5 min read
5 Tips for Maintaining Your Cat's Teeth
By Aurus Sy
Published: 01/30/2023, edited: 02/01/2023
Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS
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It’s estimated that 50 to 90% of cats over the age of 4 have some form of dental disease. Yikes! Cats typically don’t show signs of oral discomfort, so it’s easy for common dental diseases like gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption to go unnoticed by pet parents. If a cat is having oral pain, they may refuse to eat or move away when you touch their face, and if their issues go untreated, it can lead to serious problems including drastic weight loss, malnutrition, attitude changes, dangerous infections and tooth loss.
The good news is that many dental problems can be avoided with regular preventive dental care and monitoring. So how do you take good care of your little one’s pearly whites and keep feline dental disease at bay? With these 5 tips for maintaining your cat’s teeth at home!
Brush their teeth several times a week
It’s best to get your cat used to having their teeth brushed while they are still a kitten. But don’t worry if you have an older furbaby—you can still teach them to accept brushing, though it may take a little longer. Whether you have a young’un or an adult, here are the steps to get them accustomed to the process:
Choose a quiet time and place to start. Place your cat on a surface such as a counter or large chair, then begin gently touching their mouth. Praise and reward your cat with treats as long as they allow the handling. If they resist, stop and try again later.
Once your cat is comfortable with their mouth being touched, put a moist gauze around your finger and move it along their teeth. Be sure to praise and reward your cat if they cooperate.
It will likely take multiple sessions before your cat becomes comfortable with the gauze. Once they do, you can add a cat-friendly toothpaste to it. Don’t forget to continue praising and rewarding your kitty.
Time to introduce the toothbrush! Gently touch it to your cat’s face and allow them to inspect it. If they like the toothpaste, let them lick it off the toothbrush. As always, praise and reward desired behavior.
When it’s time to start brushing, tilt your cat’s head at a 45-degree angle and gently pull back their lips. Brush their teeth in a circular motion, concentrating on the gum line and outside surfaces of the cheek and canine teeth, where plaque and tartar tend to accumulate.
Slowly work up to brushing all the teeth. The goal is to eventually brush all of the outside surfaces of your cat’s teeth, ideally once a day. Remember to be consistent and keep this a positive experience for you and your cat. It’s normal for the process to take several days or weeks.
What type of toothbrush and toothpaste should you use for your kitty? There are mainly three types of cat toothbrushes—those that look like small human toothbrushes, 360 degree soft silicone brushes and finger toothbrushes. The type you choose will depend on your preference and your little one’s personality.
As for toothpaste, always use one that’s formulated for cats, as human toothpastes often contain ingredients that can be harmful to felines. Toothpastes that are safe for cats include Virbac CET Enzymatic Toothpaste, Petsmile Professional Pet Toothpaste, Arm & Hammer Fresh Breath Enzymatic Toothpaste, and Oratene Brushless Toothpaste Gel.
Use a pet-safe oral rinse or water additive
Sometimes brushing your cat’s teeth is easier said than done. Fortunately, there are products to help you stay on top of your kitty’s oral health between brushings.
While not a replacement for regular toothbrushing, oral rinses and food or water additives are great for reducing plaque and freshening breath. An oral rinse is a product that usually contains the antibacterial agent chlorhexidine. It is applied by squirting a small amount inside the cheek on either side of the mouth. The chlorhexidine attaches to any existing plaque as well as the oral tissues and tooth surfaces before it is slowly released into the oral cavity.
A water additive, as its name implies, is added to your cat’s water bowl. It typically contains ingredients such as sodium benzoate, zinc, and chlorophyll. As your little one drinks water throughout the day, the water additive kills bacteria in their mouth, freshening their breath and preventing the buildup of plaque and tartar. Some additives are odorless and tasteless to outsmart picky pets, while others come in various flavors to encourage them to drink more water. Because a water additive doesn’t need to be directly applied to your cat’s mouth, you may find it easier to use than an oral rinse.
Feed a diet of mostly kibble instead of wet food
Studies show that cats who are fed dry food, especially kibble formulated for dental health, have significantly less tartar and gingivitis than those who exclusively eat wet food. This tip won’t apply to all cats though, as felines who already have dental problems may struggle to chew dry kibble.
Dry food also contains more carbohydrates than wet food does, and nutritionists believe that this carbohydrate content can lead to obesity and diabetes in cats. Moreover, the extra moisture in wet food makes it a better option for cats who don’t drink enough water or are at risk for kidney disease.
From a dentistry perspective, kibble is definitely better for a cat’s teeth. While it’s not a substitute for proper dental care, it can help prevent dental issues. For cats who already have dental problems and pain, however, wet food may be a better choice. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing what to feed your feline family member, so it’s best to talk to your vet regarding this topic.
Try chew toys and dental treats
Many cats don’t chew on their toys like dogs do, but you may still want to try getting your furbaby a dental toy or two. If they chew on it, great. If they don’t, no harm done. Most pet dental toys on the market are made for dogs, but Petstages has rolled out a bunch of products especially for felines. These catnip-infused chew toys feature either a mesh material or textured rubber to gently clean the teeth and massage the gums. When choosing a toy for your cat, make sure it’s small enough to carry around but big enough to not be a choking hazard.
You can also try dental treats, which typically have a crunchy texture and ingredients that help reduce tartar buildup and freshen breath. Feline Greenies, Virbac CET Intellident Cat Bites, and Purina Dentalife are just a few examples.
While not a replacement for brushing, chew toys and dental treats can be excellent and fun additions to a dental home care routine for your cat.
Schedule routine teeth cleanings with your vet or veterinary dentist
The frequency of a professional dental cleaning will vary from cat to cat, but vets generally recommend a cleaning every few years as needed. Professional cleanings can be done by a veterinarian or veterinary dentist. Board-certified veterinary dentists are vets who have completed a three-year residency program through the American Veterinary Dental College and passed their rigorous multi-day board examination.
The first step of a cleaning is a dental examination, which may include pre-anaesthetic blood tests and a general vet exam. Once your cat is cleared for the procedure, they will be placed under general anaesthesia and their teeth will be cleaned above and below the gum line with hand and ultrasonic scalers. Oral X-rays may also be performed, to fully assess oral health. If your cat has advanced periodontal disease, damaged teeth may need to be extracted. Finally, the teeth are polished and scaled to prevent subsequent plaque buildup.
At-home dental care and professional teeth cleanings are essential to keeping your cat’s pearly whites healthy. Don’t wait until it’s too late—try these tips for maintaining your cat’s teeth today!
While many pet insurance plans don’t cover dental cleanings, wellness packages can reimburse up to 100%! Check out our wellness plans for a dental cleaning add-on to keep your feline smiling.
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