Dear Doctor August 2014

An adopted cat with missing teeth; feeding a variety of cat foods; vaccination question


A cat with missing teeth

Q My son and I recently adopted an older cat from our local shelter. We named him “Vincent” and so far, so good. He came with his necessary vaccinations, etc. so we haven’t had to take him to the veterinarian yet.

One night while watching television, Vincent was rubbing on me and I noticed something strange about his teeth. He is missing one of the big fangs! It doesn’t seem to bother him when he’s eating, but I wanted to be sure that this is not a cause for concern in the future. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

Antonia Sabatino

A Dear Antonia: The most common reason for cats to have missing teeth is called tooth resorption. These resorptive lesions are a progressively destructive disease of cat teeth, and are sometimes inappropriately called “feline cavities.” They are very common — research studies estimate that as many as 65 percent of domestic cats are affected — and these lesions can affect any teeth.

These lesions can be very painful (cats have more nerve endings in their teeth than humans), and the secondary periodontal disease may cause more pain and potentially affect other areas of the body. Signs that may be seen with these lesions include decreased dry food chewing, vomiting (especially of undigested food), chewing on one side of the mouth, halitosis (“bad breath” due to increased periodontal disease) and decreased grooming.

Attempts to repair or treat these lesions are generally unsuccessful. Therefore, the current recommended treatment is extraction of the affected teeth or any problematic root remnants. Unfortunately, when cats have one or more of these lesions, other teeth are likely to be affected in the future.

Pet owners often ask how their cats will chew with fewer or, even in some cases, no teeth. Frequently, the answer is: “better!” Once the gum tissue heals, it becomes quite tough and most cats can resume eating dry food after these affected teeth are extracted.

I hope this information is helpful for you and Vincent. I recommend that he receive an evaluation by a veterinarian with dental experience (especially in the use of dental radiographs).

William Rosenblad, DVM

Dentistry and Oral

Medicine and Surgery

Angell Animal Medical Center

Boston, MA

Feeding a variety of cat foods

Q I am hoping you can settle an ongoing difference of opinion between me and one of my friends. We are both long-time cat owners, and consider ourselves to be very good caretakers with healthy, happy cats over the past twenty or more years.

However, I believe in changing my cat’s food frequently — changing flavors and even brands — and I supply both wet and dry food for her on a daily basis, too. I know that I like a lot of variety in my diet, so I assume she would prefer that, too.

My friend, on the other hand, feeds her two cats the same food every day for years at a time (usually, a well-known brand of dry food). On special occasions, she will give them a can of wet food — but also from the same brand.

Does it make a difference in the health and longevity of our cats? Thanks for your advice.

Ellen Kanifsky

A Dear Ellen: There is no evidence to suggest that either feeding method is healthier for cats. However, both methods have pros and cons.

The problems with providing a large variety is that you can inadvertently train your cat to be “picky” — which can become a real issue if she develops health problems where her diet options are limited. On the plus side, offering foods of different textures can improve acceptance of new foods compared to feeding an unvarying diet for many years.

Another issue with this feeding method is that it makes it very hard to quantify her nutrient and calorie intake, which could be important if she gets sick.

The advantage of feeding a very consistent diet is that it is much easier to quantify nutrient and calorie intake, and then relate those factors to the state of your cat’s health. The downside of this approach is that if a diet change is needed at some point, the cat may be reluctant to change, particularly if they have to change texture, ie. from mostly dry to all canned.

Another potential disadvantage is that if the food selected is not ideal — perhaps because you misread a label and are feeding a product meant to be a “treat” or “appetizer” and not a daily diet, or pick a product that is too high or low in calories for your cat — you are more likely to see nutritional issues if that diet is the main source of calories.

Feeding some ingredients daily could also be of potential concern. For example, feeding tuna-based canned food every day could potentially be a concern because of mercury content (note: there is not much information on mercury in tuna fed to cats!).

My advice is to go somewhere in the middle. I think it’s good to feed cats both dry and canned, but I would be reasonably consistent in the products fed, at least on a day-to-day basis. Switching brands or flavors occasionally is certainly reasonable, but there’s no need to switch if your cat is a healthy weight and doing well.

If and when you do switch diets, make sure you are adjusting your feeding amounts to keep calories similar because foods can vary dramatically in calories from flavor to flavor and brand to brand.

Cailin Heinze, MS, VMD, DACVN

Veterinary Clinical Nutritionist

Cummings School of

Veterinary Medicine

At Tufts University

A question about vaccinations

Q Recently, I adopted an adult cat from a local shelter, and he had previously been an indoor-outdoor cat. However, he now lives with me in my small garden apartment. I have a small enclosed terrace, and I would like to give him a little “piece of the outdoors” again (under my supervision, of course).

However, I am concerned if he should require any additional vaccinations, ie. heartworm and/or West Nile virus. This has never been a problem for me before because I have kept my previous pet cats exclusively indoors. Any advice would be much appreciated.

Gladys Hohmestaker

A Dear Gladys: You ask a good question! Cats that are exposed to the outdoors should be treated differently than those kept strictly indoors. In your cat’s case — because bite wounds and/or direct exposure to other cats are unlikely — I wouldn’t vaccinate any differently.

We don’t yet have a vaccine against heartworm disease, but instead must administer a monthly preventative. Your veterinarian can advise of the need for heartworm prophylaxis (based upon your geographic location), but since this disease is passed by mosquito bite, increased exposure to the outdoors will likely increase his risk for exposure.

We also don’t have a vaccine against West Nile virus, but fortunately this has not become a big problem for cats (more so for birds!). It doesn’t sound like there’s a large risk for flea or tick exposure, but if so, consider prevention against these pests.

If your cat turns out to be an effective predator — and starts to catch small rodents — routine deworming should be considered. And if there is any chance of escape, you may wish to consider an identification device (such as a collar or microchip).

Michael Stone, DVM

Clinical Assistant Professor

Cummings School

of Veterinary Medicine

at Tufts University


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