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Knowing how to clean your cat’s teeth and keep them clean is an important part of being a cat parent. By cleaning your cat’s teeth you can help treat bad breath and prevent common cat dental problems like gum disease and tooth resorption (progressive destruction of one or more teeth).

Plaque is a sticky bacterial biofilm that forms on teeth. Over time it hardens into tartar, which leads to gum disease—and it can even lead to heart, liver and kidney damage if the bacteria make their way into your cat’s bloodstream.

Brushing and other teeth-cleaning methods prevent or reduce plaque buildup, lowering your cat’s risk of dental disease and other health issues. Here’s everything you need to know about cleaning your cat’s teeth, so you can find the method that works best for you both!

tortie cat licking lips

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth

The best way to clean your cat’s teeth is with regular brushing. There are some different approaches you can take, but they all start with having the right supplies on hand.

Toothpaste for Cats

It’s important to use toothpaste specifically made for cats, because human toothpaste has ingredients that can be toxic to cats. Cat toothpaste comes in different flavors like chicken, seafood, or malt. Finding a toothpaste flavor that your cat enjoys (or at least doesn’t mind) will go a long way towards successful tooth brushing.

Choosing a Toothbrush for Your Cat

The right toothbrush for your cat depends in part on how big their mouth is. For some cats you can use a toothbrush designed for human infants because they have a small head and very soft bristles. 

There are also toothbrushes made for cats, including toothbrushes that fit over one finger. If your cat won’t allow any of those options, you can try using a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger.

How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

You’ll have to put in consistent effort to train your cat to allow you to brush their teeth. It’s easier with kittens, but still possible for adult cats (it might just take longer for them to accept this new routine).

Step one is your setting. Choose a room where you can close the door, and choose a time when your cat is calm and content. You can place your cat on a towel on a countertop or table, or have them on your lap.

For each of the following steps, only go as far as your cat is comfortable with. When they protest, stop and try again another time. It may take several weeks to work your way up to a full tooth-brushing session.

Step two is getting your cat used to you touching their lips and teeth. Start by petting your cat, and work your way towards their mouth. Gently touch your cat’s mouth and try lifting one lip with a finger. If your cat stays relaxed and lets you touch their mouth, reward them right away with a treat, catnip, playtime or whatever your cat loves most.

As your cat gets used to you touching their mouth, you can start running your fingertip along their teeth and gums. When this is normalized, dip a cotton swab or a piece of gauze in tuna juice (drained from a can of tuna or cat food) and move that along the teeth and gumline. This can help introduce a positive association.

Step three is using moist gauze or a cotton swab with cat toothpaste, and running it along the teeth and gumline.

Step four: it’s toothbrush time. Let your cat see and smell the toothbrush, and see if they’ll lick some toothpaste off of it. Gently maneuver the toothbrush into your cat’s mouth and start brushing.

Always keep toothbrushing brief, lighthearted and positive. Talk to your cat in a calm tone, and remember to reward them whenever they let you make progress. It also helps if you brush your cat’s teeth at the same time each day, because cats love a routine.

Cat tooth brushing tips:

How Often Should I Brush My Cat’s Teeth?

Daily tooth brushing is most effective, and is also helpful in creating a routine. But if that’s not possible, three times per week is the recommended minimum. But even bushing your cat’s teeth once a week is better than never, so don’t give up if your schedule won’t allow more frequent brushing.

How to Clean Your Cat’s Teeth Without Brushing

Tooth brushing is the ideal and worth trying, but if your cat won’t allow it you’re not alone, and you’re not out of luck – there are still plenty of ways you can help keep your cat’s teeth cleaner without brushing.

Dental Wipes for Cats

Cat dental wipes are textured disposable cloths that you wrap around or slip over your finger. Dental wipes obviously won’t work if your cat is prone to biting, but they’re a good substitute for brushing if your cat won’t accept a toothbrush. Cat dental wipes can also be easier for cat parents to use because you can feel where you’re cleaning. Look for the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of approval on all cat dental products, or ask your vet for a recommendation. 

Feed a Raw Diet

Another way to keep your cat’s teeth healthy is by feeding them a raw diet. Raw foods are rich in vitamins and minerals that are essential for good oral health. The ground bone in our raw cat food acts as a natural dental abrasive to effectively clean your cat’s teeth while chewing. From Frozen Raw Dinner Morsels and Freeze-Dried Dinner Morsels to Raw-Coated Cat Kibble and Marie’s Magical Dinner Dust for cats, we offer a wide variety of raw products that can help keep your cat’s teeth clean.

Dental Care Gel or Spray for Cats

Unlike cat toothpaste, cat tooth gel is designed to work without brushing. You can use your finger or a swab to gently wipe the gel on your cat’s teeth and gums. The dental gel gets spread around your cat’s mouth as it mixes with their saliva, reducing the bacterial film on teeth.

Oral sprays can be sprayed into your cat’s mouth (no need to apply directly on teeth). The spray solution mixes with saliva as your cat licks their teeth and helps to prevent and remove plaque. Always read the ingredients and avoid dental sprays that contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that’s toxic to cats.

Give Your Cat Something to Chew On

Cat dental treats are designed to remove plaque and tartar from your cat’s teeth as they chew. Cat dental chews or sticks are usually hard and crunchy, but it’s not just the texture that scrapes away tartar. Dental chews also stimulate saliva production, which helps clean teeth. They also make dental chews for cats that are filled with catnip to encourage your cat to chew on them.

Dental Water Additives for Cats

Odorless, tasteless dental water additives work by killing bacteria in your cat’s mouth whenever they drink water. They can also help keep your cat’s water bowl cleaner. Dental water additives can help prevent tooth decay and gum disease, though they work best in conjunction with regular tooth brushing. Some cats don’t like water additives, so try a different brand or discontinue use if it leads to water aversion.

Clean Your Cat’s Dishes Every Day

Your cat’s food bowl and water bowl are breeding grounds for bacteria, including harmful bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. Washing your cat’s dishes more often reduces the bacteria in their bowls , which means less bacteria in their mouth as well.

You should wash your cat’s food bowl after every feeding, and wash their water dish once a day. If you use a scoop or any other utensils to serve your cat’s food, those need regular washing too – and don’t forget to wash your hands!

Professional Cleanings

Your vet might recommend yearly or as-needed professional teeth cleaning for your cat, even if you’re doing your best to keep your cat’s teeth clean. Cats are put under general anesthesia for dental visits, which lets the veterinarian thoroughly clean and inspect their teeth (and the rest of their mouth).

Some cat breeds have a higher risk of dental disease, so you may need professional teeth cleaning more often if you have a Maine Coon, Siamese, exotic or orange mixed-breed cat. Brachycephalic (flat-faced) cat breeds such as Persians and Himalayans are also more likely to develop dental problems.

Remember, cats are masters at hiding pain. Your cat may have painful dental issues and still act healthy, so don’t skip the vet checkups and always follow your vet’s advice regarding preventive dental care.

Stella & Chewy’s Loves Your Cat

At Stella & Chewy’s, we love all cats and want to ensure their health and happiness are at the top of the list. With that being said, check out Our Blog: For the Pet Obsessed to learn more about new products, updates, recipes, and activities for your cat! Learn more tips for keeping your cat healthy, inside and out!