All cat parents can admit that there are a few unsavory responsibilities we never look forward to: nail trims, dingleberry removal, and cat teeth brushing. After all, cats don’t wipe after the litter box and use their own tongue to bathe. The easy conclusion to draw is that their hygienic needs differ from our own and as such, tooth upkeep is unnecessary.
And yet, one of the most common cat symptoms and ailments is feline tooth resorption, a condition where the body produces enzymes that attack and make holes in the cat teeth. “It looks like a painful, bloody sore and feels like a cavity,” says Dr. Django Martel, Staff Doctor, NYC’s Animal Medical Center. And while the cause of feline tooth resorption is something that is not completely understood—possible culprits include genetics and feline calicivirus infection—some studies show that up to 70 percent of cats will have one or more of their teeth affected during their lifetime. And despite being painful, most cats will learn to eat around an afflicted tooth, show no cat symptoms and give no outward sign that anything is awry.
Less severe but still common problems include gingivitis and stomatitis in cats. While gingivitis occurs most often in dogs, it is still a problem for cats, too. Like people, cats’ teeth vary and some have a greater propensity for accumulating plaque than others. Stomatitis in cats is inflammation in gum tissue anywhere in the kitty’s mouth. But there’s only one way to find out what’s going on with your feline friend’s cat teeth—and that’s to take a peek at their pearly whites. “Too many people are afraid to look in their cat’s mouths,” says Dr. Django. “The good thing about brushing is that you can keep track of their oral health— so you know if there is something painful in there.”
Keep your cat’s chompers in top-shape by making your kitty cat’s dental health one of your top pet parent priorities. Here’s how:
#1. Brushing: Were you hoping this wouldn’t be at the top of the list? Alas, the practice is the number one way to keep your kitty’s teeth healthy. Dr. Django recommends that cats should be at least nine months to a year old before you start making brushing a regular habit. Before that age, there is no real plague build-up and they are still young enough to be amendable. But any younger and you run into the chance of aggravating a teething kitten and being bitten.
Getting kitties used to brushing when they are young is important. To start, try gently touching their gums with your finger to get them used to the sensation. To make the experience pleasant, offer them some pet-safe toothpaste to lick, like Virbac C.E.T. Tartar Control Beef Flavor Dog and Cat Toothpaste. When you’re ready to graduate to a toothbrush, you can go with a pet-approved option like the Vetoquinol Enzadent Dual-Ended Toothbrush for Dogs and Cats.
Have the cat sitting on a table or held between your legs on your lap and approach them from behind. Coming at your cat’s mouth from the back is less threatening. Insert the brush between the lips while holding the nose and mouth closed with your other hand, and brush along the gum-lines outside of the mouth, where they meet the cheek. “Crossing into the mouth is a little more dangerous and not necessary,” Dr. Django notes.
For older cats, make sure to inspect their teeth for lesions or sores before coming at them with a toothbrush. Brushing teeth with lesions is like rubbing salt in a wound. Ouch. If you’ve tried, and failed, to brush your cat’s teeth in the past, feline tooth resorption sores might be to blame!
Ideally, you should aim to brush every single day or every other day. In a perfect world, that is. “A certain percentage of cats will simply not let you brush their teeth,” Dr. Django says. If that’s the case with your high-maintenance kitty, there are still other routes to try.
#2. Diet: Switch to a partially dry-food diet or at least make it available to your cat, specifically oral-care cat food diets such as Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d Dental Care Chicken Flavor Dry Cat Food. It’s important to note that dry food may aggravate urinary-tract infections. So if your furry friend is prone to such infections, you may want to forgo the kibble and stick to a wet diet and ask your vet for their recommendation.
#3. Treats: Treats can help reduce overall tartar buildup. The Greenies brand is a top vet-recommended option, offering treats like Greenies Feline Oven Roasted Chicken Flavor Dental Cat Treats.
#4. Water Additives: It’s easy to pour a dental water additive into your cat’s bowl and call it a day. But if that’s all you’re doing, you won’t find it effective. Still, in conjunction with other things, a product like TropiClean Fresh Breath Water Additive can help you keep your kitty’s teeth healthy.
#5. Visit Your Vet: Your veterinarian will examine your cat’s teeth as part of your annual well-cat visit. Most general practitioners know what to look for, like cat symptoms and signs of feline tooth resorption, gingivitis, stomatitis in cats, or excessive plaque build-up. If you’ve noticed a change in the odor of your cat’s breath or persistent bad breath, bring it up with your vet ASAP. And yes, they’re pricey, but don’t forget regular dental cleanings! Just like us humans, animals benefit from frequent deep cleanings.