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Cleaning cat‘s teeth with a toothbrush

The essentials

  • Cats need healthy teeth — Just like their human family, a kitty’s dental hygiene is very important.
  • Dental hygiene affects other areas of a kitty’s health — Healthy teeth and gums have a big impact on your cat’s overall quality of life long term.
  • It is possible to brush a cat’s teeth — While this may seem like an impossible task, there are strategies to help make brushing a cat’s teeth easier.

Many pet owners are familiar with dental hygiene for dogs, but it is just as important to make sure your cat’s mouth stays sparkling clean. In general, cats are at high risk for periodontal disease, oral cancer, tooth resorption, and caudal stomatitis . Periodontal disease is an especially high risk problem for kitties, and can lead to extreme dental pain, gum erosion, and tooth loss.

It may seem like an impossible task to make teeth brushing a regular part of your cat’s routine. But there are effective strategies to help introduce your kitty and get them comfortable with this daily habit.

Preparing to brush your cat’s teeth

A cat who’s never been introduced to a toothbrush before may have a bit of a learning curve to get used to the process. A slow introduction will help them get more comfortable with the process – and it will be far more effective than trying to stick a toothbrush in Kitty’s mouth from the get-go.

Choose the right toothbrush

Pick up a specially made toothbrush designed just for cats. These brushes can be purchased at many pet supplies stores, or you may be able to get them from your veterinarian. Cat toothbrushes are short-handle brushes with a small bristle head or a finger brush.

Pick the perfect toothpaste

Purchase cat-friendly toothpaste, which you can also buy at a pet store or from your vet. Special pet-friendly toothpastes come in flavors like chicken that are appealing to cats. Be sure to never use human toothpaste when brushing your cat’s teeth. Human toothpaste includes both fluoride and xylitol, which are toxic to cats.

Introduce the toothbrush and paste

Now comes the challenge: how to introduce your feline friend to a dental routine! It’s best to start small. Put a little toothpaste on your finger and let your cat get a good sniff or lick to try and get them interested in the taste. You can also put some toothpaste on a damp, clean washcloth or gauze and gently rub it on your cat’s teeth and gums. Do this each day for about a week to get your cat comfortable.

Gradually expose them to brushing

After your cat’s gotten comfy with the toothpaste on its own, it’s time to start introducing them to the toothbrush. Dab a little toothpaste on the toothbrush and let your cat lick the paste off the brush herself. If they’re hesitant to lick the brush directly, use the brush to put a little bit of paste near her mouth to get her used to it. Repeat this each day for another week.

Use positive reinforcement to reward

This is a super important step! To help your kitty associate tooth brushing as a positive experience, be sure to follow up every step with a reward. Pick your cat’s favorite thing, whether it’s playing with her favorite toy, getting her favorite treat, or whatever makes her the happiest.  Every time she successfully interacts with the toothpaste or toothbrush, follow it up with plenty of praise and a reward. This positive reinforcement will help Kitty associate tooth brushing as a good experience.

Step-by-step guide to brushing your cat’s teeth

After a couple of weeks of using these baby steps to get a cat acclimated to their new dental routine, cat parents are ready to attempt actual brushing.

1. Position the cat correctly

Maintain a gentle, loose grip with one hand resting on your cat’s head and the back of her neck. Don’t hold on too tightly or squeeze your cat, as this may aggravate them and make Kitty even less excited about having their teeth brushed. Be sure your other hand has a clear, easy path to your kitty’s mouth. Putting your cat up on a counter rather than kneeling or leaning over your kitty can make maintaining this position easier for you and your cat.

2. Apply the toothpaste on the toothbrush

Just a little dab’ll do here! A cat’s toothbrush is pretty small, and it doesn’t require a lot of toothpaste to get your cat’s teeth cleaned. Also, cat parents shouldn’t expect your cat’s toothpaste to foam in the same way a human’s toothpaste does. Fluoride, which is very toxic to cats, is the ingredient that causes human toothpaste to foam.

3. Open your cat’s mouth safely

Once Kitty is in position and the toothbrush is prepped, use the fingers of the hand holding your cat’s head to gently push their lips back from their teeth. Insert the toothbrush carefully into the space between her gums and cheek. Aim for the narrow crevices between your cat’s teeth and gums.

4. Use the proper brushing technique

When brushing your cat’s teeth, it’s less important what direction a pet parent moves the brush.  Just be sure to move the bristles around in gentle motions to disrupt the plaque. It’s also important to brush a cat’s teeth for at least 30 seconds, as even the most well-behaved kitties will lose patience. Work around both sides of the mouth on the upper and lower teeth. Only worry about brushing the outside of the teeth. Cats do a great job of cleaning the insides of their teeth with their rougher tongues. Also, cats are much more likely to fight their humans if they try to force the toothbrush inside their mouths.

