental cleanings.

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Why is Your Veterinarian Fascinated with Pets Feces?

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It might be the look on the person’s face or maybe the way they are carrying the bag, but staff at a veterinary office can always tell when their clients arrive with a stool sample for testing.  Dozens of specimens arrive each day, some in Ziploc baggies, others triple wrapped in aluminum foil and some are tucked neatly in plastic containers.  The clients may not realize it, but that smelly sample brought in for testing may help prevent an illness in their pet…or in them!

Why does your veterinarian have such an interest in your pet’s stool?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that 3,000 to 4,000 human serum samples are sent to their labs every year with a presumptive diagnosis of toxocariasis, or, infection with roundworms or hookworms. The illnesses caused by these parasites are not reportable in the United States, so true numbers of human cases are not known.  What is known is that 36% of dogs across the country and 52% in the southeastern states carry these zoonotic worms.  Many pet owners are unaware that their furry family members are capable of harboring these parasites.

Some clients don’t believe that their pet could have worms.  But, pets can come into contact with these parasites in the yard, in potting soil, at the dog park or even on our hands or feet after we come inside from working in the garden or after taking a walk.  The larva and eggs of these parasites are simply abundant in many places.

In fact, a single female worm can shed more than 100,000 eggs per day and most puppies and kittens are infected with more than just one worm!   That’s millions of eggs spreading through areas where dogs and cats go to defecate.   Pets infected with a protozoan parasite, like coccidia or giardia, can shed over a billion cysts each and every day!

So, what does your veterinarian do with the sample you brought Most people understand that veterinarians are checking fecals as a means to find intestinal parasites, more commonly known as “worms”.  What is less well known is that the veterinarian is not looking for whole adult parasites.  They are looking for microscopic eggs and protozoans that may inhabit your pet.

First, the feces are mixed with a sugar or salt solution, a liquid that is slightly denser than regular tap water.  Breaking up the stool allows any infective eggs to enter the solution.  Next, the mixture is carefully poured into conical tubes that are placed in a centrifuge.   The spinning action helps separate the organic debris of the feces from the parasites and the parasite eggs.

After about 10 minutes, the suspension is then allowed to sit with a microscope coverslip placed on top.  The eggs and most parasites will float to the top and adhere to the coverslip.   A veterinary technician or assistant can then take this sample and review it under a microscope.  Any positive specimens are discussed with the veterinarian and an appropriate deworming medication can be prescribed.

This process may not sound appetizing to most readers, but these tests are an important part of a veterinarian’s dedication to your pets, but also to public health as a whole.  The CDC, the Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association all recommend regular fecal testing for all pets.  This means you can expect to package up a stool sample once or twice each year per pet.  If your pets aren’t on monthly heartworm prevention, your veterinarian may ask for a sample every 1-2 months!

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