HEALTH & CARE

How to Brush Cat Teeth: The Importance of Regular Dental Care

A cat meowing to her owner
Jeremy Vaughn
Written by Jeremy Vaughn

We all know that cats are particularly clean creatures that can spend hours grooming themselves, but they do need human help when it comes to their dental hygiene. Introducing regular brushing from a young age plays a big role in improving the overall health and lifespan of your cat. Unfortunately, even though it’s for their own good, your cat may not make it easy for you. You may be wondering how to brush cat teeth and stay in one piece in the process. It is simple, and we will show you how.

If you start brushing your cat’s teeth from a young age, it will be easier because kittens are still impressionable; they will come to think of tooth-brushing as just another part of their routine if they grow up with it. Introducing this routine to an older cat can be a bit harder but not impossible. Better to start late than never.

veterinarian looking in cat's mouth

By routinely brushing your cat’s teeth, you will prevent the occurrence of plaque and tartar which can lead to serious health problems—not just dental problems, but also that of the heart, the eyes, the ears, etc. Incorporating this new habit into your everyday life can prove to be fun and enjoyable for you and your cat.

In this article, we will thoroughly explain how to brush your cat’s teeth, how often you need to do it, and why it is so important to do so. You will also learn about other things that can help keep your cat’s teeth clean and healthy aside from tooth-brushing.

The Importance of Regular Dental Care

When a cat’s teeth aren’t brushed regularly, bacteria in the mouth forms a plaque that accumulates on the surface of the teeth. If this plaque isn’t removed by brushing, it will turn into tartar that can only be removed by way of professional cleaning under anesthesia. A number of health problems can occur when tartar is accumulated. Some of them are very painful, and if the infection is spread to other organs, it can be lethal. Here are a few dental problems that you need to watch out for:

Gingivitis

This is the earliest stage of feline periodontal disease. It is characterized by inflamed gums, and it can be corrected with proper care. In the earliest phase of this disease, some plaque is present; the gums are red, but their surface is still smooth. In an advanced stage of this disease, there is plaque and tartar under the gums; the gums are very red, and their surface is irregular.

a cat with her mouth open

Plaque is made from the remnants of food, bacteria, and dead skin cells. It forms on clean teeth every 24 hours if they are not brushed. With the accumulation of plaque, the gums get inflamed and swollen, and this results in gingivitis. Symptoms include:

  • Flaming red gums

  • Bad breath

  • Different amounts of plaque and tartar on the surface of the teeth

The main cause for gingivitis is the accumulation of plaque, but it can also be the result of old age, poor dental hygiene, soft food, and crowded teeth. Gingivitis can be treated during a dental exam during which the cat is put under anesthesia. The veterinarian will remove any rotten teeth as well as all plaque and tartar from the teeth. The vet will advise the owner about the importance of regular tooth-brushing and the role it plays in the prevention of the development of plaque.

Periodontal Disease

This one is the inflammation of some or all of tooth’s roots. Gingivitis is the early stage of periodontal disease, and if left untreated, it leads to the accumulation of tartar under the gums that separates them from the teeth. This disease occurs when bacteria enter the spaces that are formed under the teeth; it can lead to bone loss and tissue destruction.

Vet examines teeth of a cat

This condition usually begins with inflammation of only one tooth; it progresses rapidly if not treated.

  • In stage 1 of periodontal disease, in one or more affected teeth the cat will have gingivitis, but will not yet suffer from the separation between gums and teeth.

  • In stage 2, the cat will have 25 percent of her teeth separated from the gums.

  • Stage 3 involves 25-30 percent separation.

  • In stage 4, more than 50 percent of the teeth will be separated from the gums.

  • In the final stage, the gum line will recede so much that the roots of the teeth will be visible.

In the early stages, treatment includes plaque removal and the prevention of the dreaded separation between the gums and the teeth. This is done by brushing the teeth daily and by professionally cleaning them.

A woman keeping her cats mouth open

In stages 2 and 3, the vet will have to conduct a cleaning of the space between the teeth and the gums routinely. They will also apply some antibiotic gel. In advanced stages, bone replacement and tissue regeneration procedures may be required.

