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

Brushing removes plaque, helps avoid the build-up of tartar, and is the best way to help prevent dental disease in your cat.

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

By two years of age, 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease.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. 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 it can calcify into tartar, a hard, yellow substance that encourages the development of more plaque and can lead to advanced dental disease.

As the bacteria spread, they can infect the surrounding gums, tissue and bones, and dental disease can progress. As dental disease becomes more severe, cats may 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, is to remove the plaque while it’s still soft before it hardens into tartar. The best way to do that is by brushing!

How often should I brush? 

Although it may seem like a challenge, you should brush 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 may 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 treat!

How do I brush my cat’s teeth?

To start, ask your veterinarian to recommend a toothbrush and toothpaste. Pet toothpastes are designed to be safe to swallow and are flavored 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 step 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 canine teeth. 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 canine teeth. From there, work backwards along the teeth, continuing the same gentle circular motion. You don’t need to clean the inside surfaces, as most plaque 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 their dental care.

Cat chew toys and dental chews can help reduce plaque and decrease the chances of gingivitis, however, their effectiveness at cleaning canine teeth 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 veterinarian for advice about the best options for your cat.

Veterinarians 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 support dental health.

The kibbles in Royal Canin’s Dental cat food, for example, are designed to scrub the teeth.

If you need advice about brushing your cat’s teeth or help with cat dental care, speak to your veterinarian. 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 veterinarian 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 Niemiec B, Gawor J, Nemec A, Clarke D, McLeod K, Tutt C, Gioso M, Steagall PV, Chandler M, Morgenegg G, Jouppi R, McLeod K. World Small Animal Veterinary Association Global Dental Guidelines. J Small Anim Pract. 2020 Jul;61(7):395-403
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' https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/publication/2016-02/7128.pdf

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