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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

What causes a cat’s fur to stay wet after they groom themselves? The cat also has a fishy smell on her breath. (She doesn’t eat anything fishy.)

~ Emily

Siouxsie: Emily, one of the reasons our fur stays wet for a little while after we groom ourselves is because saliva is a main component of our grooming.

Thomas: Also, we cats don’t sweat, so it’s important for us to have a way to keep ourselves cool. By dampening ourselves with our saliva, the evaporation of that saliva helps to cool us down on hot days.

Dahlia: But we do want to talk a bit more about your cat’s fishy breath.

Siouxsie: As you know, cats don’t brush their teeth. This can lead to a build-up of tartar on the outsides of our back teeth, which can cause our breath to be a little bit smelly.

Thomas: The trouble with tartar build-up, aside from the cosmetic issue of smelly breath, is that it contributes to dental disease.

Dahlia: Because the mouth is warm and moist, it’s an ideal place for bacteria to set up camp. The tartar gives these bacteria lots of places to hide in. The tartar can also build up to the point where it starts irritating the gums.

Siouxsie: This condition, called gingivitis, is marked by red areas at the gum line.

Thomas: Healthy gums are pink in color. If you have a black cat or a cat that has any black on its body, there may be areas of black pigment on the roof of the mouth or the gum tissue.

Dahlia: I have a black spot on the roof of my mouth!

Siouxsie: Oh yeah? Well, so do I! Anyway, Emily, check to see if your cat has gingivitis. Lift her lips by her molars. If you see yellow-brown gunk on her teeth, that’s tartar.

Thomas: Unlike dog tartar, cat tartar can be pretty easy to remove. If there’s tartar buildup but no gingivitis, you may be able to remove some of the tartar by plucking it off with your fingernail.

Dahlia: If your cat will tolerate it, that is. I won’t let Mama get anywhere near my mouth … unless she’s petting me right behind my whiskers, that is.

Siouxsie: You’ll want to put your fingernail just below her gum line and use it like a soft chisel. If you do it right, you may dislodge a chunk of tartar.

Thomas: However, if you see red areas at her gum line, your cat already has dental disease, you really should see your vet. If there’s a lot of red or if the tissue is really swollen, a more serious infection could be setting in. Set up an appointment and have him or her take a look at your cat’s mouth.

Dahlia: If your cat’s tartar buildup is very severe, your vet may recommend that she have a dental cleaning. This procedure is done under general anesthesia because cats won’t tolerate that much stuff going on in their mouths. It also helps if there’s a lot of swelling and pain, because the cat won’t jump or pull away.

Siouxsie: Cats can and do get tooth decay as well. This is usually a result of untreated gum disease. But where humans tend to get cavities on the chewing surfaces of their teeth, cats get cavities along the gum line.

Thomas: If your cat has teeth that are very decayed and causing pain, your vet may recommend that they be removed. Cats can do quite well if they’re missing some teeth. In fact, we know of cats that have no teeth at all and still have a great quality of life.

Dahlia: Believe us when we say that we’d rather have missing teeth and no pain than a mouth full of rotten, sore teeth!

Siouxsie: One thing vets recommend to keep your cat’s mouth in good shape is regular brushing. Yes, believe it or not, you can brush your cat’s teeth.

Thomas: A cat usually has to be trained to accept brushing, and you should never use human toothpaste on your cat. There’s stuff in human toothpaste that’s toxic to cats.

Dahlia: We wrote an article a while back on how to clean your cat’s teeth. Check it out for some instructions.

Siouxsie: We’ve written a few articles about dental disease, as a matter of fact. You can find more information about other causes of mouth problems there.

Thomas: In any case, we do think it would be a good idea to call your vet and see what they think about bringing your kitty in for a checkup.

Dahlia: Please let us know how things turn out. We’d love to find out what the vet told you.