Brush your Cat’s Teeth: Keep Kitty’s Mouth Clean and Healthy!

Are cats truly “low maintenance” pets? Although many folks keep promoting domestic felines as easy keepers (especially when compared to canines), there is a considerable amount of work involved if the guardian has made the commitment to give their kitty all the essential care that is needed to help maintain robust health.

Cleaning a cat's teeth
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Cleaning a cat’s teeth. Photo credit: Playful Cat Toys

While it’s essential to feed our obligate carnivores a proper meat-based species-appropriate diet, keeping their litter boxes pristine, providing fresh water, using interactive toys to stimulate their mind and body, and making sure that their environment is thoroughly “catified”, there’s more to do! Add to the mix trimming claws, and grooming them regularly, these kitty tasks can be extremely time-consuming. It sure doesn’t appear that cats are at all “low maintenance” pets. In fact, caring for cats correctly is quite the opposite.

There is one additional essential kitty “chore” that is often overlooked; brushing their teeth! Some people think that this vital task is quite impossible – assume that their cat would never cooperate so they don’t even try.

Cleaning cat's teeth. It is not always as tricky as the image makes out.

Cleaning cat’s teeth. It is not always as tricky as the image makes out.

Why is it so important to brush our cats’ teeth anyway? Brushing their teeth daily not only maintains good oral health, it also helps to prevent extensive serious health conditions that may affect cats as they age. All it takes to get kitties to cooperative is a little patience, compassion and to have a burning desire to help keep your cats healthy!

However, there are no short-cuts for brushing a cat’s teeth. Although we are bombarded with tempting advertisements from Petfood companies promising if we just feed our cats their special “dental” dry foods, we will keep our cats’ teeth in great condition. However feline expert veterinarian, Dr. Jean Hofve’s writes on her fabulous website,,

“Let’s get this one straight once and for all: dry food does not clean your cat’s teeth! In fact, dry food really does not benefit the cat at all. It is merely a convenience for the guardian.”

Dr. Hofve reminds us that most cats don’t chew dry food consistently. They swallow it whole. So if there is no contact with the teeth how can it possible have an effect on the accumulation of tarter? And even if they do chew a few kibbles, they shatter into pieces so the only contact they have with the teeth is on their tips. This doesn’t seem to be a sensible solution to keeping cats’ teeth clean and healthy, since the tartar and plaque “commonly builds up along (and underneath) the gum line at the base of the teeth.”

So how do you introduce your kitty to having their teeth brushed and live to tell about it? What has worked for me is starting the process was using a Q-tip soaked in warm water. I rub the Q-tip gently over the gums and what I found was that the cats actually enjoyed it. We started the process when they were about five months old. Once they got used to the Q-tip, I started using a gauze pad soaked in water and then moved to using a pad soaked in C.E.T, a dental cleaning liquid. Then I slowly introduced the C.E.T.

Oral Hygiene kit for cats and dogs which contains a finger toothbrush and a regular toothbrush and paste. It was a slow process but it worked beautifully and I still have ten fingers! No bites, no scratches; and what a difference it made! The whole process now takes just a few minutes, and as a reward we end the session playing with their favorite interactive toy. It is a great bonding experience too! Of course daily brushing doesn’t replace annual veterinary visits, but it certainly helps reduce the accumulation of tartar and plaque.

How do you handle oral hygiene with your kitties? Tell us about it with a comment.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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13 Responses

  1. Dee (Florida) says:

    A tough subject for me. With so many ferals who may slice my throat if I approached with a brush, the best I can do is what I do… I hang for hours with them watching them eat. That’s how I discovered that Cora, who is approaching 10 years old, was having a problem. After I tackled her and tossed her in a trap to take to the vet, she had to have nearly every one of her teeth pulled. So now, I just call her aside and feed her soft foods. I have to stay, ofcourse, to make sure she’s eating and no other rascal is stealing her food.
    I want to interject here so people know that feral caretakers do so much more than feed, water, spay/neuter. They know their cats and safeguard their health.

