Is A Cat Losing A Tooth An Emergency?

The loss of teeth is a common occurrence for cats as they age. While cats have 30 adult teeth, they were designed by nature to lose some of them over time. However, tooth loss can also be a sign of an underlying health issue or result from trauma or infection. As such, it’s important for cat owners to have a basic understanding of feline dentition and what to look for if their cat is losing teeth. This will help them determine whether it’s a normal part of aging or a potential medical emergency requiring veterinary care.

Proper dental health is an important component of overall wellness in cats. Issues like gingivitis, periodontal disease, and tooth loss can lead to pain, eating difficulties, and potentially serious systemic problems. Being attentive to a cat’s teeth and any changes can help owners address problems early before they become more problematic. Understanding normal tooth loss versus excessive or abnormal tooth loss in cats allows owners to better monitor their cat’s health and determine when veterinary dental care may be required.

Anatomy of Cat Teeth

Cats have two main types of teeth – deciduous (“baby”) teeth and permanent adult teeth. Kittens are born without teeth. Their first set of 26 deciduous teeth start erupting around 3-4 weeks old and are fully emerged by around 6-8 weeks old. These milk teeth consist of incisors, canines and premolars. By around 3-4 months old, the permanent adult teeth start replacing the deciduous teeth, starting with the incisors and canines. Adult cats have 30 permanent teeth – 12 incisors, 4 canines, 10 premolars and 4 molars.

The incisors are the small, narrow teeth in the front used for biting and cutting up food. The fang-like canine teeth are for gripping, ripping and tearing meat. The premolars and molars have flatter surfaces designed for shearing and crushing, to help break down and grind food. Unlike human teeth, cats’ teeth have very reduced grinding surfaces since they are strictly carnivores. Their teeth are optimized for piercing, ripping and tearing meat – not for chewing or grinding tough plant material.

Proper dental anatomy is important for a cat to be able to effectively use their teeth for eating. Tooth loss or dental issues can make it hard for them to grasp, tear or break down food.

Common Causes of Tooth Loss in Cats

There are several common causes of tooth loss in cats:

Periodontal Disease – This is inflammation and infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth. It is the most common cause of tooth loss in cats. Periodontal disease begins with plaque formation on the teeth, which leads to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis). If not treated promptly, it can progress to destruction of the tissues and bone around the tooth, eventually causing tooth loss.[1]

Tooth Resorption – This is a painful condition where the tooth is essentially destroyed from the inside out. The body sees components of the tooth as “foreign” and destroys the minerals and collagen of the tooth structure. Eventually this leads to significant tooth damage and tooth loss if not treated.[2]

Trauma – Injuries to a cat’s mouth, either from falls, bites or other blunt force, can lead to fractured, damaged or lost teeth. Cats that go outside are at higher risk of dental trauma from fights with other cats, wild animals, or getting hit by cars.[3]

Other Dental Issues – Less common causes include jaw fractures, oral cancers, immune-mediated disease, and developmental abnormalities.

Signs Your Cat is Losing a Tooth

There are several signs that may indicate your cat is losing a tooth or experiencing dental issues:

  • Loose teeth that wiggle or move more than normal
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Red, inflamed, or receding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Excessive drooling or pawing at the mouth
  • Difficulty eating dry food or dropping food from the mouth while eating
  • Weight loss from reduced eating
  • Behavioral changes like irritability or lethargy

According to PetMD, if you notice any loose, damaged, or missing teeth in your cat’s mouth, it’s important to have your vet examine them right away. Sudden tooth loss can indicate an underlying illness or infection that needs prompt treatment.

Look inside your cat’s mouth regularly for any signs of dental disease or tooth loss. The earlier you catch problems, the better the outcome from treatment will be for your cat.

Is Tooth Loss an Emergency?

There are some situations when prompt veterinary attention is needed for cat tooth loss. Signs that dental trauma requires emergency care include:

  • Visible bleeding, swelling, or discharge from the mouth
  • Difficulty eating or chewing
  • Excessive drooling or pawing at the mouth
  • Cracked or broken tooth with pulp exposed
  • Tooth is hanging by a thread or fully dislodged

Dental trauma that exposes the sensitive pulp puts your cat at risk of infection or abscess development, which can quickly become serious if not treated. According to the Animal Emergency Care of Braselton, infection of the tooth socket after loss can spread to surrounding bone and other teeth https://braseltonervet.com/cat-teeth-loss/. Severe dental pain also warrants prompt veterinary care for humane reasons.

