Most cats are meticulous groomers. However, one thing that’s not included in their self-grooming routine is oral hygiene. That’s right, our kitties aren’t trying to impress anyone with their dazzling smiles, and even if that mattered to them, nature didn’t give them the ability to brush their own teeth. That means that your cat’s oral health is up to you.
The first thing you might ask yourself is, “Why should I clean my cat’s teeth?” Believe it or not, there are some very good reasons.
Why Clean Your Cat’s Teeth?
Cats in the wild don’t need to worry about dental hygiene because their diet does the job for them. The bones and skin that they chew on scrape the plaque off of their teeth before it has a chance to cause any oral health issues. However, this is not the case for our kitties. Even though they are getting the nutrients they need from their kibble or canned cat food, these foods just don’t clean their teeth like a diet of raw mouse might. This allows plaque and tartar to build up.
Will a little tartar really hurt a cat? It can. Our cat’s dental health runs the risk of issues that we ourselves try to avoid (like gingivitis). And as it can in humans, bacteria from periodontal (gum) disease can affect other organs in our cats and cause illness. Not to mention the discomfort they could experience from common oral health issues like diseased gums or tooth decay.
The benefits of cleaning your cat’s teeth are clear. The next thing you might wonder is, “Will I really be able to clean my cat’s teeth without requiring stitches?” You will if you approach it the right way.
How to Clean Your Cat’s Teeth
Before beginning a tooth-cleaning routine, it’s important to get the okay from your veterinarian, since even kittens can have dental issues that need to be resolved before tooth brushing is advisable. Once the veterinarian has given the okay, the only one left to worry about is your cat, who can be a little more difficult to convince!
Step 1: Break Her in Slowly
No self-respecting cat is going to sit there with her mouth opened wide while you come at her with a toothbrush. The key to successfully brushing your cat’s teeth is to break her in gradually.
For starters, give your cat a teeth and gum massage. Wait until your feline friend is in a calm, relaxed mood, and start by gently lifting her lips and massaging your kitty’s gums and teeth for a few seconds with just your finger. Don’t try to give her whole mouth a rub-down. You may only make contact with one or two teeth the first few times you try this. The important thing is to stop before she has a chance to become too annoyed.Follow this brief teeth-and-gum massage with praise and a treat. As her tolerance for this experience increases, gradually increase the length of time that you spend.
Step 2: Introduce Toothpaste
After your cat has become used to having you touch her mouth, you can begin to introduce a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Never use your own toothpaste to clean your cat’s teeth—it contains ingredients that would be harmful to your kitty if she swallowed it (which she is almost guaranteed to do). In addition, as much as minty fresh breath appeals to us pet parents, our feline friends prefer their own variety of kitty toothpaste, which is available in flavors such as poultry or beef.
To start with, let your cat lick a small dab of the toothpaste off your finger. If you have a finicky feline on your hands, try a few flavors before you find one that appeals to her.
Step 3: Introduce a Toothbrush
Once you have found a toothpaste that works, all that’s left is finding the right toothbrush. Obviously, it would be a mistaketo use the same kind of brush that you use for yourself. The bristles would be too stiff and could damage your kitty’s delicate gums.
Many pet parents find that using a finger brush meant for kitties is the easiest method. Others like to just use a small square of soft gauze. If you want to try out a couple of styles of toothbrushes, this dental kit for cats comes with a brush specially designed for kitties, plus a finger brush and toothpaste.
Another option is a dental gel. Most of these can be applied with either your finger or a toothbrush. You can choose whether to do a teeth-and-gum massage for your cat or not—either way, it does the hard part for you!
Put a small dab of toothpaste on your cleaning tool of choice, and brush the teeth along the gum line. Work quickly, and stop before your cat shows signs of irritation. The more your cat enjoys this experience, the more likely she will be to allow you to continue brushing their teeth regularly in the future.
It may take weeks before your cat will tolerate having all of her teeth cleaned in one sitting, and sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, a cat just can’t get used to having her mouth handled. She may react by biting or scratching, or she may show other signs that the experience is just too stressful for her.
The good news is that, even if this is the case with your kitty, you do not have to make the choice between sacrificing her teeth or your fingers. We’ve listed a few options to help with your cat’s dental health in this article, like specially-designed chew toys, that don’t involve putting your fingers anywhere near her mouth.
How Often Should You Clean Your Cat’s Teeth?
Brushing your cat’s teeth should be done at least once a week, but if you can manage it, daily is ideal. Just like you wouldn’t skip brushing your own teeth every day (or so we hope!), regular dental care for your cat is essential for your cat’s oral health.
Besides your at-home dental care routine, your pet’s dental health can benefit from regular cleanings at your veterinarian’s office. Your veterinarian will likely use anesthesia to make your cat fall asleep. This allows them to perform a more thorough cleaning than what you’re able to do at home.
Healthy Alternatives to Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth
If, despite your best efforts, your cat simply won’t allow you near her mouth with a toothbrush, you may want to consider one or more of these healthy alternatives.
- Dental cat food and treats. Used regularly, special dental treats can help scrub plaque off your cat’s teeth and may reduce the risk of tartar buildup. Most dental treats consist of hard, very crunchy pieces.
- Chew toys for cats. Specially designed chew toys scrape the plaque off of your cat’s teeth and are frequently filled with catnip to encourage chewing. This Catnip Plaque Away Pretzel from Petstages works purr-fectly.
- Drinking water additives. These plaque removers are added directly to your kitty’s drinking water.
Whether you’re able to brush your cat’s teeth or need to find other means to maintain or improve your kitty’s oral health, it is important to have her teeth checked yearly by her vet. This way, any potential oral health issues can be discovered and treated early.
How Often Should You Take Your Cat for a Dental Cleaning?
A general rule of thumb is to schedule a veterinary dental cleaning for your pet’s teeth at least once a year. However, your visits may vary based on your cat’s dental health, age, genetics, lifestyle, and risk factors for dental disease.
For cats with existing dental issues or those more prone to plaque and tartar buildup, you may need to visit your veterinarian more often. Your veterinarian will let you know the most appropriate dental care schedule for your specific feline friend.
How Much Does Cat Teeth Cleaning Cost?
Getting your cat’s teeth cleaned could cost you $190 to $404. However, this will vary depending on where you live, which veterinarian you go to, and how much work your cat’s teeth will need. This generally covers the essentials like anesthesia, X-rays, and even some minor extractions or treatments that may pop up.
But be prepared—if your cat’s oral health already suffers from issues, that number may go upward. You can ask your veterinarian for an estimate beforehand. That way, there won’t be any unpleasant surprises when it’s time to pay. Some clinics offer special dental packages or wellness plans that can help ease the financial load.
Also, while it may be tempting to go bargain hunting for this, remember, we’re talking about a medical procedure that needs a skilled hand. So take a moment to also weigh the clinic’s reputation and reviews and find out exactly what’s included in that estimate. After all, when it comes to your cat’s health, quality care is worth every penny!
The Tail End
It may take some time and patience to find the routine of oral hygiene that works for your cat, but it’s worth the effort! If you stick with it, you will be giving her the best chance at continued oral health.