This Zoom call covered two hot kitty topics: dental care and litter box issues. Proper dental care is important for every cat because unaddressed dental issues can impact more than just a cat’s mouth. It’s crucial to detect problems as early as possible.
And, of course, litter box issues are one of the most common frustrations cat owners face. Finding resolutions can be a relief to both your cat and you!
The call was hosted by Indiana small animal veterinarian Dr. Leslie Brooks and co-hosted by fostering and behavior specialist Liz Italia. Both are content contributors for the My Lovely Feline blog.
Note: We host these interactive calls exclusively with some of our customers—every single week 🙌
A cat’s teeth are intricately linked to health. A tooth problem below the gumline can cause a cat pain, which will impact their ability to eat and get proper nutrition, along with their emotional health and ability to interact with people. It could also lead to an infection that could seep into the bloodstream and affect the heart valves and small veins of the kidneys, leading to heart murmurs and renal and liver disease.
Cats have much healthier teeth than dogs, with their first dental rarely needed before 5-7 years of age (of course, depending on what your vet advises). It’s better to have a dental cleaning done when your cat is young or middle-aged when they are healthier and it’s safer for them to go under general anesthesia.
It’s not safe or humane to clean tartar off a cat’s teeth when they’re awake, because it would be painful and stressful.
Things you can do to help your cat’s dental health:
- Brush your cat’s teeth. Obviously, this isn’t possible for every cat for many reasons.
- Offer crunchy treats that are labeled to help with tartar control. To check for a product’s effectiveness, make sure it has the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval.
- Water additives. They work similarly to human mouthwash. Don’t use water additives if they impact how much water your cat drinks. Hydration is more important.
Genetic Condition - Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions
A cat with the autoimmune condition feline oral resorptive lesions will have extremely red gums, paw at their mouth and drool a lot, and sometimes they even have horrible smelling breath. Basically, the body is attacking its own teeth. Veterinarians and scientists aren’t sure what causes this condition, but it’s possibly caused by a virus.
You will notice this condition when a cat is young. Meet with your vet as soon as possible to see if pain medications, antibiotics, and/or steroids are the best course of action. Your vet may recommend X-rays, and X-rays show the roots are also under attack, teeth extractions will be necessary. Some cats need full mouth extractions, but don’t worry – the cat is often relieved to feel better.
Other Dental Diseases
For middle-aged and older cats, drooling, pawing at the mouth, or stinky breath, could indicate a loose tooth. Sometimes teeth get loose with time and the tartar is what holds the tooth to the gumline. If you notice a loose tooth, do not pull it yourself because if the tooth breaks, your cat will need to go under anesthesia to have the root removed. Leaving the root in place could cause an abscess and infection.
The behaviors just mentioned may also indicate an oral tumor, most often under the tongue. Oral cancers in cats are fairly common.
Because it’s difficult to look into a cat’s mouth when they’re in pain and awake, vets often recommend sedating the cat so they can get a better look. This will confirm if the severity of the problem.
Additionally, cats may not indicate something is wrong with their mouth or have problems when they’re eating. Look for changes in behavior, which can be a sign of pain or discomfort. If your cat is acting differently, take a look in their mouth, and even if the teeth look fine, look for redness in the gums, which could indicate a problem below the gumline.
Q&A: Dental Care
One of my friends has a 15-year-old cat that sounds like she’s grinding her teeth while chewing. What could cause that?
Dr. Brooks: There are a few possibilities. She could have tartar on one of the back teeth and when she’s eating, one of her teeth is scratching against the tartar. A second possibility is a loose tooth.
And occasionally, older cats have a luxating jaw so when they eat, their jaw might pop out of place, making a popping sound. If it pops out and doesn’t pop back in, you’ll see that her teeth are out of alignment and she won’t fully be able to close her mouth.
Do kittens have baby teeth?
Liz: Yes, they usually get a funny smell in their mouth around 5 months when their teeth are about to fall out. If you look in a kitten’s mouth, you’ll see the adult teeth coming in behind the baby teeth, so sometimes you’ll see double fangs on each side until the baby teeth fall out.
It’s rare to find them – I feel like they usually fall out and get lost or they swallow them while they’re eating. They’re kind of like a baby and you may see them chewing on toys more when the new teeth are coming in.
Dr. Brooks: Although extremely rare, sometimes a baby tooth doesn’t fall out when the adult tooth comes in. If it isn’t addressed, it can cause overcrowding in the mouth and lead to more tartar, so a lot of times, we recommend removing the baby tooth during a spay or neuter surgery.
Litter Box Issues
Before we dive into litter box issues, let’s quickly discuss infectious diseases and litter boxes. Cats can carry toxoplasmosis, a single-celled parasite, which is found in their poop. It normally wouldn’t cause issues, but it can cause birth defects.
