For many of us, brushing, flossing, and visits to the dentist are a normal part of our regular hygiene routines, but what about our pets? It's not uncommon for feline owners to ask, "Do I need to brush my cat's teeth?"
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the condition of your cat's mouth can play a big part in his overall health and wellness and can lead to, or be the result of, additional health problems. That's why routine check-ups are important and dental care between veterinary visits is essential, which includes brushing.
Cats can't come out and tell us when they have a toothache, so it's up to us to be proactive about their dental health. So, "Should I brush my cat's teeth?," you might ask yourself. According to the experts, all signs point to yes!
Why brush your cat's teeth?
To put it simply — you should brush your cat's teeth because it keeps her healthy. According to Catster, periodontal disease is the most common oral health issue that cats face. This issue is caused by the gum disease gingivitis, which manifests when plaque sticks to the teeth's surface, and can eventually reach the bony tissue underneath the gums. When left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to infection, abscesses, and even tooth reabsorption by the gums, all of which can be incredibly painful.
If you've noticed that your cat's mouth seems sensitive lately, it's highly recommended that you take her in for a visit with the veterinarian. Possible signs of periodontal disease include pawing at the mouth, drooling, bad breath, or only chewing his food on one side. Additionally, your cat may refuse dry food if the problem becomes too painful.
To keep your cat healthy and happy, always make his dental health a priority with regular brushing and dental check-ups with his doctor.
How to brush cat's teeth
Before you begin brushing your cat's teeth, you'll want to acclimate her to this strange, new routine — especially if she seems squeamish or fussy over having her mouth handled. Try building a pleasant routine to help her associate only good things with having her teeth cleaned at home.
Start by settling in one of her favorite spots, like a comfortable chair or a spot in the sun, and hold her in your lap so that she's comfortable. Turn off the phone so you aren't interrupted by the ring tone noise and the temptation to see who it is and interrupt your session.
Then, occasionally touch her mouth and lift her lips before you start brushing to show her there's nothing to be scared of. If she's especially worried, you can try placing a bit of her favorite food or a little tuna water on her toothbrush or the tip of your finger to help her associate the brush with a positive association.
Once it's time to brush, apply a small amount of water or pet-safe toothpaste onto a cat toothbrush, which can be found at most pet stores. You can also make natural cat toothpaste at home. (Never use human toothpaste on animals, because the fluoride and other ingredients can make them sick!)
If your pet absolutely won't tolerate a brush, a small bit of gauze wrapped around your finger will work as well. Next, open your cat's mouth and gently brush the cheek-facing parts of his teeth, along with the molars and canines. (But don't tell your cat she has teeth called "canines.")
How often to brush?
Ideally, your cat's teeth are getting brushed every day. If that's not practical or possible, however, any brushing is better than no brushing, so just do your best to brush them as often as you can. If her brushing is admittedly infrequent, be sure to disclose that information to your vet during her annual check-up and definitely mention any changes you may have noticed in her health or behavior since her last visit.
Ask your vet about cat treats and foods that not only provide nutrition, but also some teeth cleaning. In addition, ask for recommendations for chew toys that might help clean or strengthen gums and teeth in a cat.
How often for professional cleaning?
Much like us, even the most diligent oral hygiene routine for your cat must be supplemented with a visit to the pros. Many experts suggest scheduling a dental checkup for your cat once a year if possible, which can prevent or reduce the buildup of potentially harmful conditions like gingivitis or gum disease.
Check your pet health insurance plan, if you have one. Most don't cover routine cleanings, but they might include dental accidents or illnesses. Ask your vet about insurance products that offer the best dental benefits and if she thinks it's a good investment.
Does food make a difference?
When it comes to what's in your cat's food, it's not so much the consistency you should keep in mind, but the formula. While it's ideal to keep your cat's teeth tartar-free, the medical issue you should be aiming to prevent is the inflammation of the gums through gingivitis. One way to do this is to eliminate inflammatory ingredients like carbohydrates such as corn and brewer's rice, whether your cat's food is wet or dry.
Why? Cats are descended from lions. Have you ever seen a pride of lions stalking and hunting corn and tomatoes? According to a piece originally reported by Animal Wellness Magazine, carbs are not natural for cats. Instead, they recommend opting for grain-free foods that are high in moisture, including "high-quality canned, raw and freeze-dried diets." (The FDA acknowledges that there is a suggested link between grain-free dog food and canine heart disease, but no such link appears to exist in cats.)
If you wish to keep tartar off of your cat's teeth, you can look to treats to assist you in between brushings. For a natural remedy, try offering your cat a raw, hard bone that won't splinter, like beef, which will knock tartar off their teeth and stimulate their gums. If convenient treats are more your style, be sure to check your products for the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) label, which ensures that your cat is eating treats that have been tested for safety.