Stomatitis

This is a serious and very painful inflammation of the cat’s mouth and gums. It causes ulcers to form on the lips, tongue, throat, and gums. In most cases, periodontal disease is the cause of stomatitis. It causes the cat’s immune system to attack its own tissue in response to a huge amount of bacteria in the mouth.

Vet examines teeth of a fluffy cat

This is a tremendously painful condition. In some cases, the affected cats can’t even open their mouth to eat. Signs of this disease include:

  • Drooling

  • Bad breath

  • Inability to eat

Affected cats are in so much pain that they have to be sedated in order to be examined by a veterinarian. When this condition is diagnosed, treatment includes the administration of antibiotics as well as pain and inflammation medicines. The key to managing this condition is by stopping the development of the periodontal disease.

Tooth Resorption

Is a condition in which the tooth’s structure gets destroyed from the inside out. The first signs that something is wrong occur near the gum line. In the first stages of this disease, it appears like the gums are growing into the tooth. In some cases, there appears to be a hole in the tooth. Resorptive lesions can vary in size from small to very big, and sometimes more than one tooth is affected.

a cat lying on the floor with her mouth open

Cats that are suffering from this condition have difficulties or refuse to eat; they also drool and may be grumpy all the time. Tooth resorption is diagnosed with X-ray, and treatment includes pain management medications and tooth extraction. It is still unknown if plaque buildup or something else is the cause of this disease, but it can be prevented with regular teeth brushing.

How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

Before we explain how to brush your cat’s teeth, you should know that this process takes some time. Usually, it would take three to four weeks before your cat would get accustomed to this routine. You should be armed with patience and be encouraging towards your cat during this time. To make tooth-brushing a fun activity for both you and your cat, you need to approach it like it is a game and treat your cat every time she behaves nicely.

A cat showing us her great teeths

It is recommended that you start this routine while your cat is still a kitten because they will adapt faster and proper dental care plays a big part in the overall health and lifespan of a cat. If your cat is older, it may be more difficult and time-consuming to accustom your cat to tooth-brushing, but you must try and persevere. In time, your cat will get used to it, and this will become a fun bonding routine.

Step #1: Prepare the tools

Before you get on with the actual brushing, first you need to buy a special toothbrush for cats. These are smaller, soft-bristled brushes that resemble children’s toothbrushes. Some owners prefer the fingertip type of brush that can be pulled over a finger, which makes it easier to use. You can try both and see what works best for you and your cat.

There is also a variety of dental sponges and pads that can be less invasive if your cat has gum problems. Dental sponges are disposable; they don’t provide the same amount of mechanical action as the toothbrush but are suitable for cats with sensitive gums. Like dental sponges, dental pads are a good choice for cats who have gum problems, but they will not clean your cat’s teeth as thoroughly as the toothbrush.

kitten lying down playing with a toothbrush

An important thing to know is that you can’t use human toothpaste to brush your cat’s teeth. They contain fluoride which is toxic to cats. There are a lot of cat-friendly toothpaste out there which tastes like chicken, tuna, malt, or some other flavor that is appealing to cats. Depending on your cat’s tastes, you may need to buy several of them before you find the one that your cat likes. When you have a cat-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste, equip yourself with a positive and playful attitude, lots of your cat’s favorite treats, and follow these steps on how to brush a cat’s teeth.

Step #2: Get your cat used to the taste of the toothpaste

There are a lot of different cat toothpaste flavor options. If your cat loves to eat chicken, it is best to choose a poultry-flavored toothpaste so your cat will enjoy the taste and associate the toothpaste with something nice.

Cat-Puke-Toothpaste-and a teethbrush

The best way to accustom your cat to the taste and the consistency of the toothpaste is to place a small bead of it on your finger and let your cat lick it. Praise your cat after she licks the toothpaste and reward her with a treat. Repeat this for the next few days until you see that your cat is growing accustomed to the taste of the toothpaste. If your cat doesn’t want to lick the toothpaste, you can try to dip your toothpaste-coated finger in tuna water. If that doesn’t work, it is best to try a different flavor.

