Cats develop oral health conditions that can impact their overall health and well-being in the same ways humans can suffer from poor dental health. Because most cat parents do not invest the time and training to develop a daily dental care routine, approximately 80% of cats over the age of three have dental problems. Many of these issues stem from a lack of routine oral care and result in adult cats needing expensive extractions due to pain, declining gum health, or infections.
Brushing a cat's teeth regularly is one of the best ways that pet parents can help maintain a healthy mouth, reducing the need for costly treatments and tooth extractions. Brushing isn’t a normal instinctual activity for felines, and many are initially resistant to it, but a few simple steps can help pet parents create a comfortable routine.
One of the best ways to create a positive, engaging experience with care routines like teeth brushing is to use treats. Before we get to the steps for why that doesn't undermine the activity, let's start with the actual steps for brushing a cat's teeth.
How To Brush A Cat's Teeth
Always choose a calm time and comfortable environment without loud noises, distractions, or escape routes for teeth brushing.
Use a soft baby toothbrush, finger brush or specialty cat toothbrush but be sure you DO NOT use human toothpaste or baking soda. Some ingredients in human toothpaste can be harmful to cats if swallowed.
To get started, engage your pet with a treat. Always calmly reinforce positive behavior. Do not fight, force, or struggle the brush into your cat's mouth.
Start by gently lifting the cat's head and raising the upper lip. Examine their gum lines before you begin brushing. If any areas seem to have an excess build-up of tartar, plaque or have sensitivity around the gums be gentle and patient when reaching that area.
Apply a small amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush. Place your cat’s head at a 45 degree angle and gently pull back her lips, the mouth can remain closed.
Concentrate on brushing the large cheek teeth and the canine teeth, the teeth where plaque and tartar accumulate most quickly.
Do not worry about brushing the tips or insides of the teeth unless your cat is very cooperative. Most periodontal damage occurs on the outer surfaces of the teeth and around the roots. The cat's abrasive tongue tends to remove plaque from the inner surfaces of the teeth, reducing the need for brushing these surfaces.
Gradually work up to brushing all of the teeth. Make sure you reach the big teeth at the back of the mouth. Developing a cat's patience for whole-mouth brushing may take some consistent effort over weeks or months.
Getting their teeth brushed is unnatural for cats. It takes a considerable amount of trust and affection, so be patient. Adding in items like dental chews, plaque-reducing water additives, and ensuring an adult cat receives annual cleanings with a veterinarian are essential for between-brushing oral care for cats.
Using Treats To Create Positive Engagement
While it may seem counterintuitive to use treats as a way to brush a cat's teeth, it's actually activity supporting. Whenever pet parents are looking to create a positive experience for a pet using their favorite motivator - which may be treats, affection, praise, or toys - is a sure-fire way to keep them engaged and happy instead of fighting and scratchy.
Vets recommend low calorie treats for cats and cat training like dehydrated fish skins, dry kibble, fish flakes, soft-chew jerky, or lick-able treat puree.
Between each step use a small portion of a cat's favorite treat to reinforce patience during the care routine. Because a cat's tongue is course it will naturally clean the insides of the teeth, so the pet parent can focus on reaching each tooth with the brush between treats. Pause and engage the cat with pets and cuddles between treats if they're getting too overwhelmed or flighty.
The overall goal is to get them excited for the toothbrush and toothpaste. Pet parents should want their cat to think "When the toothbrush comes out so do the treats and that means yummmm!"
If a lot of treats are needed to get through a full brushing, don't be concerned by this. Simply adjust their meal portions for the next feeding time and return to normal the following day. Over time, as a cat becomes more familiar with the routine, the need for so many treats will decrease and the routine will be as approachable as feeding, bed time, or other ones.
The more frequent the better when it comes to cat oral care and hygiene. Learning how to brush a cat’s teeth is crucial for protecting their oral health, but it takes time and patience to get a cat into the habit. If pet parents need any guidance when introducing or reinforcing this behavior they can always chat with Fuzzy's veterinary support for tips, tricks, and recommendations.