Pet Care Blog

Cat Dental Care Tips For Pet Owners

Dr. Lila Batiari
Small Animal Relief Veterinarian
vet brushing cats teeth

Dental disease is a reality for most felines. According to experts, only about 10% of cats will make it through life without experiencing some type of dental issue. However, because cats are excellent at masking the symptoms, it can be challenging for owners to detect even the smallest indicators of discomfort or pain in their pets.

Establishing a proper dental routine from an early age is critical for your pet’s continued health and happiness. It not only guards against illnesses like gingivitis but also improves your feline’s overall quality of life.

In this post, we’re talking about the importance of dental care for cats and offering tips to optimize .

Do cats need dental care?

Yes, just like humans, cats are susceptible to gum disease, plaque buildup, bad breath, and tooth abscesses. Without dental care, these can all lead to oral infections, gum disease, or tooth loss and decay.

These issues are Dental disease affects 50% - 90% of felines over the age of four. Providing your pet with the appropriate food and dental care can help combat these issues.

Why is cat dental care important?

It might take you some time to realize that your cat has dental issues because cats instinctively conceal their suffering to not appear vulnerable to predators. This highlights the need to establish preventative rather than reactive health habits for your pet, particularly with regard to oral hygiene.

Eight out of ten cats over the age of three have tooth and gum issues. Felines frequently develop germs and plaque on the surfaces of their teeth as a result of the food they eat. This bacterial layer eventually hardens into tartar, which can irritate the gums and lead to gingivitis in cats (commonly known as gum disease). In severe cases and possibly tooth loss. Cats frequently require tooth extractions to relieve the pain when tartar scale accumulation is severe enough to be irreparable.

Your cat may find it difficult to eat or drink if their mouth is painful or inflamed, and the germs may even enter their bloodstream and harm their kidneys and other vital organs. Periodontal disease, which is one of the most common health conditions in pets, affecting an estimated 85% of felines over the age of six, is characterized by the gradual deterioration of the teeth, gums, and the supporting tissues that maintain teeth in place.

The good news is that most cases of periodontal disease in cats can be avoided by taking a few preventive measures to safeguard your pet’s oral health. This entails both ongoing pet dental care at home and an annual cat teeth cleaning at the vet.

When should cats start dental care?

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), cats should receive their first dental cleaning by the time they are one year old and once every year thereafter. Some cat breeds may require more frequent cleanings, particularly if they have shallow roots or crowded teeth. Older cats and indoor cats are also more susceptible to dental issues and may require more frequent cleanings.

Brushing your cat's teeth and gums on a daily basis (or at least three times a week) is essential for their oral health. It's a good idea to socialize kittens to this process while they’re young, because adult cats can be rather reluctant to have their teeth cleaned.

How can I check my cat's oral health?

You should frequently examine the condition inside your cat’s mouth, even if they might not particularly appreciate the experience. If they appear to be highly agitated or if you find it impossible to carefully inspect their mouth, be sure to take your pet to the vet for regular oral exams.

The teeth of a healthy cat should be white and clean. Healthy kitten gums shouldn’t display any inflammation, redness, or bleeding. Inspect the rear of your pet’s mouth for sores, swelling, lesions, or ulcers, and ensure that their breath doesn’t smell bad.

Signs of poor cat teeth health

Be sure to monitor your cat for these crucial warning signals between visits to the vet:

  • Visible tooth discoloration (tartar)
  • Bad breath
  • Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
  • Exposed tooth roots
  • Drooling and difficulty swallowing
  • Pawing the teeth or mouth
  • Grooming less frequently
  • Difficulty eating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

If you notice any of the above, it could indicate an illness in the cat’s mouth or elsewhere in the body. Continuous poor breath may be a sign of serious periodontal disease that has to be treated before the infection spreads to the heart, kidney, or liver through the cat’s bloodstream. It could also result in nutritional deficiencies if your cat develops food avoidance due to pain.

