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Signs of a Healthy Cat

A Healthy Cat's Mouth, Teeth, and Whiskers

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Two Cats Showing Interest With Their Whiskers

Two Cats Showing Interest With Their Whiskers

Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy

Like its nose, a healthy cat's mouth and lips may be pink or black. Sometimes as cats age, their previously pink lips may develop black pigment spots, which is normal in itself. The normal color of a healthy cat's gums and the roof of the mouth is a light pink. Very pale gums or bright pink, irritated gums, especially in tandem with other symptoms, should be checked by a veterinarian.

A healthy cat's teeth, next to his claws, are his most valuable defense weapons. As an obligate carnivore, cats' teeth are designed not only to kill prey, but to tear and shred its flesh for swallowing. An adult cat has 30 teeth, evenly divided between top and bottom:

  • 12 Incisors
    Used for grooming, and scraping shreds of meat from the bone of its prey.
  • 4 Canine Teeth (aka "Fangs")
    Used mostly for defense and killing prey.
  • 10 Pre-molars
    Used in conjunction with the molars.
  • 4 Molars
    Unlike humans, cats do not use their molars to "grind" their food. Instead, they work in a sort of "slice-and-dice" operation, somewhat like an electric meat slicer does.

A cat's teeth are normally white, with small evidence, if any, of tartar buildup. They are rooted securely in the cat's jawbone. Any signs of redness in the gums around the teeth or loosening of teeth should be investigated by a veterinarian. Following a regular dental care plan will help ensure healthy teeth and gums.

The Jacobson's Organ, described in the section about a cat's nose, is located in the roof of the mouth, just behind the cats front teeth.

A Healthy Cats Whiskers

Although the long whiskers above the upper lips on each side of the nostrils are the ones we commonly think of as whiskers, cats also have whiskers above the eyebrows, way back on the cheeks, and shorter ones on the backs of the front legs.

These extra strong hairs are called vibrissae, or tactile hairs, and they are at least twice as thick as the cat's ordinary hair, with roots that go three times deeper, surrounded by nerves and blood vessels. Vibrissae should never be trimmed, as they are a needed tool for cats. They will fall out occasionally, just as regular hairs shed, but replacements will grow back in. In my home, we consider a whisker found on the floor a lucky find, and have a wooden box where we store them.

A cat's whiskers are so sensitive that they can feel the slightest whisper of a breeze. Their whiskers are invaluable in judging wind speed and direction, which helps, both for protecting a new litter of kittens from predators and (combined with the nose), in identifying the location of potential prey. Learn more about how cats use their whiskers, both for protection and as communication.

This has been only a brief overview of the visable parts of a healthy cat's head. You can learn much more in detail by following the links provided herein, as well as the links provided in the sections below. They are provided with the hope that your cat's healthy condition will continue to be his normal condition for many years to come. Your attentiveness and follow-through will help make it so.

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