Dental health: How should I brush my cat’s teeth?
Brushing your teeth is a key part of the morning routine, but many cat owners probably wouldn’t consider giving their moggy’s teeth a clean too.
Just as we suffer from dental problems, cats can also get a build-up of plaque on their teeth and develop dental diseases that can cause them a lot of pain and even lead to other conditions, such as kidney disease. Therefore, it’s important to make sure their teeth are as clean and healthy as possible.
Spotting the signs of tooth pain
Cats are particularly good at hiding pain, so it can be difficult to tell if they are suffering with dental problems. Here are some of the signs to look out for:
- not eating as much as normal
- favouring soft wet food over dry biscuits
- only eating on one side of their mouth
- bad breath (worse than normal!)
- an increase in dribbling (maybe accompanied by blood in the saliva)
- difficulty grooming themselves
- a change in their behaviour (eg hiding more, not interacting with you as much)
If you spot any of these signs, take your cat to the vet as soon as possible to get their teeth checked.
How to brush your cat’s teeth
Approaching your cat’s teeth with a brush might seem like a daunting task but it will often be the best way to keep their teeth healthy.
Not all cats will tolerate it, but most will be able to get used to it if you introduce the process gradually. Follow our simple steps to find out how.
1. Ask your vet to recommend a toothbrush and toothpaste
Don’t be tempted to use a brush or toothpaste meant for humans – a human toothbrush will be too large for your cat’s mouth and they are unlikely to enjoy the minty flavour of human toothpaste, which may also contain ingredients that are harmful to cats. Your vet should be able to recommend a soft rubber finger brush and some meat or fish flavoured toothpaste you can use. If you have more than one cat, make sure they each have their own toothbrush to avoid transferring bacteria between them.
2. Wait until your cat is six months old
Cats younger than six months are likely to still be teething, so will find teeth brushing painful.
3. Get them used to having their mouth touched
Before you approach them with the toothbrush, make sure your cat is comfortable with you touching their face and mouth with your fingers. Follow the steps in our training guide, focusing on their mouth and taking the process nice and slowly. You can start this process when they are a young kitten in preparation for introducing them to the toothbrush when they are six months old.
4. Leave the toothbrush and toothpaste out
To encourage your cat to not see the toothbrush and toothpaste as scary objects, leave them out somewhere where your cat can approach them of their own accord and have a sniff. You can also let them lick a bit of the toothpaste off of your finger so they get used to the taste.
5. Introduce the brush
Repeat the steps in our training guide, this time using the toothbrush instead of your fingers. Start by touching your cat with the brush in an area they are comfortable being touched, and then gradually move it towards their mouth.
6. Start brushing
If, after a few days or weeks, your cat is comfortable with having their mouth touched, you can start applying the toothpaste to their teeth with the brush. Apply the bristles to the teeth at a 45-degree angle, reaching both the tooth surface and just beneath the gum margin.
7. Stick to a routine
Try to brush your cat’s teeth at the same time every day as cats like routine. Find a time when you are both calm and comfortable and always be gentle with the brush. Make sure you stop if your cat becomes stressed or tries to run away.
Other tips for keeping your cat’s teeth healthy
If your cat is not happy to have their teeth brushed or you’re worried about the safety of your fingers, there are a few other things you can do to reduce the risk of your cat having dental problems.
1. Book a regular dental check
Get your veterinary surgeon to do a full assessment of your cat’s teeth once or twice a year so they can spot any problems before they become serious. These dental checks can be done at the same time as annual health checks.
2. Don’t give them too many treats
Much like many human treats, cat treats can be high in sugar which isn’t good for their teeth. Keep the number of treats you give them to a minimum, making sure their main source of food is a good-quality complete cat food in wet or dry form.
3. Feed them a special dental diet
If your cat is prone to dental problems, your vet will be able to recommend a specific diet to feed them that will help to keep their teeth healthy.
You'll find more advice on keeping your cat’s teeth clean on our cat dental care page.