Your cat’s oral hygiene is an important component of his overall health and wellness routine. Cats whose teeth are brushed regularly have lower incidences of periodontal disease and plaque accumulation, both of which can cause to long-term complications.
Failure to brush your cat’s teeth can lead to…
- Expensive, time-consuming dental procedures down the road
- Build-up of plaque, which leads to premature tooth decay
- Periodontal disease, one of the top reasons all cats see the vet
- Offensively bad kitty breath
Vets want you to know that it’s better to be consistent when it comes to teeth brushing than to be particularly good at it. In a perfect world, you’d be both! But if you have to choose, aim for regular brushing over super-thorough brushing; it’s a trade-off worth making if something’s got to give.
Now let’s talk about the when and how of brushing your cat’s teeth. Because let’s be honest, it’s a job.
Getting Your Cat Used to Teeth Brushing
You shouldn’t expect your cat to take to the toothbrush overnight. Start by introducing the toothbrush and toothpaste gradually, a little at a time; it’s a process that can take days or even a week or to fully implement.
Start by simply touching your cat’s mouth more. Cats generally don’t love having their mouths messed with! Try to rub his gums a bit while he’s relaxed in your lap, or to gently run your fingers over his teeth while you’re petting him. If he becomes defensive, wait and try again tomorrow. Baby steps.
Next step is to allow your cat to sniff and inspect all your tooth brushing supplies. All you really need is a cat toothbrush (we prefer the ones that look like a rubber thimble with little nubbins) and cat toothpaste, which comes in a variety of flavors. Never, ever use human toothpaste or “natural” solutions like baking soda – these can be harmful to your cat if swallowed! You can gradually introduce your cat to these items by letting him lick a little of the toothpaste off your finger. Praise heavily, stay calm, and inch forward day-by-day.
How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth
With your (relaxed!) cat in your lap and a toothbrush with toothpaste in your hands/on your finger, gently pull back his lips on one side. Start by gently rubbing the toothbrush on the outside surface of the teeth. It’s probably best to start with the front teeth and work your way backwards for compliance, but do whatever works for you.
Here’s an extremely informative (and adorable!) video of how to properly brush a cat’s teeth you might find helpful.
Always aim to be fast but gentle! Worst case scenario, you don’t get to every tooth…switch sides and make up for what you missed tomorrow. There’s no right or wrong way to brush your cat’s teeth as long as you’re making contact with as much surface area as possible.
Remember that cats can be moody. A thorough teeth brushing session isn’t worth making your cat fearful of you – they hold on to grudges! – so when in doubt, back off. Ask your vet during your cat’s annual well-checks if she notices any particular spots that need extra attention.
When to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth
Ideally, you’ll start brushing your cat’s teeth when he’s a kitten. Getting your cat used to the routine of regular teeth brushing before he’s six months old means you’ll have a better chance of success long-term. Cats don’t like having their teeth brushed. The best you can hope for is the passive acceptance that comes from repetition!
Daily teeth brushing is best. The simple mechanical motion of removing plaque from the teeth is what helps avoid periodontal disease, and new plaque builds up every day. When that’s not possible, aim to brush your cat’s teeth at least 3 times a week, and on a schedule you can remember. Maybe before you head off to work M-F? Or while you’re watching TV on MWF? Whatever timeline you can commit to is what’s best.
Always choose a quiet, relaxed time of day to brush…you don’t want to start the process while either you or your cat are agitated. When your cat is calm, the process of teeth brushing can be calm. It really is that simple.