Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dental Hygiene for Cats

He's Just So Little

It is likely that there are a number of different methods we could have used to clean the plaque from Quints little teeth. The veterinarian rubbed his teeth with a gauze pad. I thought method that lacked dignity and it certainly had no element of fun whatsoever, plus it seemed like it would be pretty expensive and wasteful, what with using and discarding one gauze pad for every cleaning. If you're going to be cleaning your cat's teeth once or twice a day for the rest of his life, you better find a way to make it cheap, fun and interesting for the both of you.

We already had the poultry-flavored toothpaste, so now we needed a brush of some sort to do the cleaning. We already had a couple little brushes that are attached to a splint-like plastic device which fits on a fingertip, but they were too big to get inside a kitten-sized mouth. Nope, it looked like we were going to have to put our hands into the lion's mouth. Okay, the kitten's mouth. Still, those little teeth are very sharp, so how do we keep our fingers out of harm's way and still get the job done. Yet another flash of brilliance on my part had me heading off to the local drugstore to see if toothbrushes for babies might be the right tool for the job. It turned out that they were perfect. Baby toothbrushes are available in two colors, pink and blue. Since Quint was a boy (well, not as much of a boy as he used to be), I went with the blue color and bought two.

Armed with the proper tool and the will to accomplish the mission, I now had to create a workable technique. There are quite a few very sharp obstacles in the road to kitten dental hygiene, ten claws and lots of needle-sharp little teeth. Any technique that evolved would have to take into account the avoidance of all of them. It took some trial and error, but eventually I achieved a moderately decent accomodation between my vulnerable flesh and his lethal weapons, though I did shed some small amounts of blood in the process. One bit of good fortune that made the process easier was that Quint liked the flavor of the toothpaste, which transformed the whole process from an annoying ordeal into a bit of a treat for him. I learned to keep the claws from automatically reaching up and pushing my hand away. I learned, too, that when you apply ointment with a bare finger, it is best to keep said finger out from between the upper and lower jaws. Ouch!

I give you the benefit of my research in hopes that you will avoid some of the bloodshed which I experienced. Here's how I brush Quint's teeth. First, I always wait until he's in nap mode, or at the very least, in a relatively calm and relaxed state. Trying to brush a cat's teeth when he's only interested in playing is a recipe for pain on your part. When I first started the brushing, I would pick him up from wherever he was laying and hold him in my lap. Now, he usually comes to me after dinner and asks if it's time for his brushing. Next I let him watch me as I put the toothpaste on the little blue brush. Then, I cup the back of his head in the fingers of my left hand and reach around under his jaw with my thumb to pull back his lips at the corner of one side of his mouth. Holding his head this way lets you tilt it back to you can more easily see what you are doing. With the right hand, I gently brush his teeth as far back as I can get and then brush forward to the fangs. I repeat the process on the other side and then I let him lick whatever toothpaste remains on the brush. While he licks his lips, I put a bit of the antibiotic oinment on my right index fingertip. Using the same technique as I use for the brushing, I apply the ointment to his gums from front to back and as far back as I can get my finger, being careful to keep said finger from straying in between the jaws. I do the other side the same way. Finally, to reinforce the pleasant aspects of the experience, I brush his fur for awhile. Bushing your cat's fur is highly recommended, even if you don't brush his teeth. I use a soft brush, since he's a short-haired cat, but I also use a regular fine-toothed "people" comb which I find gets out quite a lot of loose fur. Removing as much of the loose fur as possible every day helps keep your cat from having so many hairballs to cough up and leave lying in the middle of the floor, all cold and wet and squishy under your bare foot in the dark.

Now that you know the technique, go forth and brush your cat's teeth. Take my word for this, it will save you money in the long run. Cat dental hygiene helps keep your veterinarian bills much lower, and your cat much healthier. Tooth and gum problems in cats can have all sorts of complications and cause severe damage to other areas.

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