My cat has bad dental disease and I can’t afford the treatment. Is there something I can do to treat him at home?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a 14-year-old male cat. He’s in great shape, still eating and active, but his teeth are bad. He’s definitely got gingivitis: reddening around the gum line around his teeth. His back teeth are gross, they don’t even look like teeth anymore. I’m hoping he’ll lose those teeth at the top on both sides. I know they’re bothering him and I can’t afford to take him to the vet. The vet quoted me $1,000 to get his teeth fixed. I want to keep my little buddy comfortable. Is there a holistic antibiotic or something else I can do for him?


Siouxsie: Periodontal (gum) disease is one of the most common problems seen by veterinarians. It occurs in two forms: gingivitis, a reversible inflammation of the gums; and periodontitis, an inflammation of the deeper structures supporting the teeth.

Thomas: Both of these conditions begin when plaque and calculus form on the teeth along the gum line. Most cats over 2 years old have some plaque and calculus, and some cats start building up plaque even before they’re 1 year old.

Dahlia: There does seem to be a link between diet and plaque formation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that cats fed primarily on canned food tend to have more plaque buildup because there’s no abrasive action to clear the plaque from the teeth.

Siouxsie: There’s also a genetic component. Some cats just have a hereditary inclination to develop more plaque and calculus. It’s very similar to what happens with people–some of you humans just have great teeth and never have any dental problems, and some of you have a greater tendency to develop cavities and gum disease.  A few people have mentioned that orange, or ginger, cats tend to have more dental problems that cats of other color patterns, but we don’t know if there’s any evidence to support this.

Thomas: Cat caretakers can do some things to prevent plaque buildup, including brushing their cat’s teeth on a regular basis. Most cats don’t like this at all, and you probably won’t be able to brush your cat’s teeth unless you’ve gotten the cat used to this from an early age.

Dahlia: Special brushes and toothpastes are available at pet stores and other outlets. But we should warn you never to use a human toothpaste on your cat! Human toothpastes contain chemicals like fluoride that can be quite toxic to cats. And they taste horrible!

Siouxsie: When a cat has some plaque built up on the teeth but the condition hasn’t advanced to gingivitis or periodontitis, it is possible to pick the plaque off the cat’s back teeth with a fingernail. Our vet, Doctor Sarah, showed Mama how to do this. But Mama has short fingernails and I don’t like having her fingers in my mouth, so I won’t let her pluck plaque off my teeth. Unfortunately, I’m starting to get a little gingivitis myself, and Doctor Sarah told Mama I might have to have my teeth cleaned.

Thomas: Dental cleanings are done under anesthesia because, as you can imagine, we cats won’t sit still for poking and prodding and scraping–especially when it hurts.

Dahlia: Sam, it sounds like your cat has pretty advanced periodontal disease. Not only are your cat’s teeth covered with plaque and his gums swollen, but there are deep pockets and crevices that have trapped food and bacteria at the gum line. Infections have almost certainly developed in these pockets, causing tooth decay and weakening the tissues that support the teeth. Your cat’s condition is probably not reversible without a deep cleaning and extraction of infected teeth.

Siouxsie: Whether or not your cat shows it, dental disease is very painful. Of course he still eats–but maybe he only eats soft food or instead of chewing he swallows his kibbles whole.

Thomas: If your cat’s gums and bones become infected, there’s a risk that the infection might spread throughout his body and kill him. The bacteria that grow in cases of dental disease have a nasty tendency to infect the heart and the structures surrounding it, which can cause congestive heart failure or an overwhelming infection that could kill him.

Dahlia: The mouth is perilously close to the brain as well. That means the infection can travel to the sinuses and thence to the brain, causing encephalitis, or swelling of the brain.

Siouxsie: We suppose you could wait until your cat’s teeth fall out, but that would certainly cause him great pain and suffering and we would not recommend it. Plus, when the teeth fall out, the infected pockets of pus and plaque are still in the gums wreaking their havoc.

Thomas: Sam, what this all boils down to is that you really need to have your vet operate on your cat and treat his gum disease. The vet will probably have to pull out a number of your cat’s teeth and then do a deep cleaning in all the pockets of crud that are left. After the surgery, your cat will have to take antibiotics for probably 2 weeks in order to clear up any remaining infection. There’s very little you can do at home to treat him.

Dahlia: A dental procedure of this magnitude does cost a lot of money. There’s no doubt about that. But your other options are to spend a lot more if you wait until your cat gets really sick due to infection, or allow him to suffer with pain and infection until he dies.

Siouxsie:  Sam, you said you can’t afford the surgery your cat needs. If you’re on a fixed income (for example, if you live in the US and you’re on Social Security Disability or you receive aid through food stamps, TANF or other welfare programs) or if you rescued a cat in need, you may qualify for aid through a local humane society, the Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program, or through one of the organizations listed here.

Thomas: If you can’t qualify for assistance through one of these programs and you have decent credit, Care Credit may be an option. You’ll need to check and see if your vet will take Care Credit before going through the application process.

Dahlia: A few vets will take payments for procedures if the arrangements are made in advance. But keep in mind that most vets are hesitant to do this if you’re not a client they know well–entirely too many people skip out on their promise to make payments, after all.

