Tooth and gum problems occur in eight out of every ten cats over the age of three, so there's good reason to establish a routine of brushing your cat's teeth early on. Cats tend to accumulate plaque (food debris and bacteria) on the outside of their teeth, but not on the inside. This hardens to form tartar, irritating the gums and causing gingivitis and loss of teeth. The bacteria can even potentially enter the bloodstream and damage internal organs.
Clinical signs of advanced dental disease include bad breath, reddened gums, yellowish-brown tartar on teeth and drooling. When gingivitis is severe, cats may even drop food from their mouths, chew only on one side and lose weight because they are unable to eat. However, it is very important to remember that many cats with severe dental disease do not show any signs at all. Cats are experts at hiding their illness, but this doesn’t mean the cat is not in great pain. This is why it is important for you to check your cat’s teeth and why dental check-ups at the vet’s are vital, particularly for older cats. If you notice any problems, take your cat to the vet as it will be too late to start brushing. Your vet may recommend specialist dental care to remove any loose or damaged teeth and de-scale using ultra-sonic vibration, which gently removes plaque and tartar without damaging the surface of the teeth.
If your cat has had veterinary treatment, then wait as long as your vet advises before trying to clean the teeth. Despite popular opinion, it is possible to train a cat to accept teeth cleaning with time and patience. Home teeth-cleaning is easier if introduced to a cat early in life, preferably as a kitten. The following tips will help you start brushing your cat’s teeth:
- Ask your veterinary nurse to show you how to brush your cat’s teeth correctly.
- Obtain a toothbrush designed for cats from your vet, one per cat to prevent disease transmission.
- Obtain special pet toothpaste in flavours that you cat will find tasty, like malt or chicken. Never use toothpaste made for humans!
- Choose a time that you can stick to each day to make it a routine event.
- Finger brushes should be used with caution as they can be accidentally bitten with your finger inside!
- Start by putting tasty toothpaste on your finger and offering it to your cat to lick. Do this daily for a few days.
- Have your cat’s back to you when you start brushing as they may try and reverse; this is also a less confrontational approach.
- If your cat tries to push you away with their paws, you may need someone to help you hold them, but it is better to try to slowly acclimatise your cat by repeatedly touching their mouth and head and offering rewards daily for many days.
- Move on to slowly retracting the lips and touching the teeth with the toothbrush, then stop and reward your cat. Again repeat this daily for several days. If this is tolerated well, then you can start gently brushing the teeth by applying the bristles to the teeth at a 45-degree angle, reaching both the tooth surface and just beneath the gum margin, but not directly on the gums.
- Start by doing this very briefly (10 seconds or so) before rewarding.
If your cat is still very young, do not attempt to brush milk teeth, but get your kitten used to having its teeth touched from a very early age as a precursor to daily dental care.
Dental care products
Some cats will not tolerate tooth brushing, however hard you try. Rather than continue to cause them stress, talk to your vet about other products you can use, such as oral hygiene gels containing enzymes that inhibit the bacteria responsible for plaque formation. You can give them to your cat directly or mix them with food. Dental chews are also available, as well as special dry food diets that contain fibre and exert a scraping action as your cat chews.
Home dental care is a good idea to reduce the amount of dental problems your cat may suffer in their lifetime. With patience and persistence most cats will learn to tolerate tooth cleaning.
Dental care products from Purina
FELIX Dentapaw is the easy way to look after your cat’s teeth. Thanks to a unique texture that acts like a toothbrush, these delicious meaty treats from Purina are scientifically proven to reduce tartar. Click the FELIX logo to learn more.