How to Brush Your Cat's Teeth

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The health and wellness of our bodies and minds are an important part of caring for ourselves as people, and that level of attention should not stop at the teeth. Maintaining proper dental hygiene can go a long way in keeping us in great shape, and the same goes for pets — specifically, our feline friends. It may seem strange to think about brushing your cat's teeth before bed, but staying on top of feline dental health on a regular basis can lead to a longer and more comfortable life, and may prevent the formation of preventable oral diseases.

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Dental health and cats

When it comes to dental hygiene and pets, keeping your dog's teeth brushed has become a more common practice over the years, but what about cats? With tiny mouths and a general reluctance to be manhandled for any reason, the idea of inserting a toothbrush into your cat's mouth and offering a good scrub may sound crazy, or even terrifying, depending on the temperament of your feline. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, however, up to 90% of cats over the age of four have some type of dental disease, so ignoring your cat's oral health is not advised. Common dental health issues include gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption (when the structure of the tooth breaks down from the inside, out). When left untreated, any of these diseases can contribute to health issues ranging from discomfort to liver and kidney problems.

What you'll need

Before you begin brushing your cat's teeth it's important to prepare you and your cat for this new ritual. The American Veterinary Dental College recommends brushing daily, or at least several times a week, in order to keep your cat's teeth as healthy as possible, which can prevent dental diseases later in life. The tools you will need to brush your cat's teeth include a toothbrush designed specifically for use on cats and some pet toothpaste in a flavor your cat enjoys.

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While securing the right tools is a very important step in a dental hygiene regimen, getting your cat comfortable with the act of brushing is invaluable and will ensure successful cleanings for many years to come. To get your cat used to the brushing process, Banfield suggests heading over to a comfortable spot you know your cat loves to relax in, and just hold and pet her at first, occasionally touching her mouth with a gentle hand. To get your cat acclimated to the taste of her toothpaste, you can offer her little tastes of it off of your finger or the brush before you begin brushing so that she learns to associate the ritual with a tasty treat.

How to brush a cat’s teeth

Once you've physically prepared your cat and have mentally prepared yourself, you're ready to begin brushing, which is actually the easiest step of the dental hygiene process. To begin, lift the lip on one side of your cat's mouth so that his teeth are exposed, and try to lift enough so that you can see his gums. Then, gently massage the outside of your cat's teeth with the toothbrush and paste, taking care not to apply too much pressure, especially on the gums. Continue this process until as many teeth as he will allow you to brush are covered, and do your best to reach the molars. There is no need to reach the insides of the teeth or rinse your cat's mouth when you have finished brushing his teeth. Finally, offer your pet a nice scratch or praise and allow them to leave on their own.

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Some things to keep in mind

If your cat already has dental issues, like gum disease or an abscessed tooth, handling his mouth can lead to more pain and likely, a total unwillingness to have his teeth brushed at all. If your cat is exhibiting symptoms of tooth pain, like refusing to eat or becoming fearful or aggressive when you try to touch his face, consult your veterinarian before you begin brushing to make sure all is well. The last thing you want to do is have your cat associate cleaning with pain or other unpleasant feelings, and a quick checkup may prevent that from happening.

If your cat absolutely refuses to allow you to brush his teeth, you can supplement this routine with dental chews, which can be purchased at most pet stores. There are several varieties to choose from, all varying in their level of efficacy. To ensure that you're choosing an effective dental chew, consult the Veterinary Oral Health Council's list of accepted products.