Cat Dental Care: Stop Oral Disease Like A Boss (9 Easy Steps)

Dental diseases are the most frequently diagnosed problem for cats.

Unfortunately…

It’s also one of the most overlooked issues due to our lack of knowledge when it comes to caring for and noticing problems with our cat’s teeth. 

black cat smirking at camera showing teeth

In fact, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society, about 75% of cats show signs of oral disease by the shy age of 3. [1] 

This can lead to more than just bad breath in your cat…

The bacteria that gather in an infected pet’s mouth can actually get into their blood-stream and lead to serious consequences!

This could potentially affect your kitty’s kidneys, heart or liver. [2]

My first brush with feline dental care was quite dramatic, as we realized my shelter cat (with a guessed age of 9) had lost quite a few of her teeth over one summer. 

After taking her to the vet and having her teeth cleaned (and two removed), we looked back on the summer and realized that there were so many little clues that she gave to alert us to her pain and we just were oblivious.

It’s sad to think…

But this is a fairly common (and fairly over-looked) problem with cats. 

So I wanted to dive right into it and give you the entire scoop on feline dental care.

Talking about signs and symptoms, how to clean your cat’s teeth and what to do if your cat is struggling with dental problems. 

So, first…

An overview of your cat’s mouth will get you familiar with your cat’s oral needs – check out the video below! 

 

How Do I Know if My Cat Has Dental Problems?

There are 3 types of diseases that might affect your cat’s teeth and gums. 

  • Gingivitis. 
    The most common of the three, gingivitis is the build-up of plaque that hardens on the surface of your cat’s teeth. 
    Gingivitis can cause gum recession and/or inflammation. 
  • Periodontitis.
    A gum disease, periodontitis is when the gums become very inflamed and start pulling back (recession). 
    This is the next stage after gingivitis. 
  • Feline Resorptive Lesion. 
    This is less common, but it’s essentially a kind of cavity that forms near or below your cat’s gum line. 

Periodontal disease in cats is so common that the Cornell Feline Health Center has estimated about 85% of cats over the age of six have struggled with this. [3]

Muffins front view of cat teeth
“Creative Commons cat teeth 2” by Jo Naylor is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Noticing your cat is in pain can be one of the most difficult things – and then identifying where that pain is can be a whole other issue. 

When it comes to pain, cat’s have their own little language and sometimes it’s hard for us humans to catch on.

Some symptoms you can watch for that could indicate dental problems in your cat are:

  • Your cat’s appetite changes.
    This is one of the biggest indicators:

    If your cat is eating less or has times where she stops eating entirely, this is a big red flag that her teeth may need help. 

  • Bad breath.
    Your cat’s foul or strong smelling breath may not be the result of that strong smelling food you give her.

    She could be suffering from dental issues, which cause the mouth to have a strong odor (especially if some of the teeth are infected.) 

  • Sudden weight loss.
    If your cat is indeed going through a change in her appetite, she may also lose weight dramatically from not eating.

    Sudden weight loss in pets is always an indicator of a problem, and that problem could be related to their teeth. 

  • Drooling or jaw-chattering.
    If your cat is producing more drool (saliva) or you notice her mouth/jaw shivering – this is a problem (especially if your cat has never exhibited these symptoms before).
  • Hiding.
    This is where we should have caught on. When cats are in pain, their base instinct is to hide and protect themselves.

    Our pretty girl took to hiding in our neighbor’s bushes.

    This was a fairly distinct change as she is a very social and attention-seeking cat. If your cat has taken to hiding more often, it’s a big indicator of pain. 

  •  Increased irritability that can’t be explained by anything else.
    This one can be a bit harder to pinpoint, as cat’s moods can change due to a few different reasons – but if you couple this with any one of these other symptoms, your cat is likely suffering from dental issues. 
  • Broken or loose teeth. 
    This one can seem fairly obvious, but is actually easier to look over than you’d think (because how often do you check your cat’s mouth for missing teeth?) 

    If your cat has any broken teeth, teeth that are loose or even some blood from around her gums – get her teeth checked by a vet. 

Did you know?

