Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My cat is 4 or 5 years old and has lost all her teeth, and I don’t know why. Should I have her put down? Is what she has contagious to my other cats?
Siouxsie: The first thing you need to do, James, is take your cat to the vet — sooner rather than later. It’s not an emergency, but you don’t want to put off that visit. There are a number of reasons why your cat could lose all her teeth, and only your vet can give you a diagnosis.
Thomas: Your vet will be able to tell you if your toothless cat has a condition that’s contagious to your other cats, too.
Dahlia: If your cat hasn’t been tested for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or feline leukemia virus (FeLV), you should have your vet do that. If your cat has tested negative before but she’s been exposed to or bitten by another cat, you should have her re-tested.
Siouxsie: Once your vet tells you what’s wrong, you can discuss your cat’s present and future quality of life and come to an informed decision as to whether euthanasia is a humane option.
Thomas: If your cat lost all her teeth due to dental disease or an allergic-type condition, rest assured that cats can enjoy a good quality of life even without teeth.
Dahlia: Feed your toothless cat canned food because it’s easier for her to eat. Many cat experts say it’s healthier for cats to live on an all canned food diet than on kibble because wet food provides the right amount of moisture, protein, and other vitamins and minerals that they need. Toothless cats should not be let outdoors because they lack one of their basic defenses against hostile animals.
Siouxsie: Toothless cats can eventually adapt to eating kibble. It will take a while for her gums to be able to tolerate hard food, especially if she lost her teeth due to gum disease or infection. These conditions leave the gum tissue very inflamed and sensitive and she’ll need time to heal from that before she eats dry food again.
Thomas: If it turns out that your cat has a chronic illness and her health is reasonably good right now, but you can’t financially or emotionally afford any ongoing treatment she needs, ask your vet if he or she can help you find a home with someone who can. There are people who make a point of adopting cats with special needs, including cats infected with FIV or FeLV, because they have the desire and the means to give these cats a good home for as long as they live.
Dahlia: Don’t bring a cat with a chronic disease to an animal shelter. Shelters can’t take in cats with FIV, leukemia, or any other highly contagious diseases. Even if you know and don’t tell them, they’ll immediately suspect something since she’s so young and has no teeth. All cats brought to shelters are tested for FIV and FeLV, and if they’re found to be positive they’ll be put down — even in a “no-kill” shelter — because the risk of disease transmission is too high to allow them to live with other cats.
Siouxsie: In the US, there are animal sanctuaries that will take in sick cats, but they can be hard to find. The internet can be a good resource for information about these sanctuaries, though.
Thomas: So, James, don’t rush to the conclusion that euthanasia is the only solution for your cat’s condition. Take her to your vet and get a diagnosis. Once you know what’s going on, you can decide how you want to deal with the situation.
Dahlia: Cats can and do enjoy a good quality of life even without teeth, and there are re-homing options available if it turns out your cat has a contagious illness and you’re concerned about your other cats’ health.