How Can I Tell If My Cat Has Dental Pain?
Dr. Fern Slack, UCVC Medical Director
Cats hide pain extremely well, and dental pain is no exception. Cats with dental problems that would have any human screaming for an emergency dentist visit will often eat normally and behave as though everything is fine. It can be extremely difficult to determine at home if your cat has oral pain.
Cats often hide oral pain by simply resisting oral examination. When a cat does not want to open her mouth, we often assume that’s just a cat being a cat – but often it’s because cold air hitting exposed tooth nerve is painful. A kitty who resists you opening her mouth might be hiding dental problems.
Very often, that low level constant pain translates into grumpiness, low energy, social withdrawal, and even behaviors such as urinating out of the litterbox. These are common symptoms of dental pain, but are also common symptoms of many other problems, and are not reliably signs of dental problems so much as problems in general.
In the veterinary hospital, we examine the mouth and assess behavior, but even then, we often cannot gauge the full extent of a cat’s dental problems until they are under anesthesia. Even for a professional, determining if dental pain is present is challenging.
One good rule of thumb: if you see a dental problem you know would cause you pain, you can bet it’s causing pain for your cat.
Cats Can Still Eat
Don’t worry, your kitty will still be able to eat after losing several if not all of their teeth. Cats naturally eat by throwing a mouthful of food straight back past the teeth and down the throat. They have no natural need to chew; their teeth have evolved to be scissors rather than grinders, as is reasonable for a carnivore. Cats eating commercially prepared food don’t need to use their teeth as scissors either, so most domestic cats don’t use their teeth at all. Humans with dental problems often experience most of their pain while trying to eat, while cats just hurt at a lower level all the time.
If you are concerned that your cat might be experiencing oral or dental pain, but you cannot tell for sure, the best course of action is to see your veterinarian.
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