Should I (and Can I?) Brush My Cat’s Teeth?

Should I brush my cat’s teeth? The short answer is, yes. Over 50% of all cats over the age of three have developed periodontal disease as a result of plaque and calculus (tartar) buildup on their teeth.  Periodontal disease cannot be eliminated, but it can be slowed down considerably with home care, especially if you brush your cat’s teeth regularly. Periodontal disease  begins as gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums. This is most noticeable as a pink or red stripe along the gumline of the larger teeth in the back of the upper jaw. Plaque on your cat’s teeth thickens and mineralizes over time to form calculus (tartar), which sticks to the teeth very tightly and cannot be dislodged with brushing. The surface of the calculus is very rough, which allows even more plaque to form. Plaque buildup on the other hand can be slowed down with regular brushing, which then minimizes calculus (tartar) development. The idea is to remove the softer plaque before it turns into tightly bound calculus.


If left untreated, gingivitis will progress into  more severe forms of periodontitis that damage the supporting structures of the tooth, including the bone around the tooth and the periodontal ligament that holds the tooth in the bony socket.  This process is painful for your cat, and will lead to tooth loss over time. So, yes, it is wise to brush your cat’s teeth regularly, but we realize this is easier said than done. Unlike dogs, many cats will initially resist your efforts to brush their teeth.  


We recognize that some cats will never let you brush their teeth, no matter how hard you try. But with patience and persistence, most cats will let you do enough brushing to be of benefit. So, what are some steps you can take to make tooth brushing an easier experience for both you and your cat?


Tips For Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth 

1. Use the right tools

The easiest way to brush your cat’s teeth is with a specially designed cat-specific toothbrush and pet toothpaste. Smaller brushes made specifically for cats are much easier to use than the brushes designed for dogs. Human toothpaste is not made for pets and can irritate their digestive tract if swallowed. Keep in mind that human toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed and no one has figured out how to get pets to spit their toothpaste out! 🙂  Pet toothpastes also come in a variety of flavors that are desirable to cats, which helps to make the brushing process easier and more pleasurable for your pet. While each cat has their own individual taste preferences, the poultry, seafood and chicken flavors seem to have the best acceptance in cats. We recommend the CET brand of pet toothpastes made by Virbac because of the wide variety of flavors and their dual enzyme system that helps control plaque forming bacteria. They also make a small angled toothbrush designed specifically for use in cats.


2. Start young

Earlier is always better when it comes to acclimating your cat to tooth brushing. Kittens are usually less resistant to brushing, and let you establish a regular home care routine. 


3. Find a comfortable place

The environment you’re in while brushing can make a big difference in your overall brushing experience. Find a quiet place where your cat is comfortable, such as your lap or their favorite resting spot to make the process easier. 


4. Start slow

In the beginning just put a little of the toothpaste on the brush and let your cat lick it off. You might need to try several different flavors until you find one that they like. Once they are licking the toothpaste off the brush, place the end of the brush slightly into the mouth while they lick it off. You might need to do this for a couple weeks until they focus on the toothpaste as a treat and stop worrying about the fact it is on a toothbrush that is in their mouth.


5. Use a gentle brushing technique

Most cats won’t really allow you to open up their mouth wide enough to brush the inside surfaces of their teeth. If your cat does, count yourself lucky. Focus on cleaning the outside, or cheek-facing surfaces of the teeth; especially the teeth in the upper jaw. You don’t need to pull the lips back at all if you are using a small brush made for cats, you can simply slide the brush inside the cheek. Make sure you brush the larger back teeth and the canines first since they tend to have plaque and calculus (tartar) build up more quickly than any other teeth. Your cat might not allow you to brush for very long, so focus on these most important teeth first. 


6. Be Realistic

Some cats will simply never let you brush their teeth, period. While brushing is very beneficial for your cat’s dental health, it is not worth battling your cat to get it done. You and your cat should have a good relationship; we don’t want them to run and hide whenever they see you coming with the brushing supplies. Having said that, with patience and a gentle approach, over half of cats will allow some level of brushing.


Professional Teeth Cleaning for Cats

In addition to regular brushing, your cat should also have regular visits with a veterinary dentist to have his or her teeth professionally cleaned to help protect against periodontal disease.


Veterinary Dentist in Montana

Dr. Tony Woodward is the only board-certified veterinary dentist in all of Montana and is highly experienced in treating dental disease—and the good news is that you don’t need a referral to have your pet seen by Dr. Woodward. If you suspect that your cat has a dental infection, all you need to do is call our Bozeman office and schedule an appointment. Dr. Woodward is on-site here in Bozeman full-time to handle all of your cat’s dental needs.

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