Anatomy of the Feline Mouth

Discover what's inside and how it affects the whole cat.

Cat Fancy- Feline Teeth- February 2011

As a cats-only practitioner, I find the feline mouth to be fascinating. Cats use their mouths for a lot of things — eating, drinking, grooming and communicating. Although cats breathe mainly through their noses, the mouth provides an additional passageway for air to enter the lungs. Cats are true carnivores, and this is reflected in their mouths and teeth.


The Teeth
The teeth are responsible for tearing and cutting food into pieces small enough to swallow. Feline teeth are also used as weapons, both offensively (hunting, for example) and defensively (as when I foolishly try to insert a thermometer into a cat who does not want his temperature taken).

Cats are diphyodont, which means they have two sets of teeth. The first set is the deciduous (also known as baby) teeth, which are shed and replaced by the second, permanent set.

Kittens are born with no teeth. At about 3 to 4 weeks of age, the deciduous teeth begin to erupt. By 6 weeks of age, all 26 deciduous teeth are present. At 4 to 5 months of age, the deciduous teeth are lost and the permanent teeth erupt. By 6 months of age, all of the adult teeth will have erupted.

Adult cats have four types of teeth: the incisors, the canines, the premolars and the molars. In the upper jaw (the maxilla), there are six small incisors, two canines (the “fangs”), three premolars and two molars. The incisors are used mainly for picking up objects and grooming. The canines are used for holding prey and for tearing when fighting. Premolars and molars function mainly for breaking food into small pieces, as well as for carrying and holding. The lower jaw (the mandible), contains the same number of incisors, canines and molars. However, there are only two premolars instead of three. Because the cat’s teeth are not designed for grinding food, much of what the cat eats is swallowed whole; this is especially true of dry cat food.

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