5. Finish the brushing session

Unlike humans, cats don’t need their teeth brushed for a full two minutes. It’s also unlikely your kitty will be patient with having their teeth brushed for that long. Aim to brush all 30 teeth in your cat’s mouth, with about a second per tooth. Once you’ve brushed over the outside surfaces of your cat’s top and bottom teeth, give her lots of praise, affection, and a reward for a job well done.

Common challenges and solutions while brushing a cat’s teeth

We make it sound so easy, right? Of course, even with a slow introduction process and positive reinforcement, some kitties are just not going to get on board. So what is a pet owner to do?

Dealing with a resistant cat

If your kitty is having trouble getting interested in pet-friendly toothpaste, it may be as simple as trying a few different brands to find one she really likes. For especially picky cats, pet parents may need to resort to more creative solutions. Instead of toothpaste, start off with a treat your cat really loves, like peanut butter or canned tuna water.

Cats who struggle to get comfortable with a toothbrush may do better with a finger or a clean washcloth for a longer period of time before switching to a toothbrush. Cat parents could also try a Q-Tip, which is softer and may be easier for a cat to get used to. While not as effective at cleaning as a toothbrush, these options are better than not cleaning a cat’s teeth at all.

Handling an aggressive cat

No matter how hard a cat parent tries, some kitties just refuse to cooperate with teeth brushing. Some may even resort to aggressive behavior such as hissing, growling, scratching, or biting when it’s toothbrush time. Pet parents can hone in on positive reinforcement training techniques to help refocus their cat’s attention. When aggressive behavior persists, it may be time for a cat owner to consult a professional animal behaviorist or your veterinarian.

When to seek professional help

Adult cats or an older cat who has gone most of their lives without proper dental care may be at higher risk for poor oral health. While daily brushing can help a cat at any age, pet parents should watch out for warning signs of dental disease. Symptoms can include blood on a cat’s toothbrush, swelling of a cat’s gums, or significant distress or discomfort while brushing. Bring your cat in to the vet immediately for a dental checkup if any of these symptoms pop up.

Cats with more advanced dental issues may require a professional dental cleaning. Cleanings are performed by your veterinarian. These are routine procedures where a cat is given anesthesia  to allow your veterinarian to perform an in-depth cleaning of a feline’s teeth. Similar to a human teeth cleaning, a vet will use a pick to scrape plaque build up from a cat’s mouth.

Tips and tricks for maintaining your cat’s dental health

Brushing your cat’s teeth is the primary way for cat owners to help their kitties with oral health. There are also a couple other ways to help your cat keep their healthiest smile.

Use dental treats and chews — In addition to cleaning your kitty’s teeth, cat parents can make dental hygiene fun for Kitty with dental treats. These tasty snacks help promote healthy teeth and gums. There are a variety of dental chews and treats available for cats at pet supply stores. Remember the best products are Veterinary Oral Health Council approved.

Incorporate dental-friendly cat food — There are also a line of food products available to help your cat keep their chompers gleaming. Cat owners can also add liquid washes to a cat’s water dish to help prevent plaque buildup. Be sure to always consult your veterinarian before changing up your cat’s diet.

Schedule regular check ups — Keep your cat up to date on her vet visits. Regular check ups allow your cat’s veterinarian to monitor her teeth and gums. A veterinarian will be able to spot warning signs of dental disease and can help work with a pet owner to prevent it from progressing.

Keeping a kitty’s mouth clean and fresh is super important to their overall health and longevity. Cats are very prone to periodontal disease and oral cancers. Cat parents can help their feline friend’s dental hygiene with daily brushing. Dental treats, dental washes and cat food designed with dental hygiene in mind can also promote dental care for your cat.

Frequently asked questions

Are you supposed to brush your cat’s teeth?

Just like humans, cats also need to maintain proper dental hygiene. Regular brushing of your cat’s teeth every day is the most beneficial to them and helps your kitty accept teeth brushing as part of their daily routine.

What is the easiest way to brush a cat’s teeth?

Gently insert a cat toothbrush or finger brush into your kitty’s mouth in the space between her gums and cheek. Be sure to use a pet toothpaste. Move the bristles in gentle motions to disrupt the plaque. Aim for around 30 seconds, or at least try to brush all 30 of your cat’s teeth.

How do you brush your cat’s teeth when they don’t like it?

If your feline really struggles to get comfortable with tooth brushing, cat parents can use a clean, wet washcloth or gauze with pet-friendly toothpaste to help remove plaque from a cat’s teeth.

How do indoor cats clean their teeth?

Indoor cats don’t have ways to clean their teeth naturally, so they need help from their human parents to keep their teeth and gums healthy.