How to Feed Your Cat When It Hurts to Chew. Tips for Caring for a Cat with Bad Teeth


Cats with dental issues like bad teeth, gingivitis or other oral health problems often have a hard time eating. This can lead to malnutrition, weight loss and other health complications if left untreated. It’s important to adjust their diet to make eating less painful and ensure they are getting proper nutrition. Unaddressed dental disease is not only uncomfortable for cats, but can negatively impact their quality of life. Finding ways to feed cats with dental issues keeps them nourished and avoids progression of oral disease.

Modifying a cat’s diet is one of the best immediate steps that can be taken at home for cats suffering from dental issues. Consulting a veterinarian is also key, as they can provide guidance on diet, medications and potential procedures if needed. But adjusting food type, texture and consistency is something owners can do daily to make eating easier on a cat’s sore mouth or diseased teeth and gums. The right diet improvements can provide cats relief while also supporting overall health.

Signs Your Cat Has Dental Issues

Cats with dental issues often show signs of discomfort or changes in behavior. The most common signs of dental disease in cats include:

  • Bad breath – Persistent bad breath or halitosis can indicate gum inflammation, infection, or decay. Dental disease is a very common cause of offensive breath in cats. The bad odor is usually caused by bacteria accumulating on the teeth and gums.

  • Excessive drooling or difficulty swallowing – Drooling or difficulty eating and swallowing can be a sign of oral pain from inflamed gums, tooth abscesses, or problems with specific teeth.

  • Pawing at the mouth – If your cat seems to be pawing at her mouth, face, or chin, it may be because she is experiencing dental pain or discomfort.

  • Loss of appetite – Decreased appetite or reluctance to eat hard food can indicate an oral health issue. Dental disease can make chewing painful.

Other possible signs include weight loss, lethargy, bloody saliva, teeth that are loose or missing, or nasal discharge if there is an infection stemming from the mouth. Facial swelling may occur with an abscessed tooth. If your cat shows any of these symptoms, it’s important to have your veterinarian examine your cat’s teeth and mouth.

Get a Veterinary Exam

It is important to get a veterinary exam to identify the specific dental issue your cat is experiencing. Dental disease can range from mild gingivitis (gum inflammation) to advanced periodontal disease affecting the teeth roots and jawbone. Symptoms like bad breath, difficulty eating, or swelling around the face may indicate dental problems but don’t specify the cause or severity (VCA Hospitals).

A complete oral exam under anesthesia allows the veterinarian to fully visualize the teeth and diseased areas. They can identify gum recession, plaque buildup, cavities, fractured teeth, or abscesses that may not be apparent from a surface-level inspection. X-rays may reveal issues impacting tooth roots and jawbone health. With a thorough diagnostic workup, the vet can recommend appropriate treatment options from deep cleanings to tooth extractions (iCatCare).

Getting an accurate diagnosis of your cat’s dental problems will ensure you can provide the proper diet and care to manage their specific condition. Work closely with your veterinarian to continually monitor your cat’s oral health.

Choose Soft Foods

When your cat has dental issues like painful teeth or gingivitis, it can be difficult for them to chew hard, dry kibble. Soft, wet foods are much easier for cats with bad teeth to eat and swallow. According to this source, canned food or raw food have a softer texture that requires much less chewing compared to dry kibble.

Some good options for soft foods include:

  • Canned or pouched cat food – These contain lots of moisture and have a smooth, pate-like consistency.
  • Raw food diets – Either homemade raw cat food or commercial frozen raw food. Raw diets are naturally soft.
  • Home cooked food – Lightly cooked meat or fish with added water to make it a soft consistency.

Avoid any crunchy kibbles or treats and stick to very soft, moist foods that your cat can easily chew and swallow with minimal pain or discomfort. Check with your vet for specific diet recommendations for your cat.

Add Water to Dry Food

Adding water to dry kibble food can help cats with dental issues by softening the food and making it easier to chew and swallow. Dry food can be difficult for cats with painful or sensitive teeth and gums to eat. By adding some water, you can slightly moisten the kibble which turns it softer but still retains some crunchy texture.

According to one source, “Adding water to your cat’s dry food can surprisingly be really beneficial, so yes, you absolutely can! There are tons of benefits like easier chewing, improved hydration, and more appeal for picky eaters.”

