Cat Dental Care: How Do I Take Care of My Cat's Teeth?
Cat dental care is vital to keeping your kitty comfortable and healthy long into their senior years. Your animal’s teeth allow them to stay nourished by eating food and treats. Cats are prone to issues like plaque, tartar, periodontal disease (also called gum disease), and loss of teeth.
Studies report that as many as 90 percent of cats over 4 years old experience dental problems. You’re probably wondering, with all this potential for expensive issues and discomfort for your pet, how do I take care of my cat’s teeth?
Cat dental care requires time, effort, and involvement from the owner. Here’s what you need to know about the importance of cat dental care, along with tips for how to clean your cat’s teeth at home and what to expect at a professional cat dental cleaning.
Why Cat Dental Care Is Important
Unlike other parts of their hygiene, cats can’t keep up their dental health on their own, so their owners are responsible for creating a lifestyle that will support healthy teeth and gums for their feline. Cat dental care is important because:
- Domestic cats don’t have a natural cleaning system for their mouths
- Plaque is a dangerous build-up that can cause more serious issues
- Dental disease is common in cats
Domestic Cats Can’t Clean Their Mouths Well
In the wild, cats clean their teeth and gums by chewing on bones and grass. Indoor, domesticated cats don’t have an opportunity to do this. Bacteria exists naturally in your cat’s mouth and, unlike humans, cats don’t also have enzymes in the mouth that balance out that bacteria and keep it in check.
Furthermore, cat’s teeth are uniquely shaped to trap food in crevices. This food, combined with saliva and the mouth bacteria, creates plaque.
Why Plaque Is Dangerous for Your Cat
Plaque is a sticky substance that causes inflammation in the gums (gingivitis). When it hardens, plaque becomes tartar, which causes painful periodontal disease in cats and requires veterinary attention. Periodontal disease, if left untreated, can result in two more serious conditions: periodontitis, when the gums pull away from the teeth and soft tissue is damaged, and feline tooth resorption. Feline tooth resorption destroys your cat’s teeth from the inside out, and this condition affects three-quarters of adult cats over the age of five.
Periodontal disease can also create additional bacteria in your cat’s mouth which can enter their bloodstream and damage their organs – so severe, unaddressed dental issues can be life-threatening for your cat.
Common Signs of Dental Disease in Cats
Cats are notoriously tough – they won’t show us they are in pain until a condition has become severe and unbearable. That’s why cat owners need to know the signs of cat dental problems, so they can address the issue before it gets too painful and destructive for their pet.
Some easily identifiable symptoms that might indicate dental disease include bad breath, visible tooth discoloration, exposed roots on the teeth, discolored or irritated gums, and excessive or bloody drool. Changes in your cat’s behavior, such as pawing at their mouth, reduced grooming habits, or decreased appetite and eating, can also indicate dental disease. If your kitty starts acting especially cranky or pulls away when you try to pet their face, it might be a sign of mouth discomfort and should be checked by your veterinarian.
It’s important to keep in mind that, despite all the possible symptoms, dental disease can easily go undetected in cats. Even if your cat isn’t displaying any of the signs listed here, they need to be getting regular dental cleanings and x-rays to ensure their dental health is in tip-top shape.
How to Clean Your Cat's Teeth at Home
The first line of defense against dental issues in cats is home care teeth cleaning. This is an important habit that, when consistent, can be very effective in preventing dental disease in your cat. It’s best to start these dental cleanings very early on in your cat’s life, ideally when they are a kitten so that they get used to it as part of their routine. Try to brush your cat’s teeth every day, but do so at least three times a week.
The steps for a cat dental cleaning are:
- Gathering the proper tools
- Ensuring your cat is calm
- Performing an oral exam
- Letting them taste the toothpaste
- Introducing the toothbrush
Tools You Need to Clean Your Cat’s Teeth at Home
At the very least, you’ll need cat-specific toothpaste and a cat toothbrush to get started with your dental cleaning. There are plenty of choices for these items, and your veterinarian can likely recommend a favorite brand or type that would be good for your cat. Make sure the brush is small enough to fit in your cat’s mouth. Some owners choose to use a finger brush that fits right over their finger, which gives you a little more control during the cleaning.
Never use human toothpaste when cleaning your cat’s teeth! It may include fluoride, which is toxic for felines. You also might want to have some dental gauze on hand for rubbing and polishing the teeth.
Dental Cleaning Should Only Happen When Your Cat Is Calm
Professionals won’t even clean your cat’s teeth unless they are sedated, so it’s obviously important that your cat is in a calm, chill state before you start the at-home cleaning. Make sure your cat isn’t hyper because they are ready for play time or a meal. Catch them at a time of day when they’re normally napping (but don’t wake them from a nap to do a cleaning).
You want your cat to be relaxed at the beginning of the dental cleaning process. If your cat needs some extra support with maintaining their calm demeanor, you might want to introduce a calming CBD oil for cats into their daily routine.
Start Every Cleaning with an Oral Exam
First, you’ll want to examine your cat’s mouth for any changes or signs of cat periodontal disease. This means looking for discoloration and any changes in the shape of your cat’s gums and teeth.
Use your hands to feel around in your cat’s cheeks, face, and mouth for any growths or bumps, and also watch to see if they flinch or react when you touch a certain area. This is also a great way to prepare your cat for the toothbrushing experience and get them comfortable with having their mouth and face touched.
At the beginning, you’ll need to start slowly and likely just touch the outside of your cat’s face and mouth. Once they’re relaxed and comfortable, you can try to put your finger inside their mouth and massage their gums and then touch their teeth. It might take a while to graduate to this.
Give Your Cat a Taste of Toothpaste Before Brushing
Many cat toothpastes have yummy flavors that your kitty will really enjoy, like tuna or salmon. But not every cat is the same, so you want to introduce the product to your cat before you start brushing their teeth with it.
Place a dab of the paste on your finger and let your cat sniff and lick. If they find it offensive, you might want to try another flavor or brand. If a cat doesn’t like the flavor of the toothpaste you’re using, it’s going to make the entire dental cleaning routine really difficult and traumatic for your pet.
Once your cat has tasted it and seems pleased, you can try rubbing it on the outside of their teeth with your finger.
Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth
Even though you’ve already introduced the toothpaste to your cat, you should introduce the brush without any toothpaste on it. Your cat will need to adjust to these tools separately before you combine them. Your cat will hopefully be inclined to chew on the bristles, which is helpful in breaking down plaque and requires little effort on your part.