While you’re pregnant, ask another member of your household to clean your cat’s litter box. If you don’t have someone else who can do it, wear a mask and gloves and wash your hands every time you clean it.
Now, let’s talk about the ideal parameters around litter boxes. Regarding litter box quantity, the recommendation is one per cat plus one. It’s also suggested you scoop daily and dump out the entire box and clean it weekly or every other week.
Cats have preferences when it comes to their litter and boxes. Some prefer specific textures of litter, others prefer a specific box, some like covered boxes for more privacy and some refuse to go into a covered box. They’re all different.
Older cats that have arthritis can have issues getting into and out of litter boxes, so having more shallow boxes and softer litters can be beneficial. Cats that have been declawed can have issues with certain types of litters, as well as residual pain, so you may need to try a few different litters until you find one desirable for a declawed cat.
The location of the litter box matters. Don’t place a box in the open, but still make it easily accessible at all times and in an area that’s quiet and private. If a cat can’t access their box, they may go outside of the box or hold their bladder develop a urinary tract infection.
If you have multiple cats, put boxes in various areas and not all in a row so that if there is tension between the cats at any point, they can easily get to a box.
Liz mentioned she knows people don’t like the smell of litter, so she recommended trying some of the clumping wood litters, pine pellet litter, or even one that’s made from grass. They’re affordable and don’t have a bad odor.
For cats that have issues, some litters are labeled as cat attract, which means they have scents that are supposed to draw even stubborn cats to the box. You can also spray pheromone spray around the litter box to see if that helps.
Q&A Litter Box Issues
Why is it that one of my cats doesn’t cover up his poop in the litter box?
Liz: He’s showing dominance and declaring himself the alpha. Cats also do it in the wild as a way of marking their territory and telling other cats that they’re claiming a location. Females can do it as well as a way of saying they’re in charge.
When cats poop, their anal glands release a scent into the poop that communicates a lot of other messages to other cats and animals that would be outside.
My cat paws the side of the box. Is that also a scent thing?
Liz: There are a few theories. Part of it could be marking and spreading more pheromones. Other people think they’re trying to clean their paws. Lastly, it could be habitual.
Dr. Brooks: If you think about the box and the size, they don’t have a lot of room outside of it to mark, so that might be why they go vertical.
I clean the whole box about once a month. Is that okay?
Liz: I know there are all sorts of rules and parameters, but I always advise to clean the box when it’s dirty, whether that’s once a week, once a month, or even less frequently.
And around scooping, it depends on the cat. I like to scoop 1-2x a day, but some people do it less frequently and their cats don’t mind. I would also say, if a cat’s insecure, do not get obsessive and scoop every time they go.
Let the scent in there for a little to help the cat feel more secure. This is especially important when bringing a new cat into your home.
My one-year-old cat Kiki had a UTI and peed on the bed, which we treated and she recovered from. I cleaned the sheets with a urine destroyer. Then, starting in March, she peed the bed again. I took her to the vet again, but this time, she was fine.
We locked her out of the bedroom for a few weeks, then we let her back in. She was good for a week or two, and then she peed on the bed again. She goes in her box fine and doesn’t go anywhere else, no health issues, and is really the perfect cat.
She only pees in the bed when we’re sleeping in it, and she totally empties her bladder. What do you think is happening?
Dr. Brooks: I would do bloodwork to cover all your bases, but I really think it sounds behavioral.
Liz: I’m wondering if she’s emptying her bladder and you’re in bed, it’s possible she has some sort of attachment and doesn’t want to leave you to go to the bathroom.
Since it started in March, when you started being home all the time, it could be related to that. She could feel insecure or not confident enough to leave. The easiest thing to do is to close the door and not let her in. But if you want her in there, I’d do two things:
- Buy new sheets. I know you washed them but I’d get new ones.
- I would temporarily put a litter box in your bedroom to see if she uses it. If she does, that means she just doesn’t want to go in the living room. If she still pees on the bed, then it’s likely her attachment to you.
Lastly, when she comes out of the litter box, reward and give her a ton of affection, and make sure you’re doing all the enrichment like playtime and grooming on a daily basis. Make sure to feel proud after she uses the box properly.
Your Goal: Clean Teeth & Clean Boxes
While both dental and litter box issues can be frustrating, they are very important indicators of your cat’s physical and psychological well being. Do your best to care for your cat’s teeth, and keep up with annual wellness visits so your vet can alert you if they see an issue.
Regarding litter boxes, the location, the number of boxes, types of litter, and so many other factors can be contributing to issues. Jeep litter boxes clean and in quiet, easy-to-access locations and you’ll keep issues to a minimum.