The Curious Case of the Eaten Homework
The dog ate my homework.
But we don’t have a dog. We have a cat.
With three teeth. But she does eat homework.
Why Does Your Cat Only Have Three Teeth?
Daphne is an outwardly healthy 4 year-old we adopted from the Waverly Pet Rescue in 2013. She was (and still is) active, friendly, and a great eater. We never had a sign she was sick. During a routine health exam, Dr. Taylor discovered her teeth have Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORL).
This crazy name is a condition that causes the breakdown of tooth enamel (the outer layer). This makes her teeth fragile and painful. Even if you haven’t heard of it (I never had), FORL is one of the most common dental disease in cats. Other species can have these resorptive lesions, including humans, but it is most widespread in cats.
What Causes It?
FORL is related to several factors, but there is no clear, single cause. Experts say poor oral hygiene and dental disease may contribute to FORL. Frequent vomiting, a virus, and possibly a genetic component are also suspected. With no known cause, there is no way to prevent this disease.
Signs and Symptoms
Daphne showed no outward symptoms. She was young, active, ate well, had no dental disease, did not vomit (yay!), and did not drool or rub at her mouth. Because pets (both dogs and cats) are so good at masking pain, you may never realize something serious is going on.
What you CAN do is to make sure your cat sees the vet regularly. We did not discover her resorptive lesions until Dr. Taylor was examining her mouth during a routine health exam. He noticed these red lesions and inflamed gums (seen in the picture here). You will also notice the tooth is eroded where the instrument is positioned.
To verify his suspicion of FORL, he simply took a cotton-tipped swab and gently pressed against her teeth and her gum area. Her lips instantly began to quiver or “chatter” which is a sign of pain.
She had lost many teeth already. Most of the remaining teeth were showing signs of FORL. We had Dr. Cherney remove any bad teeth (under anesthesia) which left Daphne with only three teeth. While this seems drastic, tooth extraction is a typical course of treatment for such a painful disease.
How Does She Eat?
This was one of my first questions. The doctors assured me she would be just fine on solid food. To be honest, I had my doubts. We did offer her soft food right after surgery (and pain meds, too), but this video is her eating hard kibble just TWO days after having all but 3 teeth removed!
What Happens Next?
We continue to monitor Daphne’s mouth and teeth quite frequently. I check her mouth at home for redness or bumps. I bring her in 3-4 times a year for a professional dental exam. I give her a dental antibiotic every three months as a preventative. I am slowly working my way up to brushing her teeth using a bit of gauze wrapped around my finger. This is a work in progress, but we want to keep her remaining teeth as healthy as possible.
Nothing will stop FORL, but we can slow it down. Eventually, she will have to have her three remaining teeth pulled.
Then she can gum my son’s homework.
This was written by Kirsten Linney of Den Herder Veterinary Hospital. Daphne supervised the process.