Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I would like to know how to clean my cat’s teeth and what to use so she might take to it more easily.
Siouxsie: This is a very good question! Dental health is just as important for us cats as it is for humans. But rarely do people brush and floss our teeth. And then they make fun of us for having bad breath. It’s not fair!
Thomas: There are three ways to keep your cat’s teeth clean: brushing, feeding dental health treats or cat food designed to get tartar off teeth, and giving them chewing toys.
Thomas: I’m sure a lot of humans think it’s silly to brush your cat’s teeth. But think about this: a good portion of cats are already showing signs of dental disease by the age of 3. And trust us, regular tooth brushing is a lot less expensive than a veterinary dental cleaning and/or tooth extraction under general anesthesia–and the annoyance of tooth brushing pales in comparison to the pain and suffering caused by dental disease.
Dahlia: If possible, it’s best to get cats used to tooth brushing and dental care when they’re kittens. But it isn’t until the permanent teeth come in, between 3 and 5 months, that tooth brushing becomes really important.
Siouxsie: Cats may resist having their teeth brushed, but if you approach it step by step, you’ll probably be able to get the cat to accept it.
Thomas: Begin by rubbing the sides of your cat’s muzzle by the back teeth. We actually like it when Mama does this because it feels good and reminds us of the bumping and rubbing we like to do. Be careful not to mess with your cat’s whiskers, though, because that’s not much fun! Also, keep in mind that if your cat already has dental disease, that area might be sensitive.
Dahlia: The next step is to raise your cat’s lip and massage the gums with your finger. Make sure you wash your hands well before you do this because your cat’s not going to like the smell or taste of garlic, tobacco, kim chee, or whatever.
Siouxsie: After your cat gets used to having her gums massaged, wrap a piece of cloth or gauze around your finger and gently rub the cat’s teeth and gums.
Thomas: The next step is to introduce a toothbrush. You can use an infant toothbrush or a special brush that will fit over the tip of your finger and give some extra abrasive action. You can get small toothbrushes for cats, too, but a human infant toothbrush costs about half as much as a special “pet toothbrush.”
Dahlia: The next step is to introduce toothpaste. Don’t use toothpaste made for humans! That stuff’s got fluoride and artificial sweeteners, which can poison cats, and yucky flavors like mint and fruit and cinnamon. There are toothpastes made just for cats which contain only cat-safe ingredients and come in flavors like poultry, fish, or beef.
Siouxsie: If your cat won’t accept a toothbrush, try wrapping a gauze pad around your finger and putting some toothpaste on that.
Thomas: Introduce the idea of toothpaste by putting some of the water from a can of tuna on your gauze pad. Before using the actual toothpaste, offer a taste to the cat on the tip of your finger.
Dahlia: When brushing your cat’s teeth, gently rubbing along the teeth inside the lip is all you really need to do. Make sure to brush along the gum line, too, and brush the places where the gum attaches to the teeth. Move the brush forward and back, parallel to the gum line. Make sure to be gentle, or else you’ll hurt your cat and make tooth brushing a very unpleasant experience.
Siouxsie: You don’t need to brush the insides of the teeth, because your cat’s tongue will get the toothpaste on that part.
Thomas: When it comes to cat food and treats for dental health, be sure that the dry food is specifically labeled “oral health,” “oral care,” or “dental.” You can ask your vet if he or she would recommend a particular brand or if they’re all more or less the same. Feline Greenies and CET Oral Hygiene Chews are tasty and safe for your cat to chew on. I particularly love Feline Greenies.
Dahlia: Chewing toys are fun, too. PetStages makes some great chewing toys for cats. We have several of these and we love them lots!
Siouxsie: Good luck, Joan. Please let us know how it goes and what worked best for you and your cat!