How To Clean Your Cat’s Teeth (and Keep Them Clean!)

Does your cat’s bad breath send people running? If your kitty’s mouth smells like a fish market or garbage truck whenever they’re near, chances are they have a problem with tartar buildup or other oral issues.

Oral health is vital to cats just like it is to humans, and the good news is that you can take care of your cat’s needs at home for the most part, with a little help from a professional veterinarian from time to time.

In this post, we’ll go over the different methods and tools you can use to clean your cat’s mouth (teeth and all) and the warning signs of dental diseases and other serious problems.

Why It’s Important To Keep Your Cat’s Teeth Clean

One of the well-known perks of having a cat as a pet is their low maintenance on the grooming front. Cats are meticulous about cleaning their fur, so you rarely have to brush or bathe them. But there’s one thing a cat can’t do: brush their own teeth.

Oral care is your responsibility as a pet owner and it’s key to your cat’s overall health. Here are some reasons why you simply can’t afford to ignore it.

A Pet Cat’s Diet Isn’t the Same as a Wild Cat’s

In the wild, cats don’t have anyone to brush their teeth or take them to the vet’s office. They get enough oral care from their diet when they crunch and gnaw on bones from the live food they catch and eat.

Kibble and canned cat food don’t clean a cat’s teeth the way a diet of rodents and live animals would. While the foods you feed at home provide the nutrients your cat needs, they don’t necessarily support oral hygiene. That’s why pet owners need to be intentional about cleaning their cat’s teeth and gums.

Cleaning Prevents Tooth-Related Diseases, Infections, and Cancer

Texas A&M University’s veterinary science department warns that cats are at risk for periodontal disease, tooth decay, and oral cancer without proper, consistent oral care.

These diseases and disorders don’t just cause pain and discomfort — they can damage your cat’s overall health. Read more about the dangers of periodontal disease in pets to understand why you need to be proactive about your cat’s oral health.

Oral and Dental Infections Can Harm a Cat’s Brain

Gum disease and tooth decay do more than impact dental health. It can also cause problems with other organs. Left untreated, dental diseases can spread and cause serious issues with the brain, the closest organ to your cat’s mouth. Brain infections may turn fatal quickly, but you can significantly lower this risk by prioritizing teeth cleaning.

Recommended Reading: Cat Have Bad Breath? Here Are Common Causes and Helpful Remedies

How To Clean Your Cat’s Teeth

Does cleaning your cat’s teeth feel daunting? This isn’t a task that most cats will be excited about, but with the right preparation, you can tackle it with confidence. Here’s how to clean a cat’s teeth well.

First, Consult With a Vet

Always consult with your cat’s veterinarian before starting a home tooth brushing routine. A checkup can rule out gingivitis or other problems under the gum line that will require professional dental cleaning. After crossing out anything serious, you’re ready to start your cat’s oral care at home.

Wait for Your Cat To Be in a Calm State

When you’re ready to begin, wait until your cat is calm or help them relax with some petting, treats, cuddling, and more. You don’t want to get bitten or scratched or stress them out before you begin.

Start With Quick, Gentle Touches to Their Mouth

Don’t jump right into sticking a toothbrush in your cat’s mouth. You need to get them used to the process. Start with soft touches to their mouth for a few seconds at a time until they become comfortable with having your fingers there. You can use cat treats to reinforce this positive behavior. (We’d recommend our healthy yet tasty Smittens® Bites)

Introduce Your Cat to a Pet-Approved Toothbrush

Once your cat is comfortable having their mouth touched, introduce a pet-approved toothbrush. You can use a variety of items, including:

  • Gauze or cotton swabs (Q-tips): This is a simple, inexpensive option that you might already have on hand.
  • Finger brush: A finger brush fits over your finger and has small bristles to brush delicate cat teeth. It can offer more control than a cat toothbrush and be easier for your cat to get used to.
  • Cat toothbrush: These have bristles the right size for adult cats. If you have a kitten, look for a smaller version.

Use Kitty-Approved Toothpaste and Let Them Lick It Off Your Finger

Never use human toothpaste for your cat. It has chemicals that can be toxic or even lethal to cats, warns Cornell University. Instead, use pet tooth gel or cat toothpaste. This not only tastes good to your cat, but it’s also safe.