Kittens have “milk teeth” (what we would call baby teeth) – these begin to come in around 4 weeks old. 

Cats have “adult teeth” (similar to us) – and these begin to come in to replace the milk teeth around 5 months old. 

Kittens have 26 milk teeth. 

Adult cats have 30 teeth. 

cats mouth wide open for full view of all teeth

Caring for all of those teeth can be a bit tricky, especially when you did not introduce some kind of teeth cleaning routine into their lives when they were young.

Here’s how we’re doing it…

How To Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

Cleaning your cat’s teeth doesn’t have to be the nightmare you’re thinking it could be.

And once you set the routine, it’s quite easy to maintain. 

How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth in 9 “Easy” Steps: See Video Below

  1. Find a comfortable place for your cat. This could be your cat’s favorite spot or your lap – wherever your cat is most comfortable. 
  2. Use a pet toothbrush (or one of the alternatives to this, which I’ll talk about below) and toothpaste that is made for cats
  3. Give your cat a sample of the toothpaste and let her become familiar with the brush you will be using (letting her sniff it or bite it). 
  4. Lift your cat’s lip to expose her gums. You can also pull her lip back gently to allow for more teeth to show. You should be able to see all of her teeth and gums on one side at a time.
  5. Brush with gentle motions, stopping if you sense your cat needs you to stop. 
  6. If you can, clean the inside of her mouth with a damp cloth (as most cats will not like you cleaning the inside of their teeth with the brush.  
  7. Make sure to get the back molars and canine teeth, as these are the areas that can build up the most plaque. 
  8. Wipe away access toothpaste. 
  9. Give your cat some love! 

Watch the video below on how to do thorough teeth cleaning on your cat: 

 

When Should I Introduce a Teeth Cleaning Routine to My Cat?

Start healthy habits young, if you can.

Preventative dental care is the best kind, right? 

Introducing oral cleaning into your kitten’s routine is easier than you think, following the steps above and the video below.

What do I use to brush my cat’s teeth?

You can implement teeth cleaning in your kitten by starting her off with one of these super cute finger toothbrushes and special toothpaste for cats

As your cat gets more used to the cleanings (or grows older), you can switch to a pet toothbrush.

However…

What I found most effective, was a baby’s toothbrush!

As most pet toothbrushes can still be quite large for a cat’s small mouth and may cause your cat discomfort, a baby toothbrush seems to be just the right size.
(We started with a finger brush and gradually worked up to a baby toothbrush after a few months, and she’s gotten used to it!)

How to Introduce Your Older Cat to a Dental Care Routine 

But…

It’s never too late!

If you’re like me (and really had no idea about dental health care for cats) you can still start a routine with your older cats now. 

Introducing your older cat to a dental care routine can be a bit trickier, as they haven’t grown up with this habit and have to all of a sudden be faced with this foreign object with weird-smelling paste poked at their gums.

The video below has great tips to help you effectively brush your cats teeth:

 

It can be a bit daunting for both human and feline – but it’s possible and very much worth the effort. 

Cleaning Your Cat’s Teeth (if you’ve never done it before):

  • Let your cat become familiar with the toothbrush and toothpaste, letting her sniff it, bite it or play with it if she wants. 
  • Take it slow and have patience. This is a very new step in your cat’s routine and may take a while for her to sit through a teeth cleaning without issue. 
  • Find your cat in a good mood. If your cat is already agitated or annoyed (or playful and not wanting to sit still) – it will be a nightmare for you both. 
  • Lastly, keep at it. Persistence is key to introducing any kind of routine to an older animal. Eventually, you will both get used to it. 

My Cat Won’t Let Me Brush Her Teeth…What Do I Do? 

If you’ve tried to no avail, the next best thing you can do is speak with a veterinarian and ask for demonstrations on proper teeth cleaning. 

Don’t you wish all cat teeth cleaning could go this smoothly?

This sweet kitty loves his toothbrush! 

 

After a vet visit for proper instruction and all of the patience in the world – your cat may not be adjusting well to their new dental routine (or you may not have the time to clean their teeth as much as you’d like). 

