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Retained Baby Teeth in Cats

This picture shows a Siamese cat who has both his deciduous & adult canine tooth. The deciduous canine did eventually fall out on its own.Just like humans, cats have two sets of teeth, the deciduous (baby or primary) teeth, followed by the adult teeth.

How many teeth do cats have?

  • Kittens have 26 deciduous teeth.

  • Adults have 30 permanent teeth.

When do kittens get their baby teeth?

Deciduous teeth begin to erupt around 2 - 4 weeks of age. These teeth are retained until around 4 months of age when they are replaced by the permanent (adult) teeth.  Often you won't notice that the baby teeth have fallen out, they may be swallowed by your kitten.

By six or seven months of age, most kittens should have lost all their baby teeth and have all their adult teeth.

What happens during teething?

Both sets of teeth are formed during fetal development and are present in the gums at birth. The adult teeth buds are in the gums, beneath the baby teeth. As we know, the kitten initially has a set of baby teeth. This is very clever of mother nature, a kitten's jaw is not large enough to accommodate fully developed adult teeth, which is why the smaller baby teeth erupt first. As the adult teeth in the gums get larger (around the time of teething), they press on the roots of the baby teeth, this stimulates cells known as osteoclasts to reabsorb the tooth root, causing it to fall out.

Your kitten may experience some discomfort during teething. Some indications your kitten may be teething include:

  • Drooling.

  • Chewing on objects (I had a kitten who chewed the leather strap of my handbag.

  • Reluctance to eat.

  • Bad breath.

What are retained baby teeth?

A baby tooth is considered to be retained if an adult tooth erupts before the baby tooth has fallen out, this is sometimes referred to as 'shark teeth'. The most commonly affected teeth are the upper canine teeth, followed by the lower canines. Retained baby teeth can cause a number of problems. Retained baby teeth occur far more often in dogs than they do in cats. Possible problems with retained baby teeth can include the following:

  • Crowding can displace the permanent teeth, causing them to erupt crooked.

  • Crooked teeth can lead to malocclusion of the jaw (incorrect bite). 

  • Food can also be trapped between these teeth, causing decay and gum disease can develop due to excess plaque formation on the surrounding teeth. Gum disease can ultimately result in the teeth being lost.

  • Misaligned teeth can rub against neighbouring teeth, wearing them down over time and weakening the tooth.

  • If the bottom canines are involved, a retained teeth can push the erupting tooth forward, and instead of fitting snugly behind the upper canine, it hits the roof of the mouth, if the upper canines are involved, they can press down onto the gums. Damage to the roof of the mouth or the gums is painful and can result in an infection developing.

The picture above shows a Siamese cat who has both his deciduous and adult canine tooth. The deciduous canine did eventually fall out on its own.

How do I know if my kitten has retained baby teeth?

As has been noted, the most commonly affected teeth are the canine teeth (the long/fang-like ones). You may notice two teeth very close together, one tooth (the adult one) will be larger and less sharp than the smaller baby tooth).

Is it possible to prevent retained baby teeth in cats?

No, it's not possible to prevent baby teeth, but it is important to have it treated as soon as possible so that the adult tooth can erupt in its correct position.

Kitten owners should check the mouth of their kitten regularly, especially around the four-month mark when the adult teeth should start coming through.

What are the symptoms of a retained baby tooth in cats?

Obviously, the presence of two teeth where only one should be is a clear sign of a retained baby tooth. Other symptoms may include:

  • Misalignment of an erupted adult tooth.

  • Bad breath.

  • Red gums.

How is a retained baby teeth diagnosed in cats?

retained baby teeth in cat
Click to see full sized image

If you suspect your has a retained baby tooth, he should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will carefully examine your cat's mouth and count the number of adult and/or baby teeth your cat has. He may need to perform dental x-rays to ascertain which are the baby and adult teeth as well as determine if the baby tooth still has the root attached inside the gum.

How is a retained baby tooth treated?

If you see an adult tooth erupting and the baby tooth has not fallen out, it should be removed by your veterinarian as soon as possible. In a lot of cases, the deciduous tooth will already be somewhat loose and extraction is fairly easy and painless. If treated in time, the adult tooth should grow out in its correct position.

Also see:

Teething in kittens