Cats, Nutrition, and Periodontal Disease

My veterinarian spends lots of time talking to me about my cat’s teeth.  What do I need to know about periodontal disease and my cat?

cats_nutrition_and_periodontal_diseasePeriodontal disease is the most common problem affecting cats of all age groups. Diseases that affect the oral tissues can cause the teeth to fall out. There are primary organ diseases that can cause oral lesions. Finally, periodontal disease can have a secondary effect on major organs, causing or exacerbating organ system diseases. The very best way to prevent periodontal disease is daily dental home care. However, it is useful to add in effective, evidence-based dental food to provide appropriate daily plaque control.

"The very best way to prevent periodontal disease
is daily dental home care"

There are a few key steps to promote oral health in cats:

1.         Reduce and control plaque.  Plaque is the root cause of periodontal disease in cats.

2.         Match plaque control techniques to the needs of the individual cat.

3.         Feed a nutrient profile with an appropriate texture to contribute to oral health.

4.         Stay ahead of plaque accumulation and schedule professional periodontal therapy as             recommended by your veterinarian.

The importance of daily dental home care cannot be overemphasized. If you are having trouble with dental home care, your veterinary health care team is ready to help. We can help build your skills by showing you how to remove plaque by either using a child’s toothbrush, or a piece of surgical gauze wrapped around your finger. It is important not to use human toothpaste to brush your cat’s teeth at home. You need to use toothpaste specifically formulated for cats and dogs.

Eating lots of sugar is associated with dental disease in humans. Is sugar an issue for my cat’s oral health?

Studies have shown that sugars (soluble carbohydrates) do not contribute to plaque accumulation in cats.

If sugars are not an issue for cats and dental disease, what factors (aside from dental home care) contribute to feline dental disease? What is nutritionally best for my cat’s mouth and teeth?

The specific risk factors that can contribute to periodontal disease in cats include:

1.         Breed- Purebred cats have a higher incidence of periodontal disease.

2.         Age- The older the cat, the longer dental disease has to accumulate.

3.         Immune system health- A healthy immune system contributes to a healthy mouth.

Nutrition can contribute to preventing periodontal disease and gingivitis. The food’s texture and make-up can affect the environment of the mouth. It can help maintain tissue integrity, stimulate saliva production, alter plaque bacteria metabolism, and provide mechanical cleansing of tooth surfaces. It was commonly recommended to feed dry cat food to prevent periodontal disease in cats. However, in clinical studies, dry food alone did not contribute to improved oral health. This points out the importance of choosing a nutrient profile that has been developed to enhance oral health.

How do I know if the food I am choosing for my cat will actually contribute to his oral health?

Your veterinarian can make a specific nutritional recommendation for a product proven to be effective at enhancing feline oral health.

The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) was established in 1997 in order to provide an independent and objective means of evaluating and recognizing products developed to interfere with plaque accumulation. It evaluates data generated in clinical studies performed with VOHC-approved protocols. In addition, the VOHC has two levels of award- plaque control and tartar control. Plaque is the primary cause of periodontal disease, so look for the VOHC seal that specifies plaque control. It is also important to use these nutritional products in a way that achieves their best performance. That generally means daily use for every meal. In other words, “diluting” the food by mixing it with another product will prevent it from doing the best job to enhance your cat’s oral health.

Dental food kibbles are “built” differently from conventional kibbles. They are bigger, forcing the cat to actually chew them. The kibbles “squeegee” the plaque from the tooth as the cat bites through them.

How can I find out what feline nutrient profiles have earned the VOHC seal for plaque control?

A complete list of all products (not just food) that have been awarded the VOHC seal is available at 

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