Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I live with my two rescue cats–a gorgeous 2-year old-Russian Blue and a 10-month-old lynx point Siamese (at least they look like those breeds. As they were from a shelter I don’t really know their breed but for me they are as gorgeous as any show winning cat). I would like to get them used to getting their teeth brushed for health maintenance reasons, especially Liat as I read that Siamese cats are prone to teeth problems. I am mostly worried about Roo as she is still very skittish although she has come a long way. I just don’t want to traumatize her and undo a year of trust building. Thank you for your advice.
Thomas: Christine, you’re absolutely right that tooth brushing can be an important health maintenance tool for kitties, and that Siamese cats do have a higher tendency to develop dental disease than many other breeds, so it’s good that you want to do this.
Bella: That said, the key ingredient in getting your cats used to having their teeth brushed is patience. It can be a long process, but it’s worth it in the end.
Tara: Wow, getting your teeth brushed? I never heard of such a thing! Does Mama brush our teeth?
Thomas: Not very often, actually, but I’m kind of glad about that.
Bella: Thank goodness!
Thomas: Okay, Christine, so the first part of getting your cats used to having their teeth brushed is to get them a veterinary exam, including an exam of the mouth, to make sure they don’t already have dental problems that need to be addressed.
Bella: If they already do have something going on, tooth brushing can be very painful, which can turn them off to the idea entirely.
Tara: If they do need to have their teeth cleaned, schedule an appointment with your vet to have that done. And please, don’t try that non-anesthetized dental cleaning business: It seems like it costs less, but it’s not as effective as a cleaning done under anesthesia, because your vet dentist can get to all the teeth and under the gums when your kitty is anesthetized.
Thomas: Once your cats have a clean bill of dental health, the next step is to pet them gently around their mouths, especially near their lips. Do this as many times a day as you can, generally when they’re enjoying sitting next to you and being petted and loved. This is going to be especially important for your more skittish kitty.
Bella: But be careful not to “twizzle their whiskers!” That is, be careful not to move the whiskers too much, and especially try not to get them pointing way forward. We have very sensitive nerves at the base of our whiskers and the feeling of having our whiskers moved the wrong way can be very unpleasant.
Tara: Oh, I hate having my whiskers twizzled! Fortunately, Mama doesn’t do that very often, either, and when she does she says she’s sorry.
Thomas: Once Liat and Roo are used to having their mouths touched, then you can embark on the four-week process of getting them used to actually having their teeth brushed. Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine has a great video on this process!
Can’t see the video? Watch it here.
Bella: Essentially, what it involves is going in stages. First, you get your cat used to the toothbrush as just another thing in your household. Then you get your cat used to the toothpaste. Then you get your cat used to the brush with the toothpaste on it, and finally, you can start brushing their teeth.
Tara: Every time you expose your cats to these things, follow it immediately with a high-value reward–something they love better than anything else in the world.
Thomas: The idea is to help your cats make the association between having their teeth brushed and something awesome that comes afterwards.
Bella: This process may take more than four weeks for more skittish cats, so follow your cats’ lead on when to move to the next step in the tooth brushing introduction process.
Tara: I think it’s going to take me a lot more than four weeks, even though I’m a very brave kitty.
Thomas: That’s okay, sweetie, I know Mama understands.
Bella: Anyhow, hopefully this helps you to get Liat and Roo used to having their teeth brushed.
Tara: What about you other readers? Do you brush your cat’s teeth? How did you get your kitty used to it? Do you have any tips beyond what we’ve offered? Please share them in the comments.