You don’t often hear about pets teething. But they’re mammals like we are. So do kittens teethe like babies do? And if they do, is there anything you can do to help them?
Do kittens go through teething? They do. Until three weeks of age, your kitten will have no teeth. Its first teeth (baby teeth/deciduous teeth) will then ‘erupt’. Your kitten will have these teeth until 3-6 months of age, at which point its 30 adult teeth will come through. Teething is almost always over at between 6-7 months. As in babies, teething hurts, because it puts severe pressure on the gums. Teething causes redness and swelling in the gum, and can cause gingivitis (gum disease). Provide your cat with lots of soft things like beds and blankets to chew on during teething, and take it to the vet if you suspect gingivitis or retained deciduous teeth.
The guide below is a Q&A on teething. It addresses whether kittens are born with teeth, how and when they teethe, whether it hurts or not, how you can tell when a kitten is teething, and how and when a kitten’s adult teeth come through.
Are Kittens Born With Teeth?
Kittens are not born with teeth. Like people, kittens are born with pink, toothless gums. They stay without teeth for the first few weeks of their lives before they grow in. It’s therefore nothing to be concerned about if you see a newborn kitten without teeth. Like in people, the teeth are actually there; they’re just hidden underneath the gums, and erupt later on.
This is a rule with very rare exceptions. When a mammal like a cat or a person is born with teeth, these are called ‘natal teeth’. They’re very rare in people, and even rarer in kittens. If your kitten has natal teeth, it isn’t indicative of a health issue, but you may want to start playing the lottery!
Why Aren’t Kittens Born With Teeth?
There is a simple reason why kittens aren’t born with teeth. It’s that for the first few weeks of life, cats don’t eat solid food. The only thing that sustains a newborn kitten is mother’s milk. They therefore have no need of teeth during these initial few weeks of life.
Eventually, the kitten has to transition to eating solid food. This—the process of weaning—takes several weeks.
Do Kittens Teethe?
Since cats aren’t born with teeth, and they eventually need to eat solid food, it stands to reason that they must teethe: and they do. This process is much the same as it is in people. The teeth are present at birth hidden under the kitten’s gums, and they poke out (erupt) in time for the kitten to start on solid foods. This is what is referred to in babies as teething.
The difference between babies and kittens in this regard is that your kitten won’t continually pester you, keep you up at night or otherwise make your life a misery. It will largely get on with the problem on its own.
When Do Kittens Teethe?
Kittens begin teething at about three weeks of age. You will first notice redness and a slight swelling around the point where the tooth will come through. It will then erupt, and at first only be a small bud that pokes just out of the gum. Over time the tooth will get longer. The tooth isn’t actually growing; it’s already fully formed. It’s just moving downwards/upwards from the jaw into the mouth.
Does It Hurt When Kittens Teethe?
It does hurt when kittens go through teething, just like it hurts when a baby goes through teething. The reason for this is obvious if you put yourself in your kitten’s shoes. Imagine if you were going about your life, and one day noticed a large swelling in your mouth; there’s a lot of pressure underneath it that doesn’t go away, and it keeps getting bigger and worse. It’s like the pain of an ulcer that doesn’t heal. Only when the tooth comes through is some of the pain relieved, but now it’s easy to touch the spot/new tooth when you eat, which hurts too. It’s also possible for gum disease/infection of the teething sites to make the pain worse.
The only difference between your kitten and a baby is that your kitten won’t tell you that it hurts!
How Do I Know If My Kitten Is Teething?
You can tell that your kitten is teething both from its age and its behavior.
What Age Is Your Kitten?
All kittens teethe at roughly the same time: three weeks onwards. Your cat may be a few days early or a few days late. But this process is one that’s very clearly defined, biologically speaking, so it happens at almost the same time every time. You can therefore safely say that if your kitten is three or four weeks old, it has begun the teething process.
Do Kittens Bite a Lot When Teething?
Kittens do bite things when they’re teething.
There are two reasons why they do this. One is that it helps to relieve the pressure. Again, it’s like when you have an ulcer; you can’t help but stroke it with your tongue to try and stop it from hurting. It’s also the same reason why you hold a part of your body that you hurt: the feeling of something pressing against the skin gives the nerves there something else to tell the brain about other than the pain. This stops it from hurting as much.
The other reason is that this may help the tooth come through sooner. Putting pressure on the gum from the outside will help the tooth put pressure on the gum from the inside. And the sooner the tooth is fully poking through, the sooner it will be in place, where it won’t cause the kitten any more pain.
This behavior manifests itself in several ways. One is that the kitten bites things in its environment frequently. Another is that the kitten may bite you more often. These bites are more akin to ‘love bites’ than real bites, but you should still wash your hand if your kitten bites it. Kittens’ mouths are full of germs.
Gingivitis (Why Does My Kitten’s Breath Smell?)
Another sign is if your kitten’s breath smells, or at least smells worse than normal. The cause of this may be gingivitis, which often accompanies teething. Gingivitis is the medical term for gum disease.
The reason why gum disease frequently occurs alongside teething is that the teeth coming through give bacteria an ‘entry point’ into the gums. This is the same problem as ulcers cause: an ulcer will quickly form and go away again if it doesn’t become infected, but because it’s an open sore, it gives bacteria somewhere to get into the gum. When the sore does become infected, it hurts a lot more.
