Does dry cat food clean teeth?

No, dry cat food does not clean a cat’s teeth or help to protect gums despite what the pet food manufacturers claim – that was my initial thought and belief. It did not, and does not, seem logical when you think about it critically. For instance, when humans eat dried food, we don’t claim that it cleans our teeth. Why should it be any different for cats? Dentists don’t recommend dry foods for humans to improve oral health.

However, since I wrote that about 4 years ago, I am less sure, or my thinking is more nuanced. My cat eats Hills Oral Care for grazing. His main food is wet in a sachet. His teeth and gums – touch wood – are very good and he is 7 years old. Maybe they should be good at 7. I don’t think we should slag-off dry cat food all the time. It is unnatural etc. but wet cat food can arguably cause more gum disease. There is some evidence to support the claim that large pellets might help (see below). Probably the best foods to maintain good teeth and gums is well-made and stored raw cat food.


The pet food manufacturers have, in fact, changed the size of the pellets of dry cat food when the products are produced to ostensibly clean a cat’s teeth. If the pellets are larger, they are more likely to do what is stated on the packet but they don’t work as well as claimed. When the pellets are very small cats even swallow them whole so there is no possibility of them cleaning teeth.

The concept is that the abrasive effect of the dry cat food cleans teeth. At a cursory glance it sounds plausible and appealing to cat owners because cleaning a cat’s teeth with a toothbrush is all but impossible and very few cat owners try it, never mind do it successfully.

Also, so-called teeth cleaning dry cat foods have been around for a long time and veterinarians continue to see huge numbers of patients with serious dental and gum disease. This surely must be strong evidence that dry cat food does not clean a cat’s teeth.

In fact, veterinarians report that many of the more serious dental conditions such as gum-line cavities occur in cats who are fed dry cat food.

The truth of the matter is that when dry kibble is inside the cat’s mouth it becomes a sticky paste because it is mixed with saliva. This ‘paste’ can adhere to the teeth and gums to a greater extent than wet cat food.

In addition, the processed carbohydrates and sugar in dry cat food paste (in the mouth) supports bacterial growth.

Further, there is a very acidic substance coated onto dry cat food which makes it palatable to cats but the “oral environment” can become more acidic than normal which can damage the enamel which in turn can cause gumline cavities i.e. resorptive lesions.

Some veterinarians might argue that dry cat foods promote plaque and tartar formation with accompanying gum disease and enamel erosion.

Positive result

A couple of studies have shown that large dry food biscuits might help to remove tartar. This supports Hills t/d which is large -sized pellets. Personally, I advocated for these many years ago. I feed my cat this food by the way. I suggested large biscuit-tyle dry cat food years ago 😕 .

Dry cat food pellets are too small

Dry cat food pellets are too small. Why not make biscuit-style dry food?

Carbohydrates in dry cat food

There is always the inherent defect in dry cat food: the high carb content. This must work against oral health as sugars feed bacteria. This fact must counteract any possible benefits from large kibble.

Opinion of some veterinarians

The four respected American veterinarians who wrote Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook state that “Dry foods are abrasive and help keep the teeth clean and sharp”. That is an endorsement for dry cat food cleaning teeth. However, they go on to say that the shearing forces generated when a cat choose dry kibble “may be implicated in feline oral resorptive lesions.”

By contrast, other veterinarians would say that dry cat food pellets are too small. Cats don’t chew them but sometimes swallow them. They therefore can’t be abrasive. Also, cats immediately shatter the pellet. Once again there can be no abrasive effect. That point was made by Dr. Jean Hofve DVM, a well-known veterinarian.

She also said that in her personal experience of examining 13,000 feline mouths there is no evidence that dry cat food helps to prevent tooth decay and periodontal disease. She said that there is no pattern to dental and periodontal disease. She argues that poor oral health is more likely to be attributable to genetics or associated diseases such as feline leukaemia or feline AIDS.

She has seen good and bad mouths in cats on a range of cat foods including raw cat food and combinations thereof. And she claims that many of her patients are fed on dry cat food exclusively. Most of them had “infected, decayed, foul-smelling mouths”. If any food does improve feline oral health, it is raw cat food, she said.

Dr. Stephen J Bailey, the founder of Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, believes that genetics plays the largest part in dictating whether a cat has good or poor oral health.


There are studies which disprove the claims that dry cat food improves teeth and gum health. They are no more likely to clean a cat’s teeth than eating dry foods cleans a human’s teeth.

One study stated that “the daily addition of an appropriately designed chew to a dry food diet is effective in reducing accumulation of dental deposits”. The implication there is that dry cat food alone does not have the desired result.

Difficulty in cleaning a cat’s teeth is a factor in the success of claims that dry cat food helps

It is difficult to believe much that the pet food manufacturers claim on the packet if truth be told. Despite what I have stated on this page, I am convinced that there are millions of cat owners who buy dry cat food because they know that it is very difficult to maintain oral health in a domestic cat and cat owners look for any means possible to overcome that difficulty.

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Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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6 Responses

  1. Johnny says:

    Interesting thoughts on the topic.

    • Michael Broad says:

      They are a bit extreme perhaps but that is my nature! I don’t believe in the stuff. The product may be better than say small pellets but overall I don’t think it works as stated.

  2. M E King says:

    Most cats don’t chew the dry food. So it has no impact positive or negative on the teeth. I’m sure someone has a cat that chews 20 times before swallowing mine don’t they will crunch some of the treats.
    This was per a discussion with a cat vet who did the oral surgery on Mercy’s mouth so she could have a normal life. Per vet recommendations she suggested soft food for 2 weeks. Mercy wouldn’t eat and that is where the discussion over kibble originated.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Thanks ME. Yes I wrote about pellet size a way back. And they do swallow the stuff sometimes. This why so called dental care dry cat food is large pellets.

      • M E King says:

        Which means my cats wouldn’t touch it even if it did work.
        There was a cat treat we got from our vet that had cleaning enzymes in it. I haven’t seen them in the store for a while.
        Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews for Cats

    • Caroline M Gifford says:

      Yep yep. That is why, if you have the wherewithal, you’ve got to start brushing their teeth when they are still young. Thank you for that ??

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