Dear cat owners,
Dental hygiene is a very important component of cat care. Dental disease can lead to infection, systemic disease, oral pain, and just bad breath in general. Cats’ teeth are exactly like ours so why wouldn’t we try to maintain them as we do ours? Think about how rancid your breath would be if you didn’t brush your teeth daily let alone regularly in your life. You might find your life to soon be relatively isolating. There is such a thing as gum and breath mints, but that doesn’t translate to cats. Fortunately, cats don’t eat anywhere near the amount of sugary things we do, but it also doesn’t prevent them from developing dental disease.
Yes, the idea of brushing a cat’s teeth can definitely be daunting. Cats are not the most compliant of pets so I get the hesitation (and laughs) of owners when I recommend teeth brushing. The image of someone wrestling with their cat’s mouth can be horrifying. And usually the reigning leader is the cat. However, there are tricks I have learned over the years of trying to get my own cats’ teeth brushed that can make the process less painful as well as promote dental hygiene.
Here are techniques to acclimate your cat to regular teeth brushing that have really worked for me broken up into different phases. What you’ll always need on hand at each step are treats that your cat really likes:
- Probing – Get your cat used to the idea of you just probing in and around his/her mouth. And if you just adopted a kitten, acclimating them early on is key! This means being able to open their mouth, and touch the gums without much resistance. You’ll want to immediately follow it (every. single. time.) with treats so that your cat starts to associate dental cleanings and a gentle probe of the mouth with treats. Continue to do this regularly until there is little pushback.
- Toothpaste – Once your kitty is fine with you probing in and around the mouth, take some cat toothpaste (yes, there is such a thing) that can range anywhere from tuna, seafood, chicken, or beef flavored and gently rub it against the gums. Again, give treats immediately afterwards to reward them. Repeat regularly or at minimum once a week for a few weeks to months until they are well acclimated. DO NOT use human toothpaste because remember, cats and dogs will swallow this toothpaste and ingestion of human grade toothpaste can be irritating to their tummies.
- Toothbrush – Once your cat is used to toothpaste, we have officially graduated to the toothbrush phase! Woohoo! Congrats on even getting this far because that is a feat in itself!!! Toothbrush selection is important. Sometimes cats don’t like a bulky pet toothbrush in their mouth so other options you can use are a toddler toothbrush or even gauze (because it has some grit to it). I’m not a fan of the finger brush because the bristles are too firm and can be too rough on the gums. You want to take the toothbrush WITH toothpaste and gently press it against your cat’s gums in different locations in the mouth (you don’t need to actively brush – it’s just the idea of a tool around their mouth that you’re trying to acclimate them to). Continue to follow it closely with treats. Repeat again once daily to once weekly for a few weeks to months before moving onto the next step.
- Brushing – When your cat finally tolerates a toothbrush in its mouth, proceed with brushing the teeth whilst continuing to give treats afterwards to reward your kitty’s positive behavior. Over time you should be able to brush at least one side of the mouth at a time with treats administered in between to continue to reinforce positive reinforcement.
Ideally you want to brush once a day. However, once a week will suffice as well. There are specific toothpastes that can be commonly found in pet stores or online that are flavored and aimed for pets in the event that they consume it. My preference and the one I use on my cats is C.E.T Enzymatic toothpaste.
Teeth brushing is a process that requires a bit of patience but you‘ll find that consistent regular brushing and dental hygiene goes a long way towards minimizing the likelihood of needing anesthetic dental cleanings and will promote long term health. Not only that, it gets your kitty used to the idea of you looking in the mouth and also gets YOU used to the idea of looking in your cat’s mouth. You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I show owners their kitty’s severe dental disease and the look of surprise on their faces because they play, hug, kiss, feed their cats but never bother to look in their mouth.
So spend the time and it’ll go a long way to helping your cat.
In my next post, I’ll talk about other tools you and techniques to ward off dental disease.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Theresa Loo