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Should I Brush My Cat’s Teeth?

Brushing a cat's teeth is a risky maneuver. Is it worth it? If you’re not brave enough, there are alternatives.

By Avery Hurt
Apr 24, 2023 6:00 PM
Cat toothbrush
(Credit: Jeanette Virginia Goh/Shutterstock)


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You’d be forgiven for thinking that brushing your cat’s teeth is not worth the risk to life and limb (or at least fingers). But it’s something you might want to reconsider.

We know that if we don’t brush our own teeth, they’ll eventually fall out, right? Well, that can happen to cats, too. In fact, periodontal disease is distressingly common in our furry friends.

According to the Feline Health Center at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, between 50 and 90 percent of cats older than four years have some form of dental disease. Short of losing teeth, painful gums can make it difficult for our feline friends to eat — leading to even more health problems.

This is why many vets and veterinary organizations recommend brushing their teeth daily, if possible. Some suggest even twice daily. If you’ve decided to jump in and give it a try, here are a few tips for doing so safely.

Read More: Can Cats Get Dementia?

How to Brush a Cat’s Teeth

First, get the right gear. You don’t want an Oral-B here. Get a toothbrush designed for cats, and get everyone their own brush.

Also be sure to choose a toothpaste designed specifically for cats; they come in delicious flavors, depending on who you ask, such as chicken and tuna. Never use human toothpaste for cats — it could be harmful for them. 

Now you’re ready for the procedure itself, right? Well, not quite. As anyone who’s spent time with cats can imagine, you have to approach this job very carefully.

Chewy, the online pet supply shop, offers endearingly optimistic tips on how to get the job done. It involves patience, treats and a remarkably docile feline.

The basic idea is to start by gradually getting them accustomed to your handling their lips. (Ideally, you’ll start this when your cat is young.) To do this, brush one or two teeth at a time until everyone is comfortable with the process.

Eventually, assuming you still have all your fingers, you’ll be able to get all the way to the back teeth. Just be sure to give your cat a treat as a reward for being cooperative once you’re finished.

Should I Brush My Cat’s Teeth?

Jackson Galaxy is a cat behaviorist — and something of a cat whisperer. When it comes to hygiene, he has a take-no-prisoners attitude: Your cat’s welfare is more important than your small conveniences and preferences.

For example, he stresses the importance of regularly trimming cats’ nails and even suggests having multiple litter boxes in various places around the house. (Squished between the laundry room wall and the washing machine will not do.)

Yet Galaxy totally lets us off the hook when it comes to tooth brushing. In a video on the subject, he says that if you can get away with it with all fingers intact, go for it. But even he doesn’t brush his cats’ teeth (an experience he says can be “nightmarish”).

In fact, he points out that frequent brushing might actually damage your relationship with your cat. How? Every time you reach out to pet them, they’re going to expect you to poke a stick in their mouth.

Still, Galaxy says the decision about whether or not to brush, and how often, should ultimately be made in consultation with your veterinarian.

Read More: 8 Do’s and Don’ts for Communicating with Your Cat

How To Keep a Cat’s Teeth Clean Without Brushing

If you decide that feline tooth brushing is just not going to happen at your house, know that there are alternatives. They might not be as good as a daily brushing, but they could help prevent periodontal disease.

Galaxy recommends leaving it to the pros: Take your cat to the vet once or twice a year for a dental checkup and cleaning. In between vet visits, you might try a dental gel.

These contain enzymes that kill the germs behind tooth decay. You’ll still have to spread the gel on your cat’s teeth, but you don’t have to brush — so it’s quicker, and maybe a little less stressful for everyone involved.

You can also buy these enzymes in liquid form; simply squirt the solution into your cat’s mouth with a dropper, or add it to their water bowl.

Chew toys can be helpful, too. Some of these have a mesh-like pattern that acts to scrape at plaque as your cat chews on them. But any kind of hard chew toy can help with dental hygiene.

In short, regular brushing is a great idea — if you can manage it without having to buy some chain mail. Even if you can’t, however, it’s time to stop ignoring your cat’s dental hygiene completely. Talk to your vet about it.

Read More: How Long Can Cats Be Left Alone?

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