    • Jo Singer says:

      Dee I just want to express my deep admiration for what you do for feral kitties and of course pet cats. I think that folks who care for colonies deserve the greatest respect for the hard work that they do to keep these colonies thriving and it goes without saying trapping and neuter/spaying them is just what the colonies need. TNR is crucial. I just wanted to give you special thanks and admiration!!! You rock!!!

      • Dee (Florida) says:

        Thank you for the kind words, Jo. I’ll remember yours with some others on those days when it’s so very hard.
        There are so many wonderful feral caretakers around that I stand in awe of. Some could run circles around me even though I’m a pretty “whirly” girl.

  2. jmuhj says:

    Cats in their natural habitat do NOT get their teeth brushed by humans. I believe this to be just one more money-making greed scheme designed to pressure the gullible into doing something else in a never-ending quest for “perfection”. That said, my beloved cats get high-quality dry food free choice, and I put a dental additive in one of their water bowls. They are also given “dental” grain-free treats nightly.

    • kitty says:

      Ferals get dental disease too. As to the natural habitat like for wildcats, the wildcats’ lifespan is smaller. Also, it’s not like people go around catching wildcats and checking their teeth, why do you assume they don’t get dental disease?

      • jmuhj says:

        I’m sure they do, as we all did before there were toothbrushes, toothpaste, dentists, etc. But cats have survived for thousands of years without all of that. As did we.

        • kitty says:

          Survival as a species is not the same as survival for an individuals. We survived for thousands of years as a species, but the child mortality was high, and people died earlier, and lost their teeth earlier. The life was much harder for each individual human.I seriously doubt you want to go back and live the same way as people lived in the 19th century.

          Cats are prolific breeders, wildcats less so then domestic cats, but they still produce enough kittens that even if high number dies, they’ll do OK (at lesat if humans weren’t there they would’ve). But individual cats would die sooner in the wild.

          When you have a pet, I seriously doubt you care about survival of cats as a species. I’d imagine all you pretty much care about is the lifespan and health of your own cat. So how is survival of cats as a species relevant to a question whether it makes sense to brush your own cat’s teeth to save on vets’ bills later?

          • jmuhj says:

            I was born into a home “with cat” and I have cared about all cats, of all species, all my life. I work on a daily basis for cats of all species, and always will.

            • kitty says:

              I don’t see what your personal experience with a few cats have to do with the subject at hand? Your main argument was about cats in the wild who I’d imagine don’t get dry food and dental additive in the water either, so I am not sure how your experience fits into your argument about cats in the wild. If your main argument had been related to what you do and how your method works for you, it’d be a different story.

              As to your personal experience, as any doctor or vet or any scientist will tell you “plural of anecdotes” isn’t data. Personal experience with many cats provides anecdotal information about a limited number of cats, it’s not the same as science or data about what is good in general, one would need studies for that. I am not sure if there had been specific studies on cats in terms of brushing, but at least it makes sense scientifically.

              “I had 10-20 cats and none of them had dental disease” is not a study. It’s possible that your dental additive in the water helped as well as dental treats. It’s probably not as effective as brushing, but if it works for you, great. As to dry food, while there might be slightly less dental disease with dry food, there have been studies that it increases the risk of cystitis in cats.

              Brushing is one of the ways to reduce cats’ risk of dental disease. Vets say it’s the most effective one. If your way works for you, this is great.

              • jmuhj says:

                So far, there have been 67 cats in my life! So that’s not “a few cats” by many people’s reckoning. Nevertheless, I come on this site to comment and share with friends, not to engage in polemic. And yes, it does work for us, quite well.

  3. Michael Broad says:

    I have tried. I have dental gel and a brush in the kitchen…collecting dust. That said I have not tried with Gabriel. I should try. I give him Royal Canin Dental. Not convinced it does any good but the pellets are large (I even thought the manufacturers got the idea from me because I have written on the size of pellets before!) and they are better than conventional sized pellets.

    I watched my late boy cat Charlie swallow dry cat food pellets whole as you say so I got the idea that they are generally too small.

    Thanks for giving us optimism about brushing our cat’s teeth.

    • kitty says:

      Try a small toothbrush that CET has. Not the one in the photo, they have a really small one. It works for me. I also give a treat. Oh, also there is a video from Cornell on how to introduce a cat to brushing.

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