Oral hygiene is a priority for most pet owners—most of us brush our teeth twice a day to minimize the risk of cavities and gum disease. Despite this being part of our everyday routine, a lot of pet owners fail to also keep up with their pet’s oral hygiene.
If you own a cat, you’ve probably noticed its stinky “kitty breath” and wondered if there was something to be done about it. As it turns out, there is! You can—and should—brush your cat’s teeth just like you brush your own.
Adult cats have 30 teeth they use to eat and pick up toys, but most cats that live in houses lack access to the materials that help keep their teeth clean in the wild. This means the responsibility to clean their teeth falls on you, the cat owner.
With oral infections and gum diseases quickly becoming some of the most common problems in cats, it’s important to begin implementing good brushing habits for your feline friend as soon as possible.
Why you should brush your cat’s teeth
There are numerous benefits to brushing your cat’s teeth regularly. Most importantly, good dental hygiene can help keep your cat healthy and pain-free throughout its lifetime. Without regular brushing, plaque and tartar can build up on your cat’s teeth and around its gums, causing tooth decay and periodontal disease.
Veterinary teeth cleanings are helpful in preventing dental diseases, but don’t occur often enough to really slow an infection or disease over time. If left untreated, oral infections and diseases can actually spread bacteria to other parts of your cat’s body, leading to other health problems like heart and kidney disease, which can shorten your cat’s life.
Additionally, dental surgery or medication to stop infections can add up over time. Brushing your cat’s teeth at home can help you save money.
Here are some common signs of poor dental hygiene in cats:
- Consistently foul breath
- Tartar buildup
- Red, inflamed gums
- Pale gums
- Bleeding gums
- Tooth loss
- Refusal to eat
How to brush your cat’s teeth
Brushing your cat’s teeth may seem impossible, but with some patience and determination, it can easily become a daily routine for both of you. It is much easier to train a kitten to get used to this and formulate a life-long habit, but all hope is not lost if you have an older cat; it just might take some more patience and rewarding.
To start, get a special cat toothbrush or a finger brush. These will usually be smaller and more flexible to make the process more comfortable for your cat’s mouth. Also pick up some cat toothpaste, which is usually fish or chicken flavored, so your cat will love the taste. Never use human toothpaste on pets because it can make them very sick.
When you have your supplies ready, hold your cat in your lap and get it relaxed. If it resists, it might also help to wrap your cat up in a towel or blanket. Lift one side of its lip and begin brushing softly, making sure to loosen food particles that are near the gum line. Repeat this step on the other side, then on the bottom teeth.
Once you’ve brushed the entire mouth, you can reward your cat if it is still in training, or just let your cat go. To make it even easier for you, cats don’t need to rinse after brushing because the toothpaste won’t hurt your cat. However, your cat might want to drink some water after to wash the food particles and toothpaste down.
More feline oral hygiene tips
Ideally, you should brush your cat’s teeth daily. If that routine is not possible, try for once or a few times a week. You should also visit a vet once a year to get deep cleanings and to have them check for signs of dental diseases. This is typically done during your cat’s routine checkup.
For cats that resist and make it nearly impossible to get near their teeth, take the steps slowly. Get your cat used to the taste of the toothbrush and toothpaste for a while, then get it used to having its lips pulled back to expose its teeth. Just take these steps one at a time until your cat will eventually sit still long enough for you to get a good brush in.
Aside from brushing, there are also other things you can do to promote good dental hygiene. Feed your cat a mixture of wet and dry foods to help them use their teeth regularly and reduce tartar. You can also add an oral hygiene supplement or dental treats to your cat’s daily routine.
Once the routine has been established, brushing your cat’s teeth should be quick and easy for both of you every day. Don’t let your cat’s oral hygiene fall to the wayside—your cat’s teeth and gums (and your nose!) will thank you.