How do I know if my cat needs dental care?

Cats, due to their independent nature and tendency to hide discomfort, can make it challenging for pet owners to recognize when they need dental care. Dental health is a crucial aspect of a cat’s overall well-being, with issues often going unnoticed until they become severe. Recognizing signs your cat needs dental care is essential for maintaining their health and happiness. This guide to feline oral health explores how to identify when your feline friend needs dental attention, ensuring they lead a comfortable and pain-free life.


Warning Signs of Feline Dental Problems


  1. Bad Breath (Halitosis)

It’s commonly believed that pets naturally have bad breath, but excessively foul breath in your cat could indicate underlying dental problems such as periodontal disease, tooth decay, or oral infections. A healthy cat’s breath shouldn’t be unpleasant, so any noticeable changes in odor should prompt a dental check-up.


  1. Visible Plaque and Tartar Buildup

Regularly checking your cat’s teeth can reveal the early signs of dental issues. Plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, can harden into tartar if not removed. You might notice a yellow or brown buildup on the teeth, especially around the gumline. This tartar can lead to gingivitis and periodontal disease if left untreated.


  1. Red or Swollen Gums (Gingivitis)

Gum health is a good indicator of oral hygiene. Gums should be a healthy pink, not red or swollen. Gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease, can make the gums appear inflamed and may cause discomfort to your kitty. If you notice any changes in gum color or swelling, it’s time for a vet visit. For more information about gingivitis in cats, check out this blog full of useful details.


  1. Difficulty Eating

Dental pain can significantly affect your cat’s eating habits. They might struggle to chew, prefer softer foods, or drop food from their mouth. Some cats may paw at their face or mouth due to discomfort. A noticeable decrease in appetite or sudden weight loss should also raise concern and warrant a dental examination.  It should be noted that it is uncommon for dental/oral disease to cause a kitty not to eat.  One oral disease that can cause not eating due to severe pain is called “stomatitis”.


  1. Drooling or Unusual Discharge

Excessive drooling, especially if the saliva is tinged with blood or has a foul odor, can indicate oral discomfort or dental disease. While some drooling is normal, especially when relaxed or purring. A marked increase or change in saliva consistency should be evaluated by a board-certified veterinary dentist.


  1. Loose or Missing Teeth

Adult cats should have a full set of teeth (30 teeth); any missing or loose teeth can be a clear sign of dental disease. Advanced periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss, significantly impacting your cat’s quality of life and ability to eat properly.


  1. Behavioral Changes

Cats with dental pain may become more irritable or less social. Changes in behavior, such as increased aggression when touched near the face or reluctance to play, can be subtle hints of oral discomfort. Cats are adept at hiding pain, so these behavioral cues are essential to notice.


Professional Dental Care for Cats

Recognizing the need for dental care in cats is the first step toward ensuring their oral and overall health. Regular veterinary check-ups, including dental examinations by a board-certified veterinary dentist, are crucial. These veterinary dental specialists can provide professional cleanings to remove plaque and tartar buildup, address any existing dental issues, and offer advice on maintaining oral hygiene at home.


For cats showing signs of dental problems, advanced care may involve dental X-rays, cone beam CT scan, extractions, or other treatments to resolve infections and alleviate pain. Adopting a proactive approach to dental care can significantly enhance your cat’s quality of life.



Being vigilant about your cat’s dental health is essential for their well-being. Understanding and recognizing the signs that indicate a need for dental care allows you to take timely action, preventing minor issues from escalating into serious health concerns. Regular visits to a board-certified veterinary dentist and good oral hygiene practices are key to keeping your cat’s smile bright and healthy. Find a Board Certified Dental Specialist near you.