The optimal consistency is a compromiser between completely dry kibble and wet canned food. You don’t want the kibble to become soggy mush. Just add a tablespoon or two of water and mix it in well. Let it sit for a few minutes to soften before serving. The kibble will still have some crunch but chew easier for cats with dental issues.

You may need to experiment with different amounts of water to find the right balance for your cat. It’s important to find a consistency that your cat enjoys and eats readily. Softening the kibble can help ensure your cat continues to eat while managing dental problems.

Avoid Hard Food and Treats

Hard kibble and treats can be very difficult for cats with dental problems to chew and swallow. The hardness puts extra stress on teeth and gums that are already inflamed or infected from dental disease. This can cause further damage and pain

Dry food also does not provide enough moisture to help clean the teeth and mouth. Chewing on hard treats like dental bones are not recommended either, as they still require significant chewing force.

It is better to avoid all dry kibbles and hard treats when your cat has dental issues. Stick to wet food diets or add water to soften dry food. Avoid any crunchy or chewy treats as well. Discuss options with your veterinarian if your cat needs dental care but refuses wet foods.

Providing only soft foods that are easy to chew and swallow will help reduce pain and allow your cat to eat while recovering from dental problems. Just be sure to transition their diet gradually and under veterinary guidance.

Consider Prescription Food

Some prescription diets made specifically for dental issues can be very beneficial for cats with bad teeth. These foods are engineered to be easier to chew and digest. The kibble is typically a very soft texture that cats can eat even if they have damaged teeth or gums. Some examples of prescription dental foods include:

  • Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d – This food is formulated to reduce plaque and tartar buildup. It contains fiber, antioxidants, and clinically proven plaque and tartar reducers.
  • Royal Canin Dental – This dry food features a unique kibble shape and texture to reduce dental issues. It also contains agents to combat plaque bacteria.
  • Iams Veterinary Formula Dental Defense – This food helps clean teeth as your cat chews with its crunchy kibble. It contains clinically proven antioxidants to promote healthy gums.

Consult with your veterinarian to see if a prescription dental diet may be recommended for your cat with bad teeth. These foods can help reduce pain and deterioration but should be used under a vet’s supervision.

Feed Multiple Small Meals

One way to make eating less painful for a cat with dental issues is to feed smaller, more frequent meals. Large meals or bites can put a lot of strain on a cat’s sore mouth. By breaking up their daily food intake into 3-4 smaller meals throughout the day, you reduce the amount of chewing required at one time. This takes some pressure off their mouth while still providing their full daily nutrition. According to, cats should eat at least two meals each day, about 12 hours apart. However, 3-4 smaller meals daily can be better for cats with dental problems.

Make Food More Smelling/Tasty

If your cat is refusing food due to dental pain or discomfort, enhancing the smell and taste of their food can encourage eating. Here are some tips:

  • Warm up wet food to just below body temperature to make the aroma more potent. This can stimulate appetite.
  • Add a teaspoon of tuna juice, low-sodium chicken broth, or salmon oil to wet food. The extra scent and flavor can make it more enticing.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of catnip, dried bonito flakes, or parmesan cheese on top of wet food. This adds smell and taste interest.
  • Mix in a spoonful of canned pumpkin, unsweetened applesauce, or plain yogurt for extra moisture and flavor.

Consult your veterinarian before making any major changes to your cat’s diet. Small enhancements like these can make eating less painful and more enjoyable for a cat with dental issues.

Consult Your Veterinarian

Before adjusting your cat’s diet or treating dental issues at home, it’s important to consult your veterinarian first. Periodontal disease in cats should always involve a thorough veterinary exam and potential treatment plan. According to the 2019 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, the essential steps for professional dental cleaning and periodontal therapy involve a pre-anesthetic oral evaluation, full mouth dental radiographs, scaling and polishing above and below the gumline under anesthesia, along with other potential treatments like extractions or antibiotics.

Your veterinarian can assess the severity of your cat’s dental disease, determine the underlying cause, and recommend the safest and most effective treatment options. This may include professional dental cleanings, tooth extractions, antibiotics, prescription dental food, or at-home care. Consulting a vet ensures your cat receives appropriate treatment tailored to their unique needs and situation.

While you may try some at-home feeding adjustments for mild cases, leaving dental disease unchecked can lead to more severe issues. Working closely with your vet provides the best chance of protecting your cat’s oral health and preventing complications from worsening periodontal disease. Their expertise and services are crucial for properly diagnosing and addressing dental problems in cats.

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