Siouxsie: But if by “I can’t afford it,” you mean that you would rather buy a new plasma TV or some other new toy than take care of your cat’s health needs, then we suggest you re-evaluate your priorities. If this cat were your child, what would you do to make sure that he stayed in good health or got treatment for a serious disease?

Thomas: Your cat depends on you to provide him with the care he needs. He can’t take himself to the vet. He can’t seek financial assistance. He can’t make you do anything to help him.

Dahlia: We hope you’ll be able to find a way to cover the cost of the surgery your cat needs, because he does need that surgery to relieve his pain and be restored to full health. Good luck, Sam, and please let us know how things turn out.

  • Summer

    Since my cats don’t enjoy tooth brushing and one of them tends to have a lot of issues with his teeth, I’ve found a couple of other alternatives. CET makes a variety of products that can help prevent these types of issues. I really like their chews and also their oral hygiene gel (which he doesn’t like, but tolerates better than brushing).

    I hope this helps:

  • http://none cindy

    I live in southern california and when I can not afford any medical dental treatment i go straight to tijuana. their pet dental work is about 75-80% cheaper than what an american vet would charge

    • Marilyn

      Where in tj do you go? I live a couple mins from the crossing and my cat needs dental work.

  • igor

    Hi everybody, maybe my answer does not directly relate to the topic, but I want to let everybody know that there is a chance to
    get free vet care for your cat or dog (any pet) in all countries there are pet charities that provide vet care for people with low income or on benefits. But only a few people know that even if you are not taking government benefits and cannot afford to pay for a vet you (your pet ) still can be eligible to get a free veterinary treatment. If you are a student, unemployed, have low income and can prove it with any official paper you should try to contact a charity and explain your circumstances. In UK it is a Blue Cross – I just called them and explained that I am a full time student and have no income and they agreed to take my cat into their hospital. Unfortunately it was too late for my poor cat and they had to put him to sleep. I spent too much time looking for the information I am giving you now and trying to cure him myself. If only I knew it a bit earlier =(.

    These charities were founded to help sick pets, and even despite official requirements (proof of benefits, some other papers) they are really interested in helping ill animals so there always should be a way to get help from them for free even if you will have to say them that you have just found this sick animal.

  • katie

    My kitty has the same problem and he’s also 14 years old. Im so scared that with his age, that the tooth removal surgery will kill him. Is this likely??!?

  • katie

    By the way, I may be more paranoid about this than most people because I lost my father 4 years ago when he was on the table.

  • Scott

    I just stumbled upon this blog. Quite honestly I was scratching my head over a few of the responses that were offered.

    A well meaning person comes to a site like this looking for an answer and explains his problem and another person starts asking him about their “priorities” and then has the audacity to bring up some type of question about plasma tv’s and other toys…”s an insult, plain and simple!

    In today’s economy people can only do the best they can. In life we all have our responsibilities and priorities that we MUST take care of. I have a 2 year old manx that I cherish, he’s a cat I rescued when he was 3 months old. He has a very nice life and is treated with much respect and love. But if I was faced with a financial quandary where I could not meet my own personal obligations or take care of my family…I can tell you I would know where to draw the line in terms of commitment….especially if I was faced with an expensive pet surgery.

    I hear stories of $10,000 surgeries for a cat or a dog and while it is very sad and stressful to be put in that position no one should have to consider putting a 2nd mortgage down to take care of their animal. My point is this…no one here knows Sam or what his financial situation was. For him $1,000 may seem like $10,000 or $20,000 to others. While some offered very helpful advice others applied a very generous dose of guilt. I don’t think he deserved that.

    • Kate

      I agree with that! This is no forum to chide pet owners over priorities, who wouldn’t be on this site unless they loved their animals! Very insulting. Sorry Sam!

    • Donny

      Finally someone who has a concept of real world situations! Thank you ,Scott for understanding that not everyone can just throw a thousand dollars at any given opportunity. I am dealing with a broken fang on my 15 yr old Russian blue that I cannot afford. She is hyper thyroid as well, so I have been trying to get her levels down before I can even think about getting any procedure where anesthesia is required. At $175 per test it gets very expensive when all they can do is tell you that more medication that will cost more money is necessary. I’ve had so many of these tests done and my care credit is close to being maxed out. I only make around 800 a month,so a thousand dollar bill for tooth extraction on top of thyroid testing is…well it’s pretty much impossible. I get sick of all the ppl saying ” just take her to the vet”, they have no clue that I have been and am very much in debt because of this ( even sold my vehicle and am currently relying on public transportation because I had to bring my care credit bill down). I mean, do they really believe I don’t care about my best friend?! I can tell you that I spend at least half of my time trying to comfort my poor kitty because I know she is in serious pain. I’m sorry I got to rambling on, just frustrated. But my main point is that I , like Sam, wanted to find some way to at least lessen the pain for my kitty. Does anyone know anything that might help without having to spend a lot of money I don’t have?