You’re left thinking:

“Now what?”

There are a lot of different dental rinses, oral care diets and dental treats that can help give your cat a boost in their oral care. 

So, here’s the deal…

Dental Rinses for Cats: Does It Work?

A relatively easy alternative to brushing cats teeth could be to incorporate a dental rinse into their routine.

Oral rinses that contain the ingredient “chlorhexidine gluconate” is what we’ll be looking for, because they are really effective antiseptics.

You can read more about that here

The dental rinse I’ve come across that has the most praise is Dentahex Oral Rinse for cats and dogs.
(Check out the reviews for this product. )

IMPORTANT: Use only dental rinses that are pet safe!!!

Because your cat will be swallowing this rinse, it’s very important to make sure you buy a product that is specifically for cats.

These types of products should not contain foaming additives or harsh ingredients. 

Look for a brand that displays the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal (shown here), as these would meet standards that are proven to slow the accumulation of tartar and plaque and will be safe for cat consumption. 

cats front teeth view from the bottom
Dental treats are great for rewarding your cat after a cleaning — or are they?

Dental Treats for Cats 

You’re probably wondering: 

“Do dental treats actually work?”

Dental treats (tartar control treats and dental chews) are good in moderation, but even then there is debate over whether dental treats work or if they are just a mask to cover up a more serious issue.

One thing we know for sure…

They are not an effective supplement for brushing your cat’s teeth or having teeth cleaning at a vet’s office.

Greenies or any other dental treat for animals can make your pet’s breath smell better (which is nicer for us), however, it’s very similar to buying a dry pet food that claims to prevent tartar and plaque build up.

While this could be partly true, it’s very unlikely that giving dental treats to your pet will actually prevent oral issues in the future.

It could help in some small ways, and of course, we all like to reward our cats – but I wouldn’t rely on this to be your only dental care for your kitty. 

And the next big question…

possibly the biggest question…

What Kind of Food is Best for My Cat’s Teeth? 

Can we do things in our cat’s day to day life that encourages and promotes healthier teeth and gums?

Absolutely!

The food you choose for your pets do have an impact on their teeth, their health and their life.

However, things aren’t as cut and dry as choosing a specific cat food and thinking that will cover your cat’s oral health completely.

Jean Hofve, a holistic feline veterinarian says this on cat food choices affecting your cat’s mouth; 

“In my experience as a feline veterinarian, I’ve probably examined at least 13,000 cats’ mouths. There was no real pattern to the dental and periodontal disease I saw. If anything, tartar and gum disease seemed to be more attributable to genetics or concurrent disease (such as Feline Leukemia or feline AIDS) than to any particular diet. I saw beautiful and horrible mouths in cats eating wet food, dry food, raw food, and every possible combination. Many of my patients initially ate mostly or exclusively dry food; yet these cats had some of the most infected, decayed, foul-smelling mouths I saw. If there was any dietary influence at all, I’d say that raw-fed cats had better oral health than cats on any type of commercial food. However, the overall effect of diet on dental health appeared to be minimal at most.”

This might be totally frustrating for you to hear because it’s fairly conflicting with everything out there. 

There are so many diets, treats, and foods that claim to lessen the chance of dental issues in your pet – and that’s why we buy them.

While all of these things may indeed strengthen your cat’s immune system and mouth to protect against diseases, there are a lot of different factors that contribute to that.

Which is why no one specific thing you could do will totally save your cat from ever experiencing a dental issue.

What I take away from my research (and quotes like that of Jean Hofve) is that there isn’t ONE SPECIFIC THING that you can do to “make sure”  your cat never has dental problems.

There are so many factors that contribute to dental decay or gum diseases – food is one of them, but genetics and other risk factors play a role too.

However…

Don’t be discouraged!

Just because there isn’t one specific thing you need to do, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything.

Your cat depends on you to give her the best protection you know how to…

If you continue making the best choices you can in regards to food, dental care, and maintenance, your cat will be happy! 

Let’s take a look at what we can do…

What to look for in cat food that will benefit your cat’s teeth and gums:

  • Prevents bad breath
  • Prevents tartar and plaque build-up
  • Prevents gingivitis and/or bleeding gums
What’s for dinner!?

