Do You Know How to Brush Cat Teeth Properly?
“Brushing cat teeth is not for the faint of heart!” laughs Dr. Laurie Coger, DVM, CVCP and owner of HealthyDogWorkshop.com.
Most cat owners probably imagine ending up with deep, long scratches on their arms when they stick a toothbrush past their kitty’s pearly white fangs. And if you approach this necessary part of pet health in the wrong way, that can certainly happen. But with the right technique and tools, you can easily learn how to brush cat teeth and make at-home cleanings a hiss-free experience.
Clean Teeth, Healthy Cat
It’s very important that you take care of your cat’s 30 teeth to prevent cat gum disease. Periodontal disease in cats begins with the buildup of food and bacteria. If not removed, these substances become plaque, which eventually hardens into tartar.
Two-thirds of each of your cat’s teeth is hidden under the gums. Tartar irritates your pet’s gums and results in inflammation, called gingivitis, which triggers reddening of the gums and bad breath. Once the area under the gumline becomes diseased, the supporting tissue around cat teeth becomes weak and inflamed. If untreated, this can lead to soft tissue and tooth loss, as well as bone damage.
Poor dental hygiene also has a systemic impact on pet health. The bacteria under the gumline activates the cat’s immune system, increasing inflammation throughout the body. Like studies performed on humans, research shows a link between poor oral health and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in cats. In humans, poor oral health is also linked to stroke, endocarditis, blood clots, rheumatoid arthritis, pulmonary disease and other serious conditions. The risks may be similar for pets. A clean mouth means a healthy cat!
Set the Stage for a Positive Experience
“Cats often hate having their mouths messed with!” warns Dr. Coger, who says it’s important to get your cat used to the idea before whipping out a toothbrush. Start by lifting her lips for short periods of time. Introduce the activity during a calm, quiet time, like when you’re already cuddling and petting her on the couch. To encourage your cat to open her mouth, dip your finger in chicken broth, wet cat food or another enticing flavor.
Speak in a soft, positive voice while you touch her mouth. Your cat takes cues from your body language and tone; if you sound stressed and project nervousness, she will reflect that. Stop touching her mouth before she gets fussy—even if that means you can only do it for a few seconds at first—to ensure she doesn’t associate the action with a negative experience. Over time, you’ll be able to build up her willingness to have her teeth cleaned.
Gather Your Supplies
“When brushing your cat’s teeth, it’s important to be organized and fast,” says Dr. Coger.
To brush your cat’s teeth, you’ll need a finger brush, a special cat toothbrush and a pet-safe toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste, baking soda or salt. These products can be harmful to your cat if swallowed. Cat toothpastes are non-foaming and offer delicious flavors like poultry, fish or malt.
Vetoquinol Vet Solutions Enzadent Enzymatic Poultry-Flavored Toothbrush Kit for Dogs & Cats contains both a traditional-style, dual-ended toothbrush and a handy finger brush. The toothbrush has a large and small head to accommodate pets of all sizes. It is also ergonomically designed, making proper brushing even easier. The toothpaste is chicken-flavored.
Virbac C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Cat Kit contains a toothbrush “packet” (similar to a finger brush) that helps warm cats up to the included toothbrush. The C.E.T. Cat Toothbrush is designed especially for feline mouths, which have very little room between their back teeth and cheeks. This toothbrush has long, soft bristles shaped into a pointed tuft. By placing just the tuft of the bristles between the cheek and the teeth, the back teeth can be brushed without causing discomfort. This product also comes with seafood-flavored toothpaste.
Sentry Petrodex Veterinary Strength Malt Toothpaste Dental Care Kit for Cats comes with both a toothbrush and finger brush. With a malt-flavored toothpaste, this kit helps reduce tartar and plaque buildup and fights bad breath.
Instructions for Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth
First, find a comfortable, quiet place. Show your cat the tooth brushing supplies. You may want to let her lick a small bit of the toothpaste to introduce the flavor.
Place your cat in your lap and lift your cat’s lips. Using the finger brush or the cat toothbrush, gently brush the cheek-facing surface of her teeth. Most cats will not allow you to brush the inside surface of the teeth. Be gentle but move quickly—you may want to start with just brushing the large canine teeth in the front of her mouth. As your cat accepts having these teeth brushed, slowly increase the number of teeth you are cleaning until you can use a cat toothbrush to reach the back upper molars.
For best results, you should brush your cat’s teeth every day. “Be content with a quick brush,” says Dr. Coger, who feels it’s important not to force brushing sessions on your cat. “It’s not worth it to damage your relationship with your cat,” she says.
Follow up at-home dental care with a yearly professional cat teeth cleaning.
Caitlin Boyle is a writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. Her hobbies including trail running and planning fantasy vacations. She has two dogs, Maggie and James, and a cat that believes he’s a dog, Ferguson.