What dental care products do I need for a cat?

cat finger brush

Be sure that you have all the necessary tools before starting your cat's teeth-brushing routine. Both pet shops and veterinary offices sell complete cat dentistry kits:

  • Cat toothbrush. You’ll want a toothbrush that’s made specifically for the feline anatomy. As you first learn how to brush your cat’s teeth, you may want to start with dental gauze wrapped around your finger. After your cat is comfortable with your hand in their mouth, you can get them accustomed to bristles by switching to a finger brush and then working your way up to a toothbrush.
  • Cat toothpaste. Fluoride-free cat toothpaste is widely available and usually flavored with chicken or beef. Look for enzymatic formulas to kill the bacteria in your cat’s mouth known to cause disease.
  • Dental gel. For cats adverse to the consistency or flavor of toothpaste, dental gels are less thick and can be applied directly to your finger, then rubbed onto teeth to break down plaque residing on the surface.
  • Oral rinses and sprays. These products can be applied to the inside of your pet's cheek or along the gum line using a piece of gauze for less invasive oral care, but often with less effective results.
  • Water additives. Simply mix the recommended dosage into your cat’s water bowl to improve their oral hygiene whenever they hydrate. Some products can also be used as food toppers which may benefit cats who rarely drink from their water bowl.
  • Daily supplements. Dental supplements typically come in a powder form that you can sprinkle directly on top of your cat’s food. Some formulas may provide anti-inflammatory pain relief for cats with gum disease or feline stomatitis.
  • Dental food. Vets often recommend specific diets for dental disease in cats that help slow the development of bacteria and plaque. The formulas usually contain larger food pieces that encourage chewing or biting, which produces an abrasive action that cleans teeth.
  • Dental treats. These have enzymes and other additives that fight bacteria and de-mineralize plaque and tartar. They’re typically soft in texture and made with tasty ingredients that make them especially appealing to pets. Be sure that your cat’s treat consumption does not exceed 10% of their daily caloric intake.
  • Dental chews or toys. The best dental toys for cats are sufficiently abrasive to remove plaque when your cat chews on them, but not too hard that they risk damaging teeth or injuring their mouth. They also help in ensuring healthy kitten gums. This is advantageous since it helps shield your feline friend from gum infections and conditions.

What are the best cat dental care products?

We have compiled this list of best products for cat dental care in consultation with expert veterinarians. We also looked to the American Animal Hospital Association's dental care recommendations as well as the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), an organization that oversees and certifies pet dental products.

Best toothbrushes for cats

The size of a cat's mouth makes it difficult to properly wash their teeth. That’s why the toothbrush you choose for your four-legged friend should be small, with soft bristles, and easy to maneuver in order to reach the back teeth, like the Virbac CET Pet Toothbrush.

Best toothpaste for cats

The only cat toothpaste with a VOHC seal of approval is Healthymouth's topical gel. Instead of using a toothbrush, the manufacturer advises using the cotton-tipped applicators that come with the gel.

Best oral sprays, rinses & gels for toothbrush alternatives

VOHC recommends the Healthymouth Topical Spray and Healthymouth Water Additive which comes in several different flavors. Other products that can be used as toothbrush alternatives include cat-safe dental wipes like the Essential Healthymouth's Anti-Plaque Daily Topical Wipes, which are not currently available for purchase.

Best dental diets, treats, and supplements for cats

Veterinary-formulated cat kibble is available from pet food manufacturers including Hill's Pet Nutrition and Royal Canin. This food kills oral germs and polishes a cat's teeth while it is being consumed. A veterinarian must issue a prescription for these foods.

VOHC recommends the following diets:

The VOHC recommends the following cat dental treats for the reduction of tartar:

Best dental chews for cats

Some experts claim that dental chew toys are not the best toothbrush alternative because of the fact that cats often don't chew on their toys and typically only use their canine teeth while hunting and playing. However, if you still decide to invest in such a toy, consider the Petstages Catnip Toy Dental Chews and the Orkakat Catnip Wiggle Worm Kitten Teething Toy.

At-home dental care tips for cats

It’s easy to care for your feline's oral hygiene if you introduce it while they’re young and make it a consistent part of your daily routine — but it’s never too late to get started if you haven’t already. Keep these tips in mind and consult your veterinarian for the best advice.

How to keep your cat's teeth clean

The best way to keep your cat’s teeth clean is with regular brushing. Daily toothbrushing is the gold standard in preventive dental care for cats, but make it a goal to do it every time you remember, and at least three times per week.

Many cats don't like having their lips touched, but patience and rewards — whether that may be treats, affection, or playtime with their favorite toy — might help ease them into the activity. And remember: the earlier, the better.

Note: Under no circumstances can cat teeth be cleaned with human toothpaste because many contain xylitol and large quantities of fluoride, which are both toxic to cats.

