Tooth trivia, tongue talk, oral care and more about what goes on in your cat’s mouth
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
A cat’s mouth is a fascinating object of study. It’s a killing machine, filet knife and hairbrush, all in one. Here’s how it works.
Kittens are born without teeth and develop 26 deciduous, or baby, teeth, starting with the incisors and followed by the canines and premolars (molars don’t come in until adulthood). By the time a kitten is 7 months old, 30 adult teeth, including the missing molars, have made an appearance. But how do those teeth work?
Cats aren’t designed to chew. After killing their prey by biting or crushing the neck, spine or throat with their sharp fangs (known as canines), they tear off the meat with their carnassial teeth -- long-bladed molars and premolars -- swallow it (bones, feathers and all) and let their digestive juices go to work. Whatever isn’t digested exits the system, either through the front end -- regurgitation -- or out the rear, as waste in your cat’s litter box.
The rough feline tongue is an equally important player in the cat’s mouth. Its sandpaperlike surface is perfect for scrubbing every bit of food off bones.
If you were to examine a cat’s tongue closely (folks, don’t try this at home), you would find that it’s covered with tiny, hooked barbs facing toward the throat. They’re called filiform papillae, and their job is to help hold prey in place while cats eat.
Cats also employ the tongue in the grooming process. Those same barbs effectively remove dead hairs and debris from the cat’s coat. If your cat has a few hairs out of place, the tongue serves as a convenient built-in hairbrush to, er, lick them into shape.
Notice that your cat licks herself clean right after a meal? Instinct tells her to remove food odors that might excite the interest of predators. If your cat licks you after you get out of the shower, she might be trying to restore your “normal” smell.
One drawback to the tongue’s design is that cats can’t spit things out. Because they face the throat, those hooks direct loosened fur (or anything else the cat swallows) down the hatch. Later it comes back up again in the form of a hairball (known scientifically as a trichobezoar).
The tongue is also an essential factor in how cats drink water. Have you ever thought about that before? Top scientists have, and they used high-speed photography to document the process.
When they drink, cats curve the upper side of their tongue downward. As the tip of the tongue touches the water’s surface, the cat rapidly pulls it upward, bringing a column of water along for the ride. The jaws close and the cat swallows. In the space of a second, cats can lap water four times, and the tongue’s speed during the process has been clocked at 1 meter per second.
You lean in to love on your cat and suddenly you jerk away, appalled. That breath! It smells like he’s been swigging tuna juice straight from the can. That stink can be from periodontal disease or from cat cavities, known as oral resorptive lesions. Veterinarians say that half of all cats have some type of dental disease by the time they are 4 years old. That doesn’t mean it’s normal. A cat whose breath smells is the victim of gum disease or some other health problem.
You know the drill: Brush your cat’s teeth daily, starting in kittenhood, to help prevent infection and nasty brown tartar buildup -- which is not just ugly but also harbors bacteria. A professional dental cleaning under anesthesia will help to keep his teeth white and his mouth healthy.
What to do if
bird has diarrhea
Q: My bird’s poop looks more liquid than normal. Do birds get diarrhea? What should I do? -- via email
A: Good question! If your parrot eats seeds, his normal fecal droppings probably are dark-colored with a dry, firm texture. If he eats a lot of greens, they may be softer and more of a green color.
A bird with diarrhea has watery droppings. You may notice that the feathers near his vent are stained, that he seems lethargic or has lost his appetite, or that he looks unusually fluffed up.
Birds can get diarrhea from a number of causes, including stress, a poor diet, intestinal parasites or an infection. A change in diet can cause diarrhea as well. So can fruits or vegetables that haven’t been washed well to remove pesticides. Diarrhea can also be a sign of kidney, liver or pancreatic diseases.
Birds with diarrhea that doesn’t clear up within 24 hours need to be seen by the veterinarian so the problem can be diagnosed. Take your bird in right away if you see blood in the droppings or your bird is straining or seems to have abdominal pain. Otherwise, keep him warm and give him fluids to help him stay hydrated until he can be examined. You’ll need to take a fecal sample to your veterinarian for analysis. Bring the paper lining his cage so the veterinarian can check several samples.
If you have multiple birds, separate the one with diarrhea from the others. Disinfect the cage and everything in it with boiling water or a bird-safe cleanser. Wash hands thoroughly after handling the cage or the bird so you don’t spread disease. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
cream kills pets
-- Five dogs have died after accidentally ingesting a topical cream called fluorouracil, prescribed for people with skin cancer. One dog began vomiting and experienced seizures within two hours of puncturing the tube. He died 12 hours later. No cases involving cats have been reported, but the cream is likely toxic to them as well. If your pet is vomiting and having seizures, be sure to let your veterinarian know if anyone in your family uses any type of medicated topical cream. Discard cloths or applicators used to apply the cream in a place inaccessible to pets.
-- Is your Pomeranian losing hair all over his body? He may have a skin condition called alopecia X, also known as black skin disease or elephant skin. The dogs may first lose color in the hair, followed by hair loss over most of the body. Little is known about the cause, but it appears to be more common in males than females and can occur at any age. The skin typically becomes black and thickened. If fur comes back, it is often soft and cottony instead of the normal harsh texture. Sometimes dietary changes or treating for a yeast infection can help.
-- Americans spent nearly $63 billion on pets in 2016, according to statistics gathered by the American Pet Products Association. The APPA’s 2015-2016 national pet owners survey found that 65 percent of U.S. households -- 79.7 million homes -- own a pet. That’s up from 56 percent in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted. Basic annual expenses pet owners face include surgical veterinary visits, routine veterinary visits, food, treats, boarding, grooming and toys. Owners spent the most -- $23 billion -- on food, followed by $15 billion on veterinary care, $14 billion for supplies and over-the-counter medications and $5 billion for boarding and grooming. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.