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How to clean your cat's teeth

How to Clean Your Cat’s Teeth

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 cleaning your cat’s teeth 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.

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How to clean your cat's teeth

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 problems. 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 kitties are at risk for many of the dental issues that we ourselves try to avoid (like gingivitis). And, as it can in humans, bacteria from periodontal disease can affect other organs in our cats and cause illness. Not to mention the discomfort they could experience from 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 OK from your vet, since even kittens can have dental issues that need to be resolved before tooth brushing is advisable. Once the vet has given the OK, 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 his mouth opened wide while you come at her with a toothbrush. The key to successfully cleaning your cat’s teeth is to break her in gradually.

Wait until your kitty is in a calm, relaxed mood, and start by gently lifting her lips and massaging her teeth and gums for a few seconds with just your finger. Don’t try to give his 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 session 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 cat parents, our feline friends prefer their own variety of kitty toothpaste, which is available in flavors such as poultry or beef.

To start with, you might want to just let your cat lick a small dab of the toothpaste off of your finger. If you have a finicky feline on your hands, you may have to try a few flavors before you find one that appeals.

Step 3: Introduce a Toothbrush

Once you have found a toothpaste that works, all that’s left is finding the right toothbrush. Here again, it would be a mistake to 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 cat 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. Once it’s applied, you don’t need to brush – 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 he will be to allow you to continue brushing his teeth regularly in the future.

It may take weeks before your cat will tolerate having all of his teeth cleaned in one sitting, and sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, a cat just can’t get used to having his mouth handled. He may react by biting or scratching, or he may show other signs that the experience is just too stressful for him.

The good news is that, even if this is the case with your kitty, you do not have to make the choice between sacrificing his teeth or your fingers. There are a few tooth cleaning options that don’t involve putting your fingers anywhere near his mouth.

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.

Photo of a pack of VETRISCIENCE Perio Plus Crunchy Teeth Cleaning Treats for Cats
  • Dental cat food and treats. Used regularly, these can help to scrub plaque off of your cat’s teeth and may reduce the risk of tartar buildup.
  • Chew toys for cats. These are designed to 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.
Photo of a bottle of Oxyfresh Premium Pet Dental Care Solution Pet Water Additive

Whether you’re able to brush your cat’s teeth or need to find other means to keep them as clean as possible, it is important to have his teeth checked yearly by his vet. This way, any potential problems can be discovered and treated early.

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 him the best chance at continued oral health.

Check your cat's vital signs at home.

Kristen Levine is a nationally acclaimed pet expert, influencer, and Fear Free Certified® Professional with over 30 years of experience in the industry. She's helped millions of pet parents provide the best care at every stage of their pet’s life.

Her blog, Pet Living with Kristen Levine has been featured in Pop Sugar, Good Housekeeping, New York Times, USA Today, and more.

She's also the founder of FWV Fetching, the first marketing agency exclusively serving pet and animal health companies.

Her early work with the SPCA led her to a lifelong career in the pet industry, advocating for pet adoption and rescue as well as for pets and their parents here on her blog and in the media.

She’s frequently booked on satellite media tours and national shows, like FOX & Friends, Good Morning America, and Daytime, to talk about pet trends and new products.

Insanely passionate about pets since she was a little girl, Kristen has had more than 30 pets in her lifetime — including dogs, cats, goats, donkeys, a horse, a gerbil, mice, and chickens!

In 2022, she launched to help pet parents keep pet homes clean -- to love more, stress less.

Kristen is married and lives in the mountains of North Carolina with her dog Tulip.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Is it normal for old carts to end up with no teeth? My daughter is very vigilant but her cat has had 3 pulled and about. No vet ever told her to brush the cats teeth.

    1. Hi Keri,
      Unfortunately, household cats commonly have dental issues. Since they can’t naturally clean their teeth themselves, tartar and bacteria are likely to build up over time. If gone untreated, this can cause dental issues that require tooth extraction. In order to prevent this issue, brushing their teeth is important! Some cats don’t enjoy having their teeth cleaned, but there are other solutions such as dental gel (, water additives ( , dental treats and toys ( that can help get some of that tartar off!

      I am sorry to hear your daughter’s kitty has had to have some teeth pulled! It’s best she talks to her vet about the products that they recommend to help prevent tartar build up in the future! Many vet offices also offer professional teeth cleaning for cats who have bad teeth.

      I hope this helps!

  2. I brush my kitty’s teeth every day! She is 13 now and I’ve been doing this since she was a kitten. I put her special toothpaste on my finger and gently rub on the front and sides near the gums. She makes whiny sounds but sits there until we’re done and she gets a kiss on the nose. 😻😁 I clip her nails every week too, like a kitty mani/pedi.
    Sometimes she runs and hides in the morning because she knows I can’t go to work til her teeth are brushed, but that’s how we get our exercise!!!❤

    1. Hi,

      A cat’s mouth shouldn’t smell off and her gums and tongue should be a healthy pink color. If you notice any unpleasant smells, bright red or pale gums, or issues with her teeth, please consult your veterinarian to rule out any serious health issues.


  3. Should we just buy “Amazon’s choice” when we get on the site, or is there specific kinds for different cats? Just wondering if their dental needs get as complicated as ours.

    1. Hi,

      Yes, cats can have complicated dental issues! Before beginning a tooth cleaning program, I suggest you get the OK from your vet. Once you get the OK from your vet, try this dental kit sold on amazon. Or if you prefer an option that doesn’t involve sticking your fingers in kitty’s mouth, these dental cat treats. They’re designed to scrub plaque off of your cat’s teeth.


  4. I have been a cat owner for a number of years and am currently raising 2 cats aged 5 and 2. Before adopting, we read a lot of information about everything related to cats so that we can take care of them in the best possible way. from them. One thing that I consider very important to a cat’s health is dental hygiene. Regular tooth brushing will help maintain your cat’s long-term dental health while preventing potential dental disease.

  5. I have to say that every time I brush my 2 cats’ teeth it’s difficult, they don’t seem to like it and it takes a lot of work. I consulted your 3 easy toothbrushes, they seem to have made my cat’s teeth lighter. Thank you for this very useful information about cats. I hope to see more posts like this in the future.

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