Most everyone has played tug of war with a puppy to suddenly find a tooth stuck in the toy that was the center of the battle. However, not as many people have ever found, or even seen, kitten baby teeth. So, do kittens lose baby teeth? Do they even HAVE baby teeth?
Well, the short answer is YES, they do have — and lose — baby teeth. But for some more interesting kitten tooth trivia, read on!
Are kittens born with teeth?
Much like humans, kittens are indeed born without teeth. One major reason for this is that they nurse from their mother. Imagine how painful that would be for Mom if each clumsy kitten in a litter of 8 or 10 had a mouth full of sharp baby teeth as they are learning how to suckle? That wouldn’t end well for mom, or in the long run, the kittens, either.
After two to three weeks, once the kittens have had some “practice”, the baby teeth — also called deciduous teeth — start to erupt. They have all of their baby teeth by the age of about 7 weeks, just in time for them to start to wean onto more solid foods. Isn’t nature amazing how the timing lines up perfectly? By the age of 8 weeks, which is when kittens have generally matured enough to be able to eat cat food, they will have 26 teeth.
When do kittens lose their baby teeth?
Kittens are not as dramatic about losing baby teeth as puppies are. In fact, you almost never find a kitten chewing on furniture legs, shoes, people’s hands, or toys as they move through the teething process. Just like adult cats, kittens are more subtle about what they do. The deciduous baby teeth start to fall out at about 3 months of age as they are replaced by the adult teeth.
Most commonly, kitten swallow these teeth as they fall out — so generally, no one finds baby teeth stuck in toys or laying around the house, as is common with puppies. Once in awhile a tooth might be found in a food or water bowl, but some people that have had cats all of their lives have never even seen a kitten tooth (except while attached to the kitten, of course!).
How do deciduous teeth differ from the adult teeth?
Baby teeth are generally smaller, often sharper, and a slightly whiter color than adult cat teeth. There are also fewer of them – 26 baby teeth as opposed to 30 teeth in the adult cat. These teeth can afford to be more delicate and fragile, as the kitten usually isn’t hunting aggressively or hunting large prey at this age – they are just learning to hunt. As they perfect their hunting skills — at the age of 6 to 7 months — the remaining baby teeth have fallen out and are replaced by the adult teeth. Once again, nature has the timing down perfectly!
Can anything go wrong in the process of transitioning from baby teeth to adult teeth?
Fortunately, kittens are usually pretty adept at losing and replacing their teeth, but occasionally, things do go wrong. The two most commonly seen problems are 1) malocclusions and 2) retained deciduous teeth.
Malocclusions are when the top and bottom teeth do not fit together cleanly as designed. If you close your mouth, you can feel with your tongue that the upper jaw is slightly larger than the lower jaw – your top teeth should close outside of your bottom teeth, and this is also the case with cats. Sometimes, particularly with “brachycephalic” breeds (cats like Persians and Himalayans that have very short faces), the teeth do not meet the way they should, and the result is a malocclusion. Sometimes this is severe enough to require treatment, and occasionally teeth need to be extracted to help fit the jaws together.
Retained Deciduous Teeth
Another problem is when the baby teeth do not fall out properly, but stay in place as the adult teeth grow in. This can crowd the permanent teeth severely, and cause plaque and tartar to build up between the teeth – shifting the adult tooth out of line and damaging it. In this case, the baby teeth need to be extracted.
Fortunately, as your kitten grows and sees the veterinarian regularly for kitten exams and vaccines, they will check the teeth, the alignment of the teeth, and look for the development of any problems in the mouth. These are most easily corrected when found early.
Cat teeth look funny compared to my dog’s teeth. Why is that?
Cats and kittens are “obligate carnivores,” meaning that their system has evolved to process only meat. Cat teeth, surprisingly enough, are not designed to chew. Have you ever noticed if your cat eats dry food that it isn’t chewed when they vomit it up? For the most part, cats just don’t chew. Their teeth are designed to grab, hold and kill prey with the large canine “fang” teeth; and then rip off bite sized chunks with the sharp, pointed shearing teeth in the back. Cats do not have any flat teeth, like our molars, which are designed to chew and grind food. All of their teeth are slender and pointed. Once again, nature has created teeth most suited to the diet the animal should be eating.
Cat mouths — from the day of birth right up through adulthood — are optimally designed for the appropriate diet for the animal; with the teeth changing with the lifestage from no teeth at all to small, slender teeth through to the aggressive hunting teeth of an adult animal. Pretty amazing evolution from start to finish!