Feline tooth reabsorption is also known as Feline Oral Reabsorption Lesions (FORLs). It is a serious and extremely painful dental disease. Although up to 68% of cats are diagnosed with FORLs, the condition most commonly occurs in cats over 4 years old. Olive was diagnosed with FORLs at 1 ½ years old, which is exceedingly rare.
FORLs is not a ‘contemporary’ disease. Archeologists have discovered 800 year old cat skeletons afflicted with the disease. Although any cat breed may develop tooth reabsorption, it most commonly occurs in Siamese and Persians. Olive, however, is ½ short hair domestic and ½ long hair domestic.
Unlike most dental diseases, which originate at the top portion of the tooth (accessible and easily observable), feline tooth reabsorption begins at the deepest levels of the gum/tooth; eroding the cenmentum, pulp gum, dentine, and finally, enamel. Tooth reabsorption is progressive and results in the loss of tooth structure. Eventually, in most cases, all teeth must pulled, resulting in a quality of life issue.
Olive appeared on our back deck during a snowstorm. She had been abandoned by the roadside, and somehow, made her way to our home. She was terrified and severely malnourished. Although she ate ravenously, we noticed she was tilting her head to the right to eat. It was obvious the left side of her mouth was in pain. She was unable to chew hard food, and the gums around her canines were extremely red and swollen. We also noticed her teeth would often “shudder.” I later learned this is termed “chattering,” a symptom of gum reabsorption. Additional symptoms of FORLs include: anorexia, dehydration, weight loss, and tooth fracture.
We believed it was imperative to schedule a dental exam. We assumed she merely had a few decayed teeth due to neglect/lack of veterinary care. We were shocked when our vet diagnosed her with Feline tooth reabsorption. Although an oral exam was conducted, Olive’s clinical diagnoses was only confirmed after a dental radiograph. Imaging is necessary to confirm diagnoses. We scheduled Olive for dental cleaning (requiring anesthesia). The vet advised us a few of her teeth might need to be pulled during the procedure (We were thinking two or three). We were shocked and dismayed to find that 6 teeth had been pulled. We were even more distraught when our vet recommended pulling all of her teeth out in a following dental procedure! A 1 ½ year old toothless cat? No way! The poor thing. What would happen to the quality of her life? This recommendation caused us much anxiety and concern. What do we do?
Feline tooth reabsorption is a progressive disease. Its origination is often undeterminable. We couldn’t imagine Olive on the operating table, tooth after tooth being extracted, until she was, toothless.
My husband and I are big believers in combining Western with Eastern medicine. We located a vet who had extensively trained in Veterinary Chinese medicine. He suggested a holistic treatment regimen. He advised us this would merely halt the inevitable for perhaps a few months. But a few months is better than nothing, right? So we decided to give it a try. We were instructed to purchase 6 separate supplements:
1. RX Vitamins feline minerals
2. Pet Tinic Vitamin/mineral supplement
3. Liquid Health COQ10-Hydrosoluble, solution of blueberry, hawthorne, and goji
4. RX-D3 Cholecalciferol
5. Zymox Oratine (a gel which is swabbed on the gums-we use a q-tip)
6. Zymox Oratene-oral care water additive
*Your vet will advise proper dosage depending on age, weight, and disease progression
We purchase all of the above online or at Walmart and Petco. Each morning we add 1-2 drops of Zymox Oratene into Olive’s water bowl. Twice a day, morning and evening, we mix the first 4 supplements together, and administer them via a syringe. The above photo demonstrates the “swaddling technique” we use to keep Olive from twisting, squirming, or bolting when she sees the dreaded syringe making an appearance. Afterwards, we quickly swab a thin coat of Zymox Oratine gel on Olive’s gums. This is not fun for either Olive or us. It takes a good 10-15 minutes to mix our concoction, capture and swaddle Olive, and administer her medication. We devote 20-30 minutes a day to her oral care.
Olive is now 3 ½. Her disease isn’t cured. Several of her teeth are still surrounded by red and swollen gums. However, and it’s a BIG however-she is pain-free, happy, playful, and hasn’t had a tooth extracted since we began our regimen. According to Veterinary Science, our treatment should have lost effectiveness after a few months. According to our vet, Olive’s “remission” or “maintaining her teeth at her current level” for 2 years is medically impossible. Yet, it has been possible. And hopefully, will continue to be so for several years. We have found Eastern medicine a wonderful compliment to traditional care. I urge you to never give up in the fight against chronic and progressive oral disease. Please don’t lose hope when Western Medicine offers unacceptable options. Numerous veterinarians now specialize in feline Chinese medicine. You may not find a specialist nearby. However, it is worth the trip, ten-fold. Feline tooth reabsorption can be managed. And it has made one special cat very, very happy.
Barbara Mango, Ph.D. and very relieved cat momma