How to keep your cat's mouth clean

In addition to daily brushing, there are other steps you can take to keep your cat’s mouth clean, prevent bacterial infections, and promote their oral hygiene. From additives that you mix with water to supplements that get sprinkled on top of food, treats specially-formulated with enzymes, and prescription-grade food, you’ll have no shortage of options to choose between.

With respect to diets, most vets recommend feeding your cats a mixture of wet and dry food until they are older and can no longer tolerate kibble for optimal oral health. Wet food remains on the surface of teeth for longer, leading to the development of plaque and tartar, while dry food acts like a natural floss.

At your vet’s discretion, you might consider other natural cat dental care products to help keep your cat’s mouth in pristine condition. For example, some pet parents give their cats raw, uncooked bones as natural dental chews to break down tartar, but be sure to follow best practices for safe food handling whenever dealing with raw food.

Other ways to prevent cat dental problems

In addition to brushing your pet’s teeth and the above-mentioned brushing alternatives, you can take other actions to ensure that your four-legged friend keeps their teeth clean and healthy.

Nutritious diet

Similar to people, giving cats a nutritious, balanced diet will reduce their risk of developing dental issues. Your vet can offer particular advice for a diet that can improve your cat’s oral health. In addition, take a look at the dental support diets above that have received the Veterinary Oral Health Council's seal of approval (VOHC).

Avoid giving your feline friend sweet treats. Even though sugar is not toxic to them, it has no nutritional benefit and can erode enamel, causing tooth decay and even dental disease.

Annual dental checkups

Your cat has to get a dental checkup at least once a year, regardless of whether there are any signs of dental disease. Even though you should periodically examine your cat's teeth yourself, it is simple to overlook the kinds of warning signs of a disease that a skilled and knowledgeable veterinarian will spot. Compared to dental concerns that go undiagnosed and are allowed to worsen, dental issues that are discovered early are far simpler to address and resolve.

Routine teeth cleaning

Most dental exams will include a professional cat teeth cleaning. Blood tests are first performed to see if the patient is healthy enough to be sedated. If so, your veterinarian will put them under anesthesia and start a thorough cleaning that includes a full oral exam, X-rays to spot issues below the gum line, a thorough cleaning below the gum line to prevent periodontal disease, professional scaling to remove plaque and tartar buildup on the crown, and polishing the teeth to avoid plaque and bacteria accumulation.

Oral surgery for unhealthy cat teeth

Your veterinary dentist may recommend oral surgery for cats with poor dental hygiene, especially in cases where the animal needs an operation to extract broken, impacted, decaying, or resorbing teeth.

Oral surgery and tooth extractions may seem intimidating, particularly for older cats, but they usually recover quickly and resume eating normally. The advantages of treating disease and killing bacteria in the mouth exceed the disadvantages of delaying necessary dental operations.

Where to get cat dental care?

Search for a local veterinarian who offers dentistry to schedule your cat’s annual dental checkup and cleaning. You can also find affordable dental care for cats at veterinary schools and pop-up clinics in your area. In the event of an oral injury, such as a fractured tooth or puncture wound, an emergency animal hospital may be your best pet.

Do not take your cat anywhere that offers non-anesthetic dentisty for pets, as it is neither safe nor effective at treating dental disease.

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How much does dental care for cats cost?

Cat dental care costs around $20 to $50 for at-home supplies, but annual oral exams and teeth cleanings can cost upwards of $400 at a professional veterinary dentist. Prices increase significantly when dental issues are present. For instance, for a tooth extraction that involves anesthetic, X-rays, medicine, hospitalization, and surgery equipment, cat owners should budget for pet denal work to cost around $1,300.

Pet insurance may help with these expenses. Pet insurance providers like ASPCA, Embrace, Pets Best, Healthy Paws, Prudent Pet, Nationwide, Spot, and Pumpkin offer complete coverage for cat dental care. Use Pawlicy Advisor to get quotes from these and other providers to find the perfect pet insurance plan that will help make it easier to choose affordable, high-quality dental care for your cat.

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Dr. Lila Batiari, DVM

Dr. Lila Batiari
Small Animal Relief Veterinarian

Lila Batiari, DVM is a relief veterinarian located in San Diego, California. She has a special interest in nutrition, pain management, and surgery! Dr. Batiari enjoys working with Pawlicy Advisor to help others avoid everyday situations that some of her clientele experience. She realizes that expensive vet bills for treatment costs could be much easier for patients with pet insurance.

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