Cat Dental Health

Dental Care for Cat Including How-To Brush Teeth

yawning cat
Photo by Serena Koi on

Sniff. Sniff… does your cat’s breath stink? If it smells like something crawled in her mouth and died, that’s not a good sign. It would be wise to see a veterinarian for help. But if you get a whiff of her last meal, something that resembles a food odor and doesn’t make you gag, that would be normal.

Check out the gums. Firm and pink is good. White and/or red is not good. And there should be NO swelling. Take her to the vet if you see any because it can mean other internal problems or diseases besides just the appearance of swollen gums. Observe the amount of tartar. Hopefully there is very little.

Other signs that indicate possible problems: difficulty chewing food, excessive drooling, and excessive pawing at the mouth.

Periodontal or gum disease caused by the buildup of plaque and tartar is a huge problem for cats. It’s estimated that 70% of cats will have dental issues by the age of three without any dental care. They rely on us and we should try to do our best to keep their teeth and mouths clean.

A nutritious diet, chew treats that scrape the teeth and massage gums, yearly checkups by a veterinarian and (*cringe*) regular teeth brushing performed by you will definitely make a difference in the overall health of your cat.

>> Tooth-Brushing Kit:

  • Cotton swabs or cotton gauze pads
  • Baby toothbrush or a toothbrush made FOR cats or a finger brush, which is a rubber finger covering with little soft bristles on the tip.
  •  Cat toothpaste (have read about using salt and water). NEVER use toothpaste for humans!

It’s never too early to start brushing your cat’s teeth, either. Start when they are kittens if possible.


NOTE: It may take several WEEKS until your cat is comfortable with having her teeth brushed. And perhaps she never will allow you to brush her teeth. If that’s the case, other options are medicated teeth cleaning pads, sprays for the mouth, special tartar-reducing drops for drinking water, special diets your vet can suggest, always have chew toys around, tartar control treats, and scheduling an appointment for the vet to clean your cat’s teeth.

OK – here are the steps to be completed over a period of many days, perhaps even weeks:

  • First, get kitty used to something being in her mouth. Just massage her gums with your finger or a cotton swab or gauze. You may call it a day after that. You’ll have to judge your cat’s behavior and how much you can accomplish in each session.
  • Some people dip a finger in tuna water. Rub this over the gums and one or two teeth. Repeat until your cat tolerates it.
  • Next session – put a little bit of cat toothpaste on her lips to get her used to the taste.
  • Next, introduce the baby/cat toothbrush or finger brush. NO toothpaste yet. Be happy if you can get 1 – 2 teeth brushed.
  • Keep giving her a tiny taste of that toothpaste, too.
  • Keep experimenting with brushing a few more teeth (minus the paste).
  • Once she is “accepting” this routine, it’s time to bring on the combination of cat toothpaste AND the toothbrush (or finger brush).
  • If you can accomplish this – go do the happy dance! But first praise your cat and shower her with love, letting her know SHE did GOOD!

Chew Toys are great for a cat’s teeth, gums and are fun for the cat. They satisfy the natural urges to chomp, help make teeth stronger, help floss the teeth, massage her gums and scrape away soft tartar. Everyone buys toys for their cats anyway, so why not get one that serves dual-purpose? Fun and health?

Diet  — If your cat definitely has dental problems, ask your veterinarian for help. I’m sure if you’ve taken your cat in recently for a checkup, and the vet clearly sees the icky teeth problem, they’ll recommend a food to keep the teeth as healthy as possible and one that helps to remove plaque buildup.

Professional Cleaning — Brushing removes plaque but not that hardened-on tartar build-up. There may come a time your cat should have a veterinarian remove it with a professional cleaning and polishing. Normally the cat is put under anesthesia in order to get the job done. Your veterinarian may even use a fluoride treatment and will give you instructions for home care and follow-up. Luckily, if you’ve been a good human parent (servant!), you have already been diligently brushing kitty’s teeth and know the home care ritual! If not, you have your instructions!