If you are a cat owner, chances are that you get quite close to your cat and spend a lot of time cuddling them or sharing surfaces with them, you might even let your cat lick your hand from time to time.
However, it is important to consider how hygienic these habits are and whether there are any possible health ramifications. In this article, we will look at whether cats' mouths are clean and what you can do to improve your cat's dental hygiene.
Are Cats Mouths Clean?
The short answer to this question is no, cats’ mouths are not clean. While there isn’t any definitive data on the levels of bacteria in your feline’s mouth, it is known that there are disease-causing bacteria present in cats’ mouths that can be transferred to humans.
The bacteria in their mouths can also present health risks to the cat themselves in the same way as it is for humans. Cats are susceptible to dental diseases such as gingivitis, periodontal disease, and tooth loss.
Possible Diseases From Cats Mouths
There are multiple diseases that can develop from the bacteria that is present in your cat’s mouth that can be transferred to humans, mostly through bites, these are known as zoonotic diseases.
Transfer to humans most commonly happens through bites, although poor hygiene practices after coming into contact with your cat’s mouth can also lead to transfer.
There are three main common diseases and viruses that can be passed from cats’ mouths to humans.
Rabies is the most well-known disease that can develop as the result of a cat bite. Rabies attacks the nervous system and has a high mortality rate.
Treatment for rabies is available in the US although for it to be effective it needs to be administered immediately. The effects of rabies can be reduced if you are up to date with rabies vaccinations for both you and your cat.
Bartonella henselae, otherwise known as cat scratch disease, is usually transmitted through scratches, however, it has been known to transfer through bites or open wounds.
Symptoms of this disease include blistering and swelling at the site of the infection, the lymph nodes may also become swollen and painful to touch. Fever, aches, and headaches are also common.
In most cases, the infection will clear up on its own, although it can take a few months, however, antibiotics may be necessary for some instances. Discouraging scratching and rough play, washing hands after contact with your cat, and keeping your cat indoors can all lower the risk.
Pasteurella multocida is the most common disease that is present in a cat’s mouth and is found in up to 90% of cats’ mouths. It is also found to be present in 50% to 80% of humans that seek medical attention after being bitten.
Symptoms such as redness, swelling, and pain can develop within 24-48 hours. If this disease is left untreated in humans it can spread through the bloodstream and cause significant illness.
To avoid the risk of contracting any of these diseases it is important to ensure that you thoroughly clean any wounds obtained from a cat bite. You should also seek medical advice from your primary care practitioner in case there is a need for antibiotics.
Should You Clean Your Cat’s Teeth?
As humans, we have learned the importance of engaging in dental hygiene practices morning and night, and our cats’ mouths go through much dirtier acts than ours do. Therefore, it makes sense that we should be providing a level of dental care to our feline friends on a regular basis.
Although it isn’t necessary to clean your cat’s teeth as often as you clean your own, it is still beneficial to begin regularly brushing their teeth.
There are plenty of different toothbrush options available that are specifically designed for use with cats, from tiny toothbrushes that resemble our own to brushes that slip over your finger. Some trial and error and perseverance may be required to find a toothbrush that your cat is comfortable with.
How To Keep Your Cat's Mouth Clean
As mentioned above, there are plenty of devices available to assist you in cleaning your cat’s mouth, however, introducing your cat to the process can be laborious, particularly if your cat is older.
The first step in keeping your cat’s mouth clean is to invest in the proper tools to help.
This includes an appropriate toothpaste that has been specifically formulated for pets and a toothbrush that is designed for your cat’s small mouth, although this one may require a few tries to find out what your pet is most comfortable with.
When getting your cat used to the idea of having their teeth cleaned, you can simply let them lick the toothpaste from the brush. This will get them used to the taste and the presence of the brush.
When you move up to brushing your cat’s teeth it is best to limit the number of occasions to once a week to give them time to adjust. Gradually increase the number of times you brush their teeth in a week.
If your cat is extremely resistant to letting you clean its teeth or you have an older cat that has never had its teeth cleaned, it is possible to invest in professional dental cleaning for your feline friend.
Much like a visit to the hygienist leaves you with a pearly white, super clean mouth, the same can be done for your cat. These types of intense cleans should be done on a semi-regular basis of about once a year to help maintain your cat's oral health.
You can also invest in some dental toys for your cat to play with that are designed to help clean its teeth while they chew it. This is a great option if your cat is reluctant to have its teeth cleaned with a paste and a brush.
Cats’ mouths are inherently not clean and they can carry harmful bacteria that can result in zoonotic diseases being contracted by you and your family.
Thankfully, there are various ways that you can help to increase the oral hygiene of your feline friend to reduce the risk of disease for them and you.
At Love4Cats, our practice involves consistent collaboration with licensed veterinarians and reputable industry experts. However, it's important to note that the content provided on Excited Cats is not intended as veterinary advice. While we strive to enhance your understanding of feline care, the information presented on this blog should not replace professional veterinary guidance.