Baby teeth are sometimes called milk teeth, primary teeth or temporary teeth. They are more properly known as deciduous teeth. These are small, often rather weak teeth that drop out after a time so that the animal’s permanent teeth can take their place. Many species have them, including humans, dogs and cats. In fact, deciduous teeth are very common among mammals. Only a few mammalian species don’t have a temporary set of teeth. Deciduous teeth allow younger animals to make the transition from milk and soft foods to the tougher foods that they’ll eat into adulthood.
Do cats lose their baby teeth? Yes, they do. Kittens are born with no teeth and then grow their first set of deciduous teeth. Most of these fall out and are replaced by the time the kitten is 6 months old. The first to fall out are the incisors, followed by the rest of the teeth.
If you’ve arrived on this page, you have a number of questions about kittens and tooth loss.
- Is it normal for a new kitten to have no teeth?
- How old are kittens when their teeth being to grow in?
- At what age do kittens start to lose their baby teeth?
- How many baby teeth do kittens normally have?
- How many adult teeth should a cat have?
- How can you tell if your kitten’s teeth are healthy?
- How should you take care of a cat’s teeth?
To find out the answers to all of these questions and more, read on. We have the information you’re searching for.
Do cats lose their baby teeth?
Like the majority of mammals, cats will have two sets of teeth in their lives. The first set are the baby or deciduous teeth. The second set are the permanent or adult teeth.
When a kitten is born, she is largely helpless. Newborn kittens cannot see; their under-developed eyes are hidden away behind closed lids and their small round ears can barely hear. Baby kittens also have no teeth and are entirely reliant on their mother’s milk for survival, latching onto their mother’s teats with their toothless mouths. When the kitten is two to three weeks old, the first sets of incisors (the front teeth) will usually start to erupt, followed by the rest of the kitten’s baby teeth. Kittens who are teething may fuss and cry much like human infants; this is normal and will pass as their teeth come through. You don’t need to intervene as long as the kittens seem healthy otherwise and are gaining weight on schedule.
Once the kitten is around three months old, the deciduous teeth will begin to be lost. You may find lost teeth in your kitten’s bedding from time time. The front teeth usually go first, followed by the canines. The teeth fall out one by one until the last ones — usually the molars — fall away. In their place are the cat’s adult teeth. These are both stronger and sharper than the baby teeth and more numerous. A kitten only has 26 baby teeth but will have 30 teeth as an adult cat. A cat’s adult teeth are adapted for the carnivorous diet that your cat will follow for the rest of her life, with fanged canines for gripping and tearing her prey and sharp incisors for slicing flesh. Anyone who’s got on the wrong side of a cat will attest to their cutting power. At six months of age, all the cat’s adult teeth should be in place. If something seems off with the new teeth, you may want to ask your vet about it during one of your cat’s regular checkups.
Kittens who are gaining their adult teeth may exhibit some discomfort, refusing food at times and possibly engaging in more vocalisations than usual. Again, this is normal. You don’t need to take any particular action beyond offering the kitten comfort if she seeks it and maybe mashing some water into her food to make it easier to eat. If her lack of appetite persists, particularly if it’s accompanied by drooling, lethargy and general signs of malaise, you might want to have her examined by the vet. A little fussiness is normal but protracted discomfort isn’t. These symptoms can be a sign that she has a problem with her new teeth or some other health issue that merits your attention.
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Teething problems in kittens
Most kittens will graduate from their baby teeth to their adult teeth with no issues whatsoever. However, in some rare cases everything doesn’t go quite as planned. There are a few issues that can affect your kitten’s teeth as she grows into a cat.
One problem that can arise is retained deciduous teeth. This occurs when, for whatever reason, the cat’s adult tooth fails to emerge and the baby teeth are left in situ. This usually affects the incisors and presents no particular difficulty for the cat. In the wild, it might be an issue as it could affect the cat’s ability to hunt. For a domesticated pet, it’s not a major problem as all their food comes in easy, bite-sized chunks. Your family vet will be able to identify and correct any seriously wonky teeth as they come in.
Cats can develop dental caries (cavities) and gum disease just like humans. Although they don’t have the problems with processed starches and sugars that humans do — cats can’t taste sweet things and generally aren’t interested in them — they do occasionally suffer from tooth decay and gingivitis if their teeth aren’t cared for. If a cat’s teeth are badly decayed or gum disease is left untreated, tooth loss can result. If your kitten or cat seems to be in dental pain and flinches when trying to eat, check her teeth and schedule a visit with the vet. Dental problems in cats can cause further health issues, with gum infection attacking the jaw and cavities deteriorating until blood poisoning results.
Tooth care for kittens and adult cats
Because of the possibility of tooth decay and gum problems, it’s a good idea to give your pet’s teeth a quick brush every week or ten days. If you start doing this when your cat is still young, she will adjust to the procedure more readily than an older cat.
Some cats are largely indifferent to having their teeth cleaned, while others object strenuously to the whole process and will refuse to allow more than the most cursory swipe of their teeth. You can make life easier for all concerned by providing a palatable pet toothpaste (never, ever use human toothpastes on cats, as they contain all sorts of ingredients that are toxic to animals). These pastes come in different flavours and you’re sure to find one your cat can’t resist. Have her lick a blob of the paste off her pet toothbrush a few times so she can become accustomed to the sensation, then switch to actual teeth-brushing.
A cat who doesn’t like toothbrushes may be more accommodating of a finger-brush. This is a finger cot equipped with bristles, so you can slip your finger into the cat’s mouth and scrub her teeth that way. If absolutely nothing works and your cat flees for her life at the mere suggestion of tooth-cleaning, you can probably get away with a quick wipe using a finger wrapped in a clean, damp cloth. I generally discourage dry food for cats but a few nuggets of dry kibble now and then will help keep those new fangs of hers clean and in good shape.
Transitioning your kitten to solid food
There comes a time in every baby kitten’s life when she has all her teeth and is ready to switch from mother’s milk to solid cat food. At around four weeks old, a kitten will naturally begin to take an interest in the food that adult cats are eating. This is where you come in.
For very young kittens, it’s a good idea to splash out on those special kitten formulas. Fully weaned kittens are fine with adult food but a baby just coming off her mother’s milk may need the extra calories and nutrients.
Mash a little of the wet food with water or kitten milk (not cow’s milk or goat’s milk) to make a sort of soup and allow the kitten to lick it up. Do this three to five times a day, removing any uneaten food so it doesn’t spoil and make your kitten ill. As the kitten gets bigger, you can slowly reduce the amount of fluid in the food; I like to keep mashing the food a little so that it’s easy for the kitten to enjoy. I don’t really like to feed dry food to cats and kittens cannot cope with it at all. If you do give kibble, it needs to be thoroughly soaked in water so it’s soft.
A kitten is growing very fast and really needs all the nutrition she can get at this stage. For this reason you really don’t need to worry about giving her too many calories. Over-feeding is only an issue if she becomes nauseous. I have always free-fed my young kittens and in all my years as a cat guardian I’ve never seen a fat one. It’s important to feed your cats responsibly but obesity is seldom a concern until after the first year of life.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.