Step #3: Acclimate your cat to having something in her mouth

The next step is to make your cat get used to having something placed against her teeth and gums. Place a bead of the toothpaste on your finger and gently rub it onto one of their canines as well as their gum line. Canines are large and easy to reach so you will have no difficulties while you practice. Praise your cat every time you do this and reward her after with a treat or a play session.

Step #4: Let your cat get used to the toothbrush

When you see that your cat is getting accustomed to having your finger pressed against her teeth and gums, it is time to get her acquainted with the toothbrush. Let your cat play with the toothbrush, rub it gently against your cat’s face, and place a bead of toothpaste onto the toothbrush and let your cat lick it.

a tabby orange cat with a teethbrush in her mouth

Continue doing this until you see your cat feeling comfortable around the toothbrush. Don’t forget to praise her and give her treats when she behaves nicely.

Step #5: The actual brushing

When you are confident that your cat doesn’t mind the toothbrush, toothpaste, and having something pressed against her teeth and gums anymore, you can proceed with the actual brushing.

  • Gently lift their upper lip and place the toothbrush against their canine and the gum line and move it back and forth.

  • For the first couple of days, brush only the canines. You can move on to the rest of the teeth later as the brushing gets easier with less resistance from your cat.

  • You don’t have to brush the inside surface of the teeth because your cat’s tongue movements make them relatively clean already.

  • The recommended duration for cat tooth-brushing is 30 seconds but don’t be discouraged if the first couple of tries don’t last that long. Brushing your cat’s teeth three to four times a week will do a good job in keeping them clean, but if your cat is already used to tooth-brushing then stick to it every day.

Some people find that their lap is a good place for this process, whereas others like to place their cat on the countertop. It is up to you to find a place where you and your cat will feel comfortable and at ease. Don’t forget to talk to your cat in a soothing voice while you brush her teeth. Praise her for a job well done and give her some treats when everything is over.

Step #6: Check for any problems

While brushing your cat’s teeth, it is important to pay attention to the state of her mouth and teeth. Check for any signs of bleeding gums, loose teeth, sores, lumps, redness, or inflamed gums. If you notice any of these things, schedule a dental exam with your veterinarian so the problem can be addressed ASAP. Any signs of plaque and tartar buildup will tell you that it’s time for a professional cleaning session of your cat’s teeth.

a man brushing his cat teeths

You should know that even if your adult cat’s teeth are brushed every day, she needs to go to the vet once a year to have her teeth professionally cleaned. This will prevent tartar buildup, gingivitis or dental diseases, and the development of any serious health problems. Cats that don’t receive proper dental care need to go to have their teeth professionally cleaned at least two times a year.

Step #7: Other things that can help keep your cat’s teeth clean

There is a variety of oral health toys, treats, additives to be added into drinking bowls, and special foods that are designed to scrub the teeth clean while your cat chews them. Dry food or kibble is better than wet food at keeping the teeth clean, and there is a special “dental diet” that has larger kibble than usual that helps in scraping plaque from the teeth.

A black and white cat sitting next to Cat Dental Treats

Oral health toys and treats work on the same principle. You can also add additives to your cat’s drinking bowl; they help to reduce the number of bacteria in her mouth.

Although all of these products are good, they are no match for regular brushing. You can choose any of them and combine it with regular tooth-brushing to make sure that you are doing everything you can to maintain the health of your cat’s teeth.

Wrap Up

You are now aware of the importance of making tooth-brushing a daily routine for your cat. We hope that after reading this article, you’re now confident that you can brush your cat’s teeth without getting you or your cat hurt in the process.

A beautiful white cat lying down having her mouth open

It is not hard to adjust a cat to tooth-brushing if you use the same approach you did when leash-training your cat or teaching her tricks—be patient and use plenty of treats. Soon enough, both you and your cat will look forward to your evening routine of dental care. Remember, better late than never.

How did you and your cat’s first tooth-brushing experience go? Please share any advice you might have about proper dental care for felines in the comments section below.

About the author
Jeremy Vaughn
Jeremy Vaughn

Jeremy Vaughn is a member of Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, who lives in Winnipeg. Creating new looks for cats and other pets is his passion. Jeremy shares his house with the wife and wonderful Siamese cat.

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