Which is better for my cat’s teeth – wet or dry food? 

This is one of the bigger debates and as an answer, I’m going to say that it varies (which, I know, doesn’t make things any clearer…) 

Keeping in mind:

Your cat’s age, weight, and current oral health condition – your vet may have some specific recommendations on what to feed your cat – so my advice is to consult your vet! 

I know that’s not exactly the advice you were looking for (as most search about this topic to get one precise answer) – but every cat has different oral care needs and this is the best way to find out what is going to truly be the most helpful for your cat. 

Let’s talk about this…

WET FOOD 

Has plenty of benefits for cat’s oral health; it makes muscles and bones strong, it’s easier for cats to chew. It’s also known to have fewer additives than dry cat food.  

Click through to read my post: [best kinds of wet cat food for your feline friend.]

However…

DRY CAT FOOD has some benefits as well – the biggest being that it’s thought that the chewing involved in dry food could help clear debris and plaque off your cat’s teeth. (my opinion is it really doesn’t help too much)

[Check out our post on dry cat food to learn more about the pros and cons!]

And then…

RAW MEAT:

Is more of a new up and comer diet for your kitty, but it’s turning quite a few heads (and for the best reasons.)

Raw meat diets may also have benefits for your cat’s teeth such as making the gums, teeth and jaw bone strong from tearing into meat (much like they as carnivores should). 

The video below shows Ginger Kitties Four – Raw Meat Chunks: Keep Your Cats Teeth Healthy

 

In fact, according to a study by the Feline Nutrition Foundation, the act of eating raw meat (the chewing and gnawing) is like polishing the surface of the cat’s teeth and works at preventing the buildup of tartar and plaque.

It’s basically the equivalent of brushing and flossing for humans. 

The most interesting part…

The video below is a study conducted by Dr. Tom Lonsdale and it’s actually quite shocking to see what 17 days of a dry food diet does for dog’s oral hygiene.

The discoloration and deterioration of their teeth in just over two weeks is fairly noticeable, as well as a few of them actually losing weight.

 

While this experiment was conducted with dogs, it’s safe to assume that cats may suffer from some of the same damage to their teeth while on a completely dry food diet. 

What Do I Do if My Cat Loses a Tooth? 

Finding my eldest cat in the sleeping in the bushes one evening, I didn’t expect to find her minus a tooth – but that’s what we found.

Turns out she’d had an infection and lost a tooth all on her own without us noticing.

I shoved the guilt aside and took her to her vet for a teeth cleaning.

They ended up pulling out another infected tooth and giving her remaining teeth a very good cleaning. 

Did you know? 

A mere 10 % of cats actually keep all of their adult teeth throughout their lifetime.  [5]

While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and sad if your cat loses a tooth, the most important thing would be to get them to a vet – because there could be more infection in their mouth that you don’t know about. 

Your cat may need to have more teeth pulled or have her teeth cleaned, and for this, she will likely be put under a general anesthesia.

Some vet offices (like mine) allow you to be with your cat during this process if that makes you feel more comfortable.

However…

This is very low risk and quite common, sometimes taking as little as half an hour to be done. 

How often you get your cat’s teeth professionally cleaned will depend quite a bit on how often you brush their teeth.

If your cat isn’t happy with teeth cleaning or for some reason you don’t do them often, you will need to visit your vet for cleanings more often.

 

cats teeth view from the side

Feline Dental Care FAQ

 How often should you have your cat’s teeth cleaned by your vet?

How much does this cost?

At least once a year, perhaps more depending on your cat’s oral hygiene routine. 

Check your cat’s teeth at least once a month.

If you notice yellowing or tartar accumulation, go to the vet for a professional cleaning.

It’s much better to go more often than you need (at which point your vet would explain how often you should be coming in) than not to go at all.

When untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis which is not reversible. 

As for cost (in the USA), you should expect somewhere around $300.

This may seem expensive, but part of this cost is the cost of anesthesia (usually around $100-$150), which your cat will need during the cleaning.

