Brushing your cat’s teeth may not seem like a typical part of a pet owner’s routine, but proper dental care is crucial when it comes to maintaining your kitty’s overall health. Feline dental care is often overlooked—in fact, the majority of cats develop preventable dental problems at some point during their lifetime.
Plaque on the teeth turns into tartar, which affects the gums, which can lead to more serious health concerns down the road. This means that dental care is beneficial for both your cat’s health and your wallet!
Caring for Your Cat’s Teeth
While the vet handles check-ups and emergencies, your job as a pet owner is to focus on preventative care. Implementing a proper dental care routine can help keep your kitty’s carnivorous teeth clean and strong.
...and no, we’re not talking about your feline’s fur. Brushing your cat’s teeth on a regular basis (daily is ideal) is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure dental wellness. Plaque is the starting point of many dental issues, so it’s only logical that removing said plaque should be a priority.
Use a cat-friendly toothpaste in order to avoid digestive issues, and use a toothbrush specifically designed for cats; cat toothbrushes are smaller and have softer bristles than human toothbrushes. You can also opt for finger brushes if it’s easier for you and your kitty. Some pet owners also prefer dental wipes, which are slightly less effective… but something is definitely better than nothing.
Some cats may be quite stubborn about getting their teeth brushed, but stay patient. Keep sessions short and sweet, and keep the introduction gradual. For example, simply start out by letting her lick some toothpaste from your finger, and then slowly introduce her to the idea of having a toothbrush in her mouth.
If your cat is absolutely refusing to cooperate, take a break and try again later. After all, you want the experience to be as positive as possible (so offer plenty of yummy rewards, too). It’s also worth consulting your vet to rule out any problems that might be causing pain.
You don’t necessarily want to brush the gums, as this could be painful—especially for cats dealing with inflamed or infected gums. That being said, gently massaging the gums can help to expedite the healing and strengthening process and prevent tooth decay or gum deterioration.
If your cat’s gums are red, inflamed, or seem to be a point of pain, talk to your vet about steps you can take to address the issue.
As the saying goes, you are what you eat. This applies to animals as well as humans; the healthier your cat’s diet, the healthier your cat.
While a balanced, healthy diet is sufficient for many, some pets may need an extra boost. If your cat struggles with dental issues, talk to your vet about a diet prescribed specifically to improve dental health.
Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of hydration. Drinking water can help to wash away any food left in your kitty’s mouth after a meal.
There are several treats and chews out there specifically designed to reduce tartar and improve dental health (just make sure you choose something that’s approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, or VOHC).
Dental treats shouldn’t be used as a replacement for a toothbrush and health diet, though. Instead, use dental treats as supplementary support, such as a reward for cooperating throughout a tooth brushing session.
When we think of chew toys for pets, we tend to think of dogs. After all, dogs are the ones who stereotypically chew on raw bones on the regular. Cats are natural predators, so it makes sense that chewing is an instinctive behavior for them as well.
Assuming your house cat isn’t spending her days hunting and eating mice and other small animals, she may need a chew toy to chomp on while she scrapes her teeth clean. Don’t just hand her Fido’s favorite chew toy, though—toys that are too hard could break your kitty’s tiny teeth. Instead, opt for chew toys specifically designed for cats.
Don’t skip your cat’s annual checkup, and definitely don’t skip the dental health portion of the vet visit. No matter how diligent you are about maintaining your cat’s dental health, your vet will be able to assess whether there are any issues that need to be addressed, or additional steps you can be taking at home.
Signs of Dental Health Issues
Even if it’s not time for your cat’s annual vet visit, talk to your vet if you notice any common signs of dental health issues, including:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding gums
- Chewing on odd objects around the house
- Loss of appetite or reluctance to eat
- Pawing at the mouth
- Broken, loose, or missing teeth
Cats instinctively hide their pain as a way to avoid appearing vulnerable to predators, so it may take some time and close observation before you notice that your pet is hurting. Keep an eye on any seemingly unrelated behavioral changes—excessive hiding, unexplained aggression, or reduced sleeping can all be signs that your kitty is in pain.
If you notice any physical or behavioral changes or other signs of concern, it’s never a bad idea to contact your vet just to be safe.