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.
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.
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.
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'