Cat dental care is an important but often overlooked aspect of cat health. Poor dental hygiene can lead to a host of other health issues. In fact, periodontal disease is one of the most common cat health problems.
Dr. Lynn Bahr shares, “Did you know that up to 70% of cats over the age of 3 have some form of dental disease? It’s true and since most pet parents don’t regularly look inside their cat’s mouth, it important for cats to be evaluated by a veterinarian who can identify any issues before they become serious problems.”
Prevention is key, which is why it’s best to be proactive and establish a good dental care routine for your cat at an early age. Let’s start looking in our cats mouth. Proper dental care can add years to your cat’s life!
Getting dental cleanings at the vet is one way to address your cat’s dental care, but did you know there are several ways you can help keep your cat’s teeth clean at home?
1. Cat Teeth Brushing
Brushing your cat’s teeth may seem like a crazy idea, but with some practice and training, your cat will grow accustomed to the practice. Daily cat teeth brushing is best (or at least 2-3 times per week) and will help decrease plaque and prevent tartar accumulation.
Though toothbrush training will likely go more quickly if you start as a kitten, it’s never too late! The first step is to purchase a cat toothbrush and cat toothpaste (getting chicken or fish flavor helps). You never want to use human toothpaste, as it can make your cat severely ill.
Start by letting your cat lick the toothpaste off your finger, then eventually off the toothbrush. As your cat begins to get used to the toothpaste, you can start trying to put the toothbrush in your cat’s mouth without brushing. Your cat may chew on the toothbrush, and that’s okay! That will help in the process of working your way up to adding in the brushing motion.
The idea is to make the experience of cat teeth brushing as positive as possible and to take your time. The amount of time you spend on each step will vary depending on your cat. This process may require some patience and determination on your part, but it is well worth the effort!
2. Cat Dental Wipes
While teeth brushing is the most effective form of cat dental care, cat dental wipes can help control plaque and are a decent substitute for brushing. To use, you wrap the wipe around your finger, insert into your cat’s mouth, and rub their teeth.
Because you aren’t able to get into the cracks and crevices of the teeth as well with dental wipes, they aren’t as effective as an actual tooth brushing. However, dental wipes are a gentler alternative for:
older cats who may have already developed some periodontal disease and for whom tooth brushing is painful.
cats who just won’t cooperate for a tooth brushing.
Cat dental wipes can also be used in addition to brushing. For example, if you only have time to give your cat a thorough tooth brushing once a week, a quick dental wipe cleaning can be done in between brushing days.
3. Cat Dental Treats
When visiting the treat aisle at the pet store, you’ll probably notice several options for cat dental treats, chews, and sticks. You might be wondering, “Do these products really work?” The answer to that question isn’t totally straightforward.
Gnawing on cat dental chews and treats can help to partially remove plaque from your cat’s teeth; however, it’s important to understand that these products will only have any effect on your cat’s back teeth since those are the teeth used for chewing and grinding. The incisors and canine teeth will not benefit. For this reason, these types of dental products should not be the only form of cat dental care you provide.
Dental treat options include:
- Dental treats – they are typically larger in size than regular kibble, which forces your cat to chew them (cats often just swallow kibble whole or only partially chew). The abrasiveness of the treat then helps to remove plaque buildup. They also usually contain ingredients that are supposed to promote dental health and fresh breath.
- Dental sticks – these are exactly what they sound like – natural looking sticks for your cat to chew on. Silvervine is a common form of cat dental stick. While they are edible, they usually last for multiple chewing sessions.
- Dental chew toys – these are usually made of rubber and have a bristly or bumpy texture. As your cat gnaws on these chew toys, it can help remove plaque. These types of toys are great for cats who enjoy gnawing on things they shouldn’t, like electrical wires.
How often you give your cat these various treats and chews depends on a few factors, such as the feeding directions of the specific treat you’re giving, your cat’s weight, your cat’s diet, and the state of your cat’s teeth. If you’re giving your cat dental treats, be sure to factor in the additional calories to your cat’s diet and adjust their food intake accordingly.
If you need help assessing how often to give these various dental chew options or how to adjust your cat’s diet, consult with your veterinarian. This chart from the Veterinary Oral health Council (VOHC) for cat dental care products is also a good reference.
4. Cat Dental Water Additive
Cat dental water additives can help to prevent plaque and tartar buildup in your cat’s mouth, while also freshening their breath. As with the various types of treats and chews mentioned above, a water additive should be used in addition to regular teeth brushings, not instead of.
Water additives are easy to use. You typically just add the designated amount to your cat’s water bowl or fountain each time you refill. There are a variety of water additives on the market as well – some are flavored, while others are flavorless. Some cats won’t be fans of the minty flavors, so you might have to test out different options to see which one(s) your cat will accept.
It’s no secret that cats don’t tend to drink a lot of water though. If your cat doesn’t drink from their bowl much, you can encourage them to drink more by providing multiple water sources, including fountains. Cats prefer a moving water source over a stagnant one. The more water your cat drinks, the better hydrated they will be, and the healthier their teeth will be, especially if you’re using a dental water additive!
5. How to Identify Dental Problems?
As mentioned before, prevention is key when it comes to cat dental problems. To assure you catch any potential problems early, you should regularly examine your cat’s teeth at home. You can do this by gently lifting the flaps of their mouth and inspecting their teeth and gums.
Signs or symptoms to look for:
- Bad breath (though many think bad breath is normal, it is a sign of dental health issues)
- Gum redness
- Gum recession
- Bleeding gums
- Swelling around the gums or teeth
- Changes in gum coloration
- Lumps on the gums
- Cracked, chipped, broken, or wobbly teeth
- Tooth discoloration
- Difficulty eating/loss of appetite
- Weight loss
If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They will be able to do a more in-depth examination and schedule a cleaning. Depending on the severity of your cat’s dental issues, your vet will likely recommend regular cleanings anywhere from every six months to every two years.
Even if your cat doesn’t have any dental health issues, having their teeth cleaned by a veterinarian should be a part of your cat dental care plan. After all, we humans still need to see a dentist even if we regularly brush our teeth.
If you have never taken any of the above cat dental care steps before, don’t worry. It’s not too late to start! There’s no better time than the present to get proactive and begin taking your cat’s dental care seriously. Though it may be overwhelming in the beginning, the benefits of proper dental care are more than worth it.
Have you ever tried brushing your cat’s teeth before? If not, are you ready to give it a try?
About the Author: Emily is “mom” to seven cats, one dog, and two sugar gliders. She has been writing in the pet industry for over 8 years, with a focus on cats, rescue, and adventuring. When she isn’t writing, playing music, crocheting, or working on her own entrepreneurial pursuits, Emily and her husband enjoy hiking, road-tripping, camping, and canoeing with their three cat adventurers. Follow her on her blog, KittyCatGo.