Although cat underbites may be comical and adorable, when you notice it in your own cat it can be something that gives you cause for concern. This is particularly true when it comes to kittens; new owners may not understand the background of the underbite, genetics, and how in some cases it can be problematic.
Can cats have underbite? Most cats will develop a slight underbite as they grow older as a breed characteristic. In fact, it would be strange if your cat has no sign of an underbite at all. TICA breeding standards states cats should have a slight undershot jaw or underbite.
For reference, an undershot jaw is when the lower jaw extends out slightly more than the upper jaw, creating the classic cat underbite look that has become popular with owners. You can read more about it under the breed standard documentation for cats.
Cat underbite overview
As a breed known for having several problematic health issues, nobody can blame you for being that little more protective over any perceived abnormality in your cat; and this isn’t an unusual response when owners perceive a larger underbite than normal.
When should you be worried about your cat's underbite though? I spoke to my own vet friend, and here’s what she said to me:
“In the majority of cases, a small underbite should not cause any health problems for a cat. The time it can become a problem is whether it’s interfering with your cat’s ability to function normally; like eating, drinking, or their underbite causes injuries when chewing”
Cat underbite problems
Some owners will even be concerned at the first sign of just a little underbite in their kitten. It’s understandable, as cats are renowned as having a wide range of dental issues.
For example, cats are more susceptible to tooth decay, they have a more compressed jawbone, their teeth are prone to overcrowding and they are also more likely to develop plaque.
Evidently, at-home dental care are regular trips to the vet are vital for your cat’s oral health, but for the most part you shouldn’t worry about them developing small underbites.
Most cats are born with a level bite, which is where the upper incisors and lower incisors meet edge-to-edge. As your cat grows, you can expect to see the development of a slight underbite. This is because a cat’s lower jaw often continues to grow even after their upper jaw has reached development.
Do cat underbites get worse with age?
Underbites in cats are only a problem if they start in kittenhood and continue to develop beyond what is expected.
If your cat has a noticeable underbite as a kitten, you should keep a close eye on how it develops and take them to the vets if you believe it has become too pronounced.
This is because extreme underbites can lead to issues with eating and other kinds of jaw discomfort for your cat.
Is the cat underbite genetic?
Cats with a pronounced underbite are also problematic if you were planning on using your cat for breeding. With underbites being a genetic trait, they pass down from generation to generation. This faulty gene will, in turn, impact any litter your cat produces.
The rest of this article will focus specifically on significant underbites and oral misalignments in your cat. Although I cannot speak from a veterinary or medical standpoint, if you want to learn more about underbites in cats, keep reading.
What is feline malocclusion?
Occlusion is the clinical term used to describe how a cat's teeth align with each another. Whilst ‘normal’ occlusion in most cat breeds is when the upper (maxillary) incisors slightly overlap the lower (mandibular) incisors, we have established that the opposite is true in cats.
For cats and other flat-faced breeds, it is typical for the mandibular incisors to slightly overlap the maxillary incisors, which then causes a slight underbite. In other words, their abnormal mouth structure is commonly thought to be normal.
When a cat is diagnosed as having feline malocclusion, this usually means that they have abnormal teeth alignment. Typically, there are two kinds of malocclusion: dental and skeletal.
Dental malocclusion is when the teeth themselves are misaligned, whilst skeletal malocclusion occurs when teeth are misaligned as a result of an abnormal jaw alignment.
Although cats can have either, a reason malocclusion is more common in their breed is because they are born with a more compressed jawbone, with the upper and lower jaw often growing and developing at different rates.
So, a cat’s underbite can be classified as a skeletal malocclusion, as the underlying issue is more often than not their abnormal jaw structure making it difficult for teeth to develop normally.
Medically, underbites are referred to as mandibular mislocution – a ‘type 3’ skeletal malocclusion. But it’s important to remember that this isn’t as scary as it sounds… each and every cat is different, so if they have this condition, it will impact them in different degrees.
A lot of the time, cat underbites don’t require any treatment at all.
However, it is important to treat underbites in your cat if it causes them pain, unpleasant symptoms or difficulty in their everyday life.
Signs and symptoms
Apart from the obvious visual difference, there are several signs and symptoms that can help you to identify whether your kitten has an underbite.
Crucially, these other symptoms can help to indicate whether the underbite is serious enough to be treated, which is especially useful if the underbite itself is perhaps too subtle to be noticed.
Common signs of underbites in kittens include:
- Periodontal diseases.
- Difficulty chewing and picking up food.
- Wear on the teeth.
- Favouring larger chunks of food over smaller ones.
- Mouth injuries.
- Soft-tissue defects from tooth contact on the palate and floor of the mouth.
- A build-up of plaque on the teeth.
- Bone fractures.
Although typical underbites in cats don’t require treatment, there are options for treating more pronounced cases. Your vet may refer you to a specialist, extract some of your cat’s teeth to avoid overcrowding or, as in more recent cases, give your cat their very own ‘catty braces’!
Oftentimes, however, prevention of these things is better than cure. If your vet offers your cat dental x-rays, you should definitely take it up – they’ll be able to pick up on any underbites before physical symptoms develop.
You should also take care of your cat’s dental hygiene at home, regularly brushing their teeth to reduce the build-up of plaque and tartar.
When it comes to cats and their underbites, nine times out of ten you really have nothing to worry about.
Most cats have a small underbite – with their facial/jaw structure being the way it is, a slight underbite is inevitable.
However, I am only speaking as a pet-owner. It is important to consult your vet if you have any concerns.
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