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Whether due to gum disease, trauma or some other reason, many cats may need one or more teeth removed during their lifetime. Wondering what causes the need for tooth extraction and what you can expect during cat tooth extraction recovery? Here's what you should know if your kitty needs to have a tooth removed.
When Cat Tooth Extraction Is Necessary
Periodontal disease (or gum disease) is a common cause of tooth loss in cats. It causes infection and inflammation in the gums and the bone surrounding the tooth erodes, weakening the periodontal ligament that holds the tooth in place. Loose and wiggly teeth may be painful and must be extracted.
Another situation that would call for tooth extraction is a broken tooth. Cat teeth can break from trauma or as a result of feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs) or tooth resorption, which is the erosion of dentin in a tooth that becomes irreparably destroyed, according to Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine. FORLs causes cavities to develop that weaken a cat's teeth and cause them pain. Extraction is the only treatment for FORLs.
Your cat may have a condition called feline stomatitis, a painful autoimmune condition, which causes a cat to develop a reaction to their own teeth that results in severe inflammation of the gums. The condition isn't well understood, but if treatment doesn't work, then a tooth extraction is required. Fortunately, most cats tolerate whole mouth extraction well and feel much better afterward.
Cat Tooth Extractions: Recovery Expectations
Most cats recover quickly from a tooth extraction. Your cat will probably be able to go home the same day as the procedure. However, recovery depends on your cat's overall health, how their pain is managed after the extraction and how they handle anesthesia. For single extractions, recovery typically takes about one week or less. For cats who undergo multiple tooth extractions and/or have other health conditions, recovery can take a couple of weeks.
During the recovery period, the gum heals over the tooth extraction site. There are often dissolvable stitches in place that hold the gums together until they heal; these will fall out on their own.
You can help your kitty recover by feeding them canned food (this can prevent irritation to the surgery site) and by making sure they finish all pain medicine and antibiotics as prescribed. Pet parents are often surprised at how fast their cats recover after tooth extraction.
How to Prevent the Need for an Extraction
In some cases, cat tooth extraction can be prevented. If your cat has periodontal disease, brushing their teeth and making sure they have an annual dental cleaning can help prevent tooth loss.
If your cat's tooth is broken and you don't want it removed, ask your vet about the possibility of having a root canal done in order to save the tooth. If they don't perform root canals, ask for a referral to a veterinary dentist.
In conditions of feline stomatitis or tooth resorption, early intervention and a strong partnership with your vet can sometimes prevent the need for a tooth extraction — but any conditions that are painful should be treated immediately.
The Role of Nutrition
In some cases, nutrition may help prevent tooth loss. Some therapeutic foods, like some Hill's Prescription Diet, are clinically formulated to reduce plaque and tartar buildup, which may help prevent periodontal disease and may contribute to healthier teeth and gums.
If your cat suffers from stomatitis, your vet may recommend trying to feed them a hypoallergenic food, to rule out the possibility of ingredient sensitivity (which is rare among cats). If your cat suffers from dental problems, ask your vet for nutritional recommendations.
Caring for a Toothless Cat
In the case where a full mouth extraction is necessary, know that your cat can still lead a happy and healthy life including properly eating. Despite common misconceptions, cats without teeth can even still eat dry kibble. Cats missing their teeth, either as a result of old age and them falling out more naturally or because of a full mouth extraction, can continue to be their old selves; be sure to ask your vet for any additional care recommendations.
It's understandable to feel nervous about your beloved cat getting surgery, but rest assured that most cats handle tooth extraction extremely well. Your kitty will feel much better without an achy tooth.
Dr. Sarah Wooten
Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, Dr. Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership, and client communication, and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, SCUBA, and participating in triathlons.