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How to Brush Your Cat's Teeth

  • 6 min read

Have you ever been cuddling up with your snoring cat, only to smell their breath and wish you hadn’t? There’s a difference between “just finished up a snack” kitty breath and “wow, that can’t be right” stinky breath and unfortunately, too many cats suffer from dental issues like gingivitis and dental disease. Your cat’s oral health is the window into their overall wellbeing, so it’s important to take care of those pearly whites. 

Many cat owners wonder what the best way is to clean their cat’s teeth. Here, we want to first explain the importance of brushing your cat’s teeth. Then, we will share some ways to do just that!

Do I Need to Brush My Cat’s Teeth?

Just like humans, it’s important for cats to have clean teeth and mouths to keep plague and dental disease at bay. In the wild, cats “brush” their teeth by chewing on the bones of their prey, eating rough grass, and even chewing on tree bark!

Because our little companions are much more spoiled than that, it’s our responsibility to make sure our cat’s mouth stays clean. It’s important to brush your cat’s teeth regularly to prevent the build-up of plaque and tartar, which can lead to periodontal disease and a host of other conditions. In fact, periodontal disease can increase the risk of heart, liver, and kidney disease in cats. 

How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

Luckily, brushing your cat’s teeth doesn’t have to be difficult! In fact, the more you do it, the easier it will get. Here, we share some tips on how to brush your cat’s teeth at home, as well as some other options to help prevent dental diseases. 

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth at Home

The most effective way to take care of your cat’s teeth is to regularly brush them at home. While it’s easier to start this habit when they’re young, you can incorporate it into your adult cat’s existing routine with a little bit of patience. 

To brush your cat’s teeth at home, you’ll need:

  • A toothbrush, either one made especially for cats or a toothbrush designed for children with softer bristles
  • A cat toothpaste. These toothpaste options are made with tasty ingredients like chicken or tuna!

If you don’t want to use a toothbrush, you can also look for a finger brush, which is a toothbrush-like scrubber that you can put on the end of your finger. 

Once you have your materials, it’s time to train your kitty to love getting their teeth brushed! First, earn their trust by putting a little bit of cat toothpaste on your finger so they get used to the taste. Some cats will love the taste of the toothpaste!

Once they are familiar with the toothpaste, move on to putting a little bit on the toothbrush so they get used to the next step. 

Now, it’s time to practice holding your cat to brush their teeth. Hold them like you would when you’re doing other things, like clipping their nails, with their back toward you. This is less confrontational and also gives you more control. 

Then, gently open your cat’s mouth, tilt their head upwards, and use your fingers to gently move their upper and lower lips as you need to. Using your brush, gently brush over the teeth using small, circular motions, starting from the back. When you first start brushing your cat’s teeth, start slow and only do about 10 seconds on each side (or as long as your kitty will tolerate!). As you both get more comfortable, ramp up the time to 30 seconds or so to make sure you’re really getting everything off their teeth. The trick is to be patient and not rush anything. 

Like all cat hygiene tasks, the key is to remain calm and ease your cat into getting their teeth brushed. And don’t feel like you have to brush all their teeth in one sitting. Only brush for as long as your cat can tolerate it before you irritate them. Then, when both you and your cat re in good moods, try again for the rest of the teeth. 

Getting a Professional Cleaning

Although yourcat may groom their fur themself, their mouth needs to be cleaned regularly too. If the thought of brushing your cat’s teeth makes you want to run and hide, you can also have your veterinarian clean them regularly. This is a great option if you have to take your cat to the vet anyway, instead of making a separate trip. 

At the vet, there are two kinds of dental hygiene options. The first is a regular brushing, which a vet or groomer can do. This pretty much includes the same tooth brushing process we described above but done by a professional. 

The other option is for a deeper clean. This might be the best option for cats who have never had their teeth brushed or it’s been too long. During this process, your vet will do an oral exam to look for any decay, rotting, or disease. They have to take x-rays to check the health of each tooth and to see if any need to be extracted. During this time, your cat is under anesthesia. 

These cleanings are more involved (and costly), which is why many cat owners recommend doing small, more frequent brushings to avoid a big trip to the vet. Once you get the hang of it, you should be able to brush your cat’s teeth in 30 seconds or so. 

How Often Should I Brush My Cat’s Teeth?

As with changing your cat litter box, there’s no absolute rule on how often you should brush your cat’s teeth because it depends on their age, health history, and past dental history. A good rule of thumb is to brush your cat’s teeth about once a week, sometimes more if they need it. Although this might sound like a lot, it will save you time and money in the long-run because you won’t have to worry about a large vet bill.

Other Ways to Keep Your Cat’s Teeth Clean

In addition to the methods above, there are a few other things you can do to ensure that your cat’s teeth stay clean in between brushings:

  • Feed a high-quality diet - Diet plays a role in your kitty’s health in everything from their teeth to the tips of their toes. A high-quality, protein-rich diet gives your cat all the nutrients it needs to have a clean mouth. In addition, meat products help keep the pH of their mouth at a healthy level. Lastly, foods high in protein keep your kitty’s mouth moist, meaning that it will stay cleaner for longer. 
  • Try dental treats - While dental treats don’t do as good of a job as actually brushing your cat’s teeth, they’re still something you can use in between brushings. These treats are designed with a rough exterior that can help scrape the plaque off your cat’s teeth. Adding dry food into their diet can also help.
  • Talk to your vet - If you have a kitty that struggles with perpetual dental healthoral issues, talk to your vet about options like a dental diet. There are prescription foods specially formulated to help control plaque and tartar. This is especially helpful for owners who can’t brush their kitty’s teeth regularly. 

Conclusion

While cats naturally keep themselves very clean, they need our help to do the same for their teeth. Brushing your cat’s teeth doesn’t have to be hard, especially if you work it into your routine. To brush your cat’s teeth, gently hold their head upwards and, using a soft toothbrush, brush in small circles. Start slowly by only doing a few seconds and then gradually work your way up as you and your kitty become more comfortable with your new dental hygiene habit. 

In addition to brushing, you can talk to your vet about a special “dental diet”, adding more dry or wet food into their diet, or trying dental treats designed to fight plaque and tartar. Above all, respect your kitty and always be gentle when introducing new routines. 

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