cat oral health

Dental and Oral Anatomy in Cats

Understanding the normal anatomy and appearance of your cat’s mouth can help you notice when something is abnormal. In this article, we’ll discuss the important structures in and around your cat’s mouth, the important roles they play, and what to do if you find a problem.

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How many teeth do cats have?

Cats have 30 teeth. At 3.5 months old, a kitten’s deciduous teeth begin to erupt. There are 26 of these “baby teeth”, which will be pushed out by erupting permanent “adult” teeth at 5-7 months old.

The front teeth consist of 12 incisors and 4 canines. Cats are obligate carnivores, hence the long, pointed canine teeth have evolved for grabbing and tearing meat. The back teeth, premolars and molars, are larger and wider for chewing and grinding meat into smaller pieces.

When do cats get their adult teeth?

  • incisors - between 3.5-4.5 mos.
  • canines - at 5 mos.
  • premolars - between 4.5-6 mos.
  • molars - between 4-6 mos.

Between 3.5-6 months of age, you may notice your kitten missing a tooth, find a tooth on the floor, or even stuck in a toy. It’s thought that many deciduous teeth end up accidentally being swallowed. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to cause issues.

Other Important Structures

Just like people and dogs, cats have salivary glands. These glands are essential in beginning the process of digestion, by secreting saliva which contains enzymes to breakdown food when it’s consumed.

A cat’s tongue will guide the food to the back of the mouth to be swallowed, just like a person’s. Cats also use their tongues to pick up small pieces of food and to drink water by lapping it up. The anatomy of a cat’s tongue is different in that it has a rough texture that aids in grooming and scraping meat off bones.

Cats have an organ called the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s organ. This organ is located on the roof of their mouth (hard palate) and connects to the oral and nasal passages. It helps cats sense pheromones and analyze smells. If you see your cat smell something, and then open their mouth slightly and keep it open for a few seconds, this is called the Flehmen Reaction. They are using their vomeronasal organ to smell and sense the air. This is a way of obtaining further information about smells, for example, an intact male Tom cat smelling a female cat’s urine and learning that she is in heat.

When to Contact a Veterinarian

Cats are susceptible to periodontal disease just as much as any dog or human who doesn’t brush their teeth. Cats can also be prone to certain types of oral cancers. Have your vet examine your cat’s mouth annually, and always bring your cat to the vet if you suspect anything wrong, such as pain, swelling, a bad odor, blood, discharge, or if you see what you suspect is a mass or growth in or around your cat’s mouth.

Read more:

Brushing Your Cat's Teeth: Step-by-Step Instructions

What happens when my pet has their teeth cleaned?

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