To get your cat used to the process, let your cat lick the pet toothpaste off of your finger. This will get them used to the flavor, smell, and texture while you prepare to brush. Eventually, you may find that they enjoy the taste and look forward to this time.

Start Brushing in Short Bursts

If you’ve neglected cat dental care in the past, this process will likely feel new and strange to your pet at first. Try using short bursts of brushing and go section by section, rather than trying to do the whole mouth at once. As you both get used to this routine, you can slowly lengthen your brushing sessions.

Tips on Keeping Your Cat’s Teeth Clean Without Brushing

Cat teeth cleaning is an important part of your cat’s overall health, but it’s easy to forget to do it. (And it doesn’t help that some cats just don’t cooperate with brushing!)

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to clean a cat’s teeth without brushing. When possible, combine these steps with good oral hygiene and professional cleanings.

Give Your Cat a Healthier Diet (Dental Food and Treats)

Better quality foods means better overall health. Excellent nutrition is what gives your cat’s body the strength to fight off diseases and grow and maintain strong teeth. The Feline Nutrition Foundation indicates food that is the closest to a raw food diet is the best for a cat’s oral health.

You can add hard dental treats to the mix too. These encourage gnawing and chewing behaviors that scrape plaque and tartar off your cat’s teeth.

Try Cat Dental Gels

Dental gels are products you place on your cat’s teeth to dissolve tartar and prevent plaque buildup. They don’t require any brushing, and as a bonus, help freshen their breath as well. Some examples include:

Consider Water Additives

If your cat fights during every tooth brushing session, there’s another alternative. You can put a pet-safe additive in their drinking water that helps protect against oral health problems. These additives contain enzymes that loosen and reduce tartar buildup and also freshen the breath. Popular products include:

Use Dental Chews or Toys

When it comes to cat teeth cleaning, dental chews and toys can also pack a powerful punch. These keep your cat entertained and chewing on a regular basis, scraping away plaque, loosening up tartar, and massaging their gums. Look for products that feature:

  • Robust materials that can stand up to chewing
  • Spikes or ribs that scrape off tartar
  • Abrasive surfaces that rub against teeth
  • Flavors that encourage chewing

Take Your Cat for a Professional Cleaning

If you notice or suspect problems with your cat’s teeth, or just want to give them a deep cleaning, schedule a professional cleaning. This allows a trained expert to thoroughly examine your cat’s teeth and understand what kind of treatment they need or changes to put in place.

Professional cleaning is often done under an anesthetic, so the vet can get under the gum line and manually remove all plaque. After the professional appointment, keep up with home care to maintain the positive effects of the cleaning for longer.

Signs Your Cat Is Due for a Cleaning or Might Have a Mouth-Related Problem

Here are some signs that your cat’s gums or teeth may be at risk:

  • Bad breath: The bacteria that causes plaque will also cause foul, stinky breath in cats.
  • Blood on dry food: Inflamed gum tissue will often bleed, and you will likely notice this first on dry food, toys, and other items your cat bites or licks.
  • Pus or swelling: If you see any pus or swelling in your cat’s mouth, it’s a sure sign that you need to get their teeth checked out and cleaned.
  • Red gums: Healthy gum tissue is pink, but redness indicates inflammation or infection.
  • Excessive drooling: Most cats don’t drool very much, so if yours is drooling a lot, it could point to a mouth-related issue.
  • Trouble chewing food: If your cat seems like they lost their appetite or they’re avoiding eating, oral pain or discomfort could be causing it.

It won’t always be obvious that your cat is suffering from dental problems, especially if they just began. Incorporate the best practices we’ve talked about into your cat’s routine so you never leave your cat’s oral health up to chance.

Give Your Cat the Taste They Prefer and the Quality They Deserve With The Honest Kitchen’s New Cat Foods

Excellent health for your cat starts at home, and diet plays a huge role. The Honest Kitchen’s cat food is a nutrient-rich option that pet owners love, with plenty of protein-packed, grain-free, and whole-food recipes to choose from. Our human-grade cat food supports overall wellness to give your cat the best quality of life possible.

Shop The Honest Kitchen’s line of cat food now to boost your pet’s oral hygiene with high-quality, all-natural meals, supplements, and treats. Try these popular products:

Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet’s veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.

Meet the Author: Ben Kerns

Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible. This stuff gets expensive.

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