  • jcrply

    Here is another reason for asking this question. My 10-year old cat needs to have her teeth cleaned. However, her general condition is too fragile for her to be anesthesized for a dental cleaning. I would really like to know if there is anything that I can do to help to clean her teeth. The vet only says to continue her good diet and to give her antibiotics to offset the bad dental condition, but perhaps there are some people out there who have found something that will help, or perhaps her diet could be modified in some way that helps with the teeth. I have been to two different vets. I do not have a holistic vet in this area. Perhaps there is no solution to this.

  • kate

    This was informative to a point, but it was also arrogant and condescending. Didn’t help anyone and I know there has to be something that can be done holistically even if to a point. Making brash assumptions is really asinine. Gawd…I’m glad I don’t need it and I will pay for my daughter’s cat to be taken care of because uhm..let me see, she lost her job (thank you to the president)…she has 2 kids, the father disappeared, isn’t paying child support AND the state doesn’t make the deadbeat parent pay here..but thank you for the assumptions and no help. Assholes.

  • tictactoe

    Calm down, everybody. Some people with the wealth want it to go directly to the source that needs it.
    More wealthy people than poor think it’s their right to take advantage of freebies, and stomp all over them on the way out -just the reason we need these type of programs! You know the saying: The more money people have, the more they want. Truer words were never spoken. Then you have the tightwads (my husband) that think everybody he comes in contact with is trying to rip him off! If he had any I would’ve done that myself years ago! Unfortunately, and wrongly, he believes the cat will get better on his own, so his idiot wife is up all night without his knowledge investigating into help for this creature, because as it looks now, his mind is made and so is mine. I’m taking that cat, and he’ll pay with more than his precious $$!!!

  • Hana

    Feeding raw baby chicken wings and neck or in general raw chicken prevents and helps with diseased gum in cats. My cat recovers within 1 day when I feed her raw baby chicken also the fur is shinier and the mood of the cats are better. Cats in nature do eat raw meat so there is no harm in feeding them raw chicken and I have been feeding my cats raw chicken, tuna, boiled carrots and corn for the past 2 years they are healthy and enjoying their food. purrrrrfect

  • JreYtor

    You’re all a bunch of…

    I can’t believe you responded to a person asking questions about what to do if they couldn’t afford treatment by insinuating that the individual was prioritizing plasma TVs over the health of a cat. This writer did not indicate anything to support such a grotesque accusation. Shame on you for shaming someone seeking advice in a difficult situation. There is no call for such behaviour. Certainly the point can and should be made that personal luxuries should follow and not preceded the health of any family member -and by this I mean the cat- but your advice is riddled with extremely inopportune remarks that smell of classism. The writer asked for advice – you delivered nothing more than a Google search and a dressing down that is wholly undeserved. At the risk of sounding too.. Whatever, check your privilege and respond to the actual question instead of pontificating on the morals (or lack thereof, as you suppose) of the the writer.

    JHC. Help asked and responded to with simpering antagonism,. Setting about the pearuly gates and judgment.. But since I don’t believe in that… Scorn and pity. Pity mainly. Shame on you.

  • Nigel

    My cat is dying
    And I have never bought a TV in my life let alone a plasma TV
    I don’t own a computer of my own

    I struggle and make sure I pay for litter and food every month
    All I can think
    Is fuck you
    Jane A Kelley
    You are a fucking cunt
    Who couldn’t hack it as a real writer
    Who the fuck are you?
    You probably haven’t lived long enough to experience the slow death of your best friend
    I’ve had my cat since he was born 18 years ago
    I rescued him from asshole kids who wanted to kill him
    I fed him with a bottle because his eyes weren’t open
    And when I was homeless he got me through my hard times living in my car
    When my sister tried to kill my mom and my family fell apart
    When my relatives died
    Nothing made me feel better. But my cat
    He was raised with dogs
    All the bitchy ex girlfriends sound like Jane
    I will never love a stupid whore as much as I love my cat who I’ve had
    Much longer than any condescending bitch who can’t fathom real live without limitations
    The innocence of our animal friends transcends the hipster cunts of our era

    Cow antibiotics are cheap from feed store and it does work orally
    And this has helped my cat live longer
    Going to the vet is a rip off because they already know you can’t live without your animal so they take advantage of you

    Think about it
    Why is a human blood work test so cheap, yet they go to school for years and years and years

    Yet for cats it’s 170$ for each test and you always need 5-9 tests to make a vet happy and the vet techs have only been in school a year or 2 or learned on the job
    Yet they charge more than I do as a mechanic ?!?!

  • Liz

    You guys didn’t offer any home remedy advice- and none of your posts were not common sense info that most cat owners already know. You think he wouldn’t take his cat to the vet if he had the money? Our animal protective league is STACKED with cats and will take no more, and I, like many people, buy cat food, brushes, flea/tick meds, litter, and toys for cats and kittens that wonder into my back yard as strays becuz they have nowhere else to go. Have a heart. His little friend could be dying and you’re talking about scraping plaque off your own teeth and pushing high interest credit cards. This website is no help at all for cat lovers who are stuck in the recession and really don’t have an extra $1,000+! People look to you for answers to real world problems, and you just assume that they either don’t know anything or are just trying to save a few bucks. Shame on you!