Signs of gingivitis include even more redness and swelling where the tooth is coming in, and a foul smell of bad breath. If your cat has gingivitis when it’s teething, talk to a vet; they can clean the teeth for you or tell you how to clean them. It’s important to nip gingivitis in the bud because it can interfere with the eruption of your kitten’s teeth or even necessitate their removal.
Chewing Food Slowly, On One Side, Or Gingerly
Teething makes it difficult for your kitten to eat solid food. This is a difficult time, because even though it does hurt, your kitten has to make the switch to solids. It will eventually start eating food normally once its baby teeth are fully through.
However, you will notice a change at between 3-6 months of age. That’s when your kitten’s baby teeth start coming out, and its adult teeth start coming in. The adult teeth do exactly what the baby teeth did and push the baby teeth down when they do it. This makes certain teeth hurt, and can make certain teeth wobbly. You may therefore notice your cat chewing food only on one side of the mouth, or chewing slower than normal. This is normal.
How to Help a Teething Kitten
There’s no harm in trying to help your kitten through the teething process, and there are a few ways you can do it.
One thing you can do is provide your cat with soft cat food. Most cat food is soft, but some kitten foods are specially formulated to be softer than others. This helps the kitten eat even when its teeth hurt, which is essential to its development. This also helps its transition from milk to solids, which again is essential.
Soft Chew Toys
You can also provide your kitten with soft things for it to chew on: things like beds, blankets, and specially-made teething toys for cats. Soft items are much better than hard items when it comes to teething because they provide gentle relief; solid toys can provide relief, but also put slip and put unexpected pressure on a painful point. Soft toys work by giving the nerves around the erupting tooth something else to report to the brain other than pain.
Cold Or Warm Chew Toys
Cold and warm chew toys are even better. You can use the exact same soft chew toys as you normally would, but either warm them up or cool them down.
The rationale behind this idea is that the warmth or coolness gives the nerves even more to report other than pain. The pain messaging gets lost among the other messages the nerves are sending. This is how things like Deep Heat and Deep Freeze work.
Should You Brush a Teething Kitten’s Teeth?
There are two schools of thought on brushing your kitten’s teeth when it’s teething.
On the one hand, it can be very helpful. It doesn’t necessarily alleviate the pain of teething; but it does mean that the mouth is cleaner, so issues like gingivitis become less likely. This means that the teeth will come through properly.
The other school of thought is that this is a bad way to introduce your cat to teeth cleaning. It will likely hurt your kitten at least a little bit for you to brush its teeth while it’s teething, and you don’t want it to associate tooth-brushing with discomfort. This will mean that it’s less likely to allow you to brush its teeth in future.
It’s best to talk to a vet and follow their advice in this regard.
Do Kittens Keep Their Baby Teeth?
Kittens don’t keep their baby teeth. Their adult teeth come through and replace them. The reason for this is that the baby teeth are small and can’t grow; so, the kitten will grow new and bigger teeth that can replace them. The kitten will eventually replace all of its baby teeth with adult teeth. It is possible for the kitten to keep some of its baby teeth but this is rare.
At What Age Do Kittens Lose Their Baby Teeth? When Do Kittens Lose Their Baby Teeth?
This is easy enough to remember: kittens begin teething at about three weeks of age, and start to lose their baby teeth at about three months of age. Your kitten may lose its teeth in quick succession, unlike children who can take a long time to lose all of theirs. It typically takes until six or seven months of age for your kitten to have its 30 full adult teeth come through.
Do Kittens Swallow Their Baby Teeth?
Kittens can lose their teeth in two ways. They can either be knocked out of the mouth, or down the throat—so, yes, kittens can swallow their baby teeth.
This isn’t dangerous, so don’t worry if your kitten accidentally swallows one of its deciduous teeth. It will come out in your kitten’s poop fully formed and without having hurt your kitten’s gut. Your kitten may even swallow several of its teeth with no ill effect whatsoever. If your kitten loses its teeth the ‘normal’ way, by having them come out of its mouth, dispose of them as you would dispose of anything else… Or keep them in a scrapbook!
Does It Hurt When Kittens Lose Their Teeth?
It can hurt when kittens lose their baby teeth, but probably not as much as when their baby teeth come through. That’s because the adult teeth will follow where the baby teeth went, and won’t have to poke horrible holes in your cat’s gums. Despite that, it can still hurt in that the tooth becomes wobbly, and the new adult tooth is sensitive.
Retained Deciduous Teeth in Kittens
‘Retained deciduous teeth’ are baby teeth that don’t go away. They are never replaced by adult teeth. Rather, the adult teeth erupt and sit alongside them. The reason this can happen is if the baby tooth has strong roots that won’t let go and can’t easily be dislodged by the adult tooth coming through.
This isn’t a major medical concern. In people, these baby teeth can make the mouth crowded and make the adult teeth grow in crooked. But your cat has more space for its teeth to erupt than a person does, so the adult teeth shouldn’t grow in wrong. If you’re concerned about your cat’s teeth for this or any other reason, contact a veterinarian as soon as possible.