However, minor tooth loss or minimal discomfort may not require an emergency vet visit. For example, if the lost tooth was already loose or non-vital, your cat may adjust normally. Monitoring for signs of pain or complications is advised. Your veterinarian can evaluate the socket within a day or two in non-emergency cases.

Treatment Options

If your cat is losing teeth due to dental disease, there are several treatment options vets may recommend:

Tooth extraction is usually the best treatment for badly damaged or infected teeth. Extraction fully removes the tooth and prevents further dental issues in that area. According to the Veterinary Dental Center, extraction also helps reduce oral discomfort and ensures proper healing (https://veterinarydental.com/cat-losing-teeth/).

For less severe cases, vets may recommend root canal therapy to save the tooth. This involves deep cleaning of the tooth roots and applying a sealing agent. However, root canals may not be as effective long-term in cats (https://www.wellpets.com/blog/105-caring-for-a-cat-with-few-or-no-teeth).

Dental crowns can be applied to teeth after injuries or procedures to protect damaged areas. However, crowns are not commonly used for cats.

Ultimately, your vet will determine the best treatment approach based on your cat’s unique dental needs and overall health.

At-Home Care

If your cat’s tooth loss does not appear to be an emergency, there are some things you can do at home to care for your cat:

Monitor your cat’s mouth for any swelling, bleeding or discharge. Look for signs of pain like drooling or difficulty eating. Contact your vet if you notice any concerning symptoms.

Adjust your cat’s diet to make eating more comfortable. Wet or soft foods are easier to chew and swallow. If your cat seems to be having trouble, try adding some warm water to moisten dry food.

Manage pain and inflammation with cat-safe over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen (always consult your vet first). You can also apply a cold compress to the outside of their mouth to reduce swelling.

Keep the mouth clean by gently wiping with a soft cloth and some warm water. Do not try to pull out any remaining loose teeth.

Monitor your cat’s eating and drinking closely. Make sure they are getting adequate nutrition. Supplements or prescription food may help.

Be patient with your cat as they adjust to tooth loss. Provide affection and limit stress until they recover.

Schedule a vet visit to have them examine your cat’s mouth and advise on any further treatment needed. But basic at-home care can go a long way if it’s not an emergency situation.

Prevention

There are several ways pet owners can help prevent tooth loss and dental diseases in cats:

Regular dental cleanings by a veterinarian are important. Vets use specialized tools to clean below the gumline and remove tartar and plaque buildup that brushing may not reach (VCA Animal Hospitals). Annual or biannual dental cleanings can prevent gingivitis, periodontal disease, and tooth loss.

Daily tooth brushing at home helps remove plaque before it turns into tartar. Use a soft bristled brush and cat-safe toothpaste. Take it slow at first so your cat gets used to the process (Cornell Feline Health Center).

Dental diets formulated for cats can help clean teeth and prevent tartar buildup. Look for foods with the VOHC seal of approval. Consider adding dental treats or chews as well.

Regular veterinary checkups allow early detection of dental disease. Cats may require tooth extractions or other treatments before significant tooth loss occurs.

With proper preventative care, cat parents can help their furry friends maintain healthy teeth and gums.

When to See the Vet

Even if your cat losing a tooth does not seem like an emergency, it’s still important to schedule a veterinary dental exam. Here are some guidelines on when to make an appointment:

  • If you find a lost adult tooth, make an appointment within 1-2 days. The vet will want to examine the empty socket and make sure no infection is developing [1].
  • Schedule a routine dental checkup every 6-12 months for adult cats over 3 years old. Regular exams allow early detection of dental disease [2].
  • If you notice oral pain, trouble eating, or other signs of mouth discomfort, schedule an urgent dental exam within 24 hours.
  • Kittens losing baby teeth between 3-6 months old should see the vet to ensure teeth are being shed normally.
  • Senior cats 7+ years old should have dental checkups every 6 months since they are prone to dental issues.

While a lost tooth may not require emergency care, it’s still vital to monitor your cat’s oral health with regular veterinary dental visits. Don’t wait until multiple teeth are lost or an infection develops to seek treatment.

Conclusion

Cats losing teeth is a natural part of aging, but can also be caused by dental disease or trauma. Signs your cat may be losing a tooth include dropping food, bleeding from the mouth, facial swelling, and changes in eating habits. While a lost baby tooth is not an emergency, senior cats losing multiple teeth or showing signs of pain should be seen by a vet. At home, you can feed wet food, monitor for changes, and brush your cat’s teeth daily. More severe dental issues may require extraction, antibiotics, or steroids. Be proactive by scheduling regular dental cleanings for your cat and monitoring their oral health. Though losing teeth is common in cats, staying on top of your cat’s dental care can help preserve their quality of life as they age.

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