Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: A Step-By-Step Guide

Owner cleaning their cat's teeth
Brushing removes plaque, helps prevent the build-up of tartar, and is the single best defence your cat has against dental disease.

If there’s one health condition a cat is likely to be affected by, it's dental disease. 

It’s thought that 90% of cats over the age of 1 year experience the condition in some form.1 Yet it’s estimated that 73% of cat owners never brush their cat’s teeth.2

While brushing a cat’s teeth can be awkward, it’s important for their health and can make a significant difference to their quality of life. In this guide, we’ll look at brushing methods and some of the additional dental products that can support your cat’s oral health. 

Why do I need to brush my cat's teeth?

Brushing removes plaque, an invisible film of food and bacteria that forms on your cat’s teeth. If you don’t remove plaque within 24 hours, it calcifies into tartar, a hard, yellow substance that encourages the development of more plaque and leads to advanced dental disease.

As the bacteria spread to infect the surrounding gums, tissue and bones, dental disease progresses. During this period of time, a cat will experience bad breath, difficulty chewing, painful bleeding of the gums, and tooth loss. The infection may even spread to other parts of the body. 

The most effective way to prevent dental disease, gingivitis and periodontal disease, is to remove the bacteria while it’s still soft before the plaque hardens into tartar. And the best way to do that is by brushing!

How often should I brush? 

Although it may seem like a challenge, you should clean your cat’s teeth every day. 

Is there a good time to start brushing my cat's teeth?

If you can familiarize your cat to the sensation of brushing while they’re still a kitten, they should be more open to having their teeth cleaned as an adult. Kitten teething can be painful and stressful, so you may find it’s best to wait until your kitten’s adult teeth have formed before introducing them to a toothbrush. 

If your cat is already an adult, it may take several months before they feel comfortable with brushing. Just remember to be patient, consistent, and give them plenty of praise. You could even reward their cooperation with a healthy snack!

How do I brush my cat’s teeth?

To start, ask your vet to recommend a toothbrush and toothpaste. Pet toothpastes are designed to be safe to swallow and are flavoured to encourage brushing. Never feed your cat human toothpaste as it may contain ingredients that are toxic for cats. 

Illustration of a cats head

Step 1

Your early sessions should be about making your cat feel comfortable. Find a time when they’re calm and the house is quiet, then handle their mouth and muzzle area for a few seconds before ending with lots of praise. Repeat this stage on a regular basis, until your cat is at ease with being handled.


Illustration of toothpaste

Step 2

Next, place a small amount of pet toothpaste on your finger. Raise your cat’s lip and gently rub the paste into their fang. Slowly work your finger around their entire mouth, rubbing the gums and teeth.


Illustration of a toothbrush

Step 3

If they’re comfortable with brushing by hand, you can introduce the toothbrush. Prepare the brush by wetting the bristles, drawing a line of toothpaste, and then using your finger to press the paste into the bristles.


Illustration of a toothbrush moving round

Step 4

With the toothbrush held like a pen, raise your cat’s lip and use a gentle circular motion to clean the fang. From there, work backwards along the teeth, continuing the same gentle circular motion. You don’t need to clean the inside surfaces, as most tartar forms on the outside of the teeth.


Illustration of a toothbrush moving round

Step 5

Repeat step 4 for the bottom teeth. Over time, you can increase the amount of pressure you apply to each tooth and the length of each session.

Illustration of a toothbrush moving up and down

Step 6

To brush your cat’s front teeth, hold their muzzle, raise the upper lip, and then make an up and down motion with the toothbrush.

Illustration of a cat head

Step 7

Don’t forget to end every session with lots of praise. 

Are there alternatives to brushing?

While brushing is the best way of cleaning cat teeth, there are some additional solutions that can aid your cat’s dental care. 

Cat chew toys and dental chews can help reduce plaque and decrease the chances of gingivitis, however, their effectiveness at cleaning fangs and incisors is limited. Some cat dental chews may also cause dietary upset, while those composed of nylon or bone risk causing tooth fractures. If in doubt, ask your vet for advice about the best options for your cat. 

Vets will sometimes recommend a special dental food as a proactive measure against dental disease and for cats that are particularly susceptible to gingivitis or periodontal disease. These diets include plaque and tartar reducing nutrients and aid with teeth cleaning.

The kibbles in Royal Canin’s Dental cat food, for example, are designed to scrub the teeth and contain nutrients with antibacterial and anti-adhesive properties that are clinically proven to support oral health.

If you need advice about brushing your cat’s teeth or help with cat dental care, speak to your vet. The veterinarian is your cat's dentist and can perform a full oral examination and recommend appropriate treatments. 

Find a veterinarian 


Remember that dental disease is painful. If your cat is suffering from gingivitis or periodontal disease, they will need attention from your vet before you can begin home treatments. 

You can learn how to identify dental disease in our next article: Spotting the Signs of Dental Disease in Cats.


References:

1 Fernandes et al. 2012, Girard et al. 2009, Queck et al. 2018, Stella et al. 2018.

2 Reid, I., 2015. 'Most (95%) Pet Owners Brush Their Own Teeth Daily, But Few Brush Their Dog’s (8%) or Cat’s (4%) Teeth on a Daily Basis'