Additional costs for medicines your cat may need could be extra, and of course, every clinic’s costs will vary.

However, don’t let the cost deter you.

If you have this done annually, it will be the best choice for your cat and she will thank you with lots of lovely smelling kisses! 

Veterinarian cleaning cat teeth

 

 How many teeth do cats have?

Cats have 30 teeth.

When it comes to feline oral care, the teeth aren’t the only thing to pay attention to – cats are very prone to gum diseases as well.

 Is it normal for a cat to lose their teeth?

A kitten, yes. An adult cat, no. 

Much like their humans, kittens lose their “milk teeth” around a few months of age and these are replaced with adult teeth.

Although it’s fairly common for cat’s to then lose some of their adult teeth, these teeth cannot grow back or be replaced – so the goal is to keep your cat’s mouth as healthy as possible so they don’t lose their adult teeth. 

 How often should I brush my cat’s teeth?

In an ideal world, brushing your cat’s teeth daily is the best, as plaque can harden within 48 hours. 

Understandably, this isn’t do-able for a lot of cat-owners for various reasons – so I decided to ask my own local vet what her thoughts were on this, and this is what I’ve learned…

Brushing as much as possible is always ideal, and that looks different for everyone.

It’s recommended at a minimum of once per week, maximum of once per day.

Any more or any less than that could actually do more harm than good.

Inconsistent brushing turns your cat off to the whole process as it’s not part of a routine, and brushing too frequently can actually cause some harm to your cat’s teeth and gums. 

 Do dental treats really work?

For this question, I think we need to dive more into the dry food debate.

If dry food is not as great for your cat’s dental health as we’d previously thought, your cat’s dental treats may not be either!

Considering that dental treats are usually hard pieces much like dry food, and the studies that show that dry food could potentially be more harmful to your cat than beneficial – the scales are tipping in the direction that dental treats might not be as helpful as we think. 

They do, however, help with the bad breath situation! 

 Can a cat’s teeth grow back if they fall out?

Cats grow two sets of teeth within their lifetime, much like humans.

Do cats lose their baby teeth?

One set of “milk teeth” comprising of 26 teeth and one set of “adult teeth” which leaves them with 30 teeth for their lifetime.

Their milk teeth last only a few months, and then after that, the adult teeth come in. 

If they lose an “adult” tooth, it will not grow back. 

Read more on cat’s teeth here!

 Can a cat survive without teeth?

Yes.

Your cat can survive without teeth but their gums need to be in good shape in order for them to do well without their teeth. 

If your cat’s teeth were taken out by a veterinarian (something some do as a preventative measure in order to save the gums from disease) – it’s most likely that your cat will be just fine and their gums are most likely in good shape. 

However, if your cat has lost teeth due to decay, you could have a problem because the disease could also be targeting their gums making it very painful for them to use their mouth. 

 Why does my cat’s mouth always have a strong/foul smell?

A strong and/or foul smell coming from your cat’s mouth can be indicative of poor oral health and you should get your cat checked by a vet for further inspection and instructions.

It’s possible your cat has an infection in her mouth and may have to have some teeth removed or at the very least go through a teeth cleaning at the vet. 

Once the teeth cleaning is done at your vet, they will give you instructions on how to prevent any more damage or bad breath smells. 

 Are there any totally natural things I can do to help protect my cat’s teeth?

Actually, yes.

  • Calendula (a homeopathic remedy) is known to prevent gum disease in pets.
  • Vitamin C helps boost your cat’s immune system and strengthen the ligaments and tissues of the gums. [4]

 

It’s a lot to take in but if you didn’t find what you are looking for please let me know in the comments!

Also, please consult your veterinarian for any questions/comments/concerns! 

Sources: 

[1]  Pet Health Network – Cat Checkups & Preventative Care

[2] The Nest – Dental Rinses 

[3] EveryGreen Vet Clinic – Keeping Your Cat’s Teeth Healthy 

[4] Modern Cat – Naturally Keep Your Cat’s Teeth & Gums Healthy 

[5] The Nest – Can Cat’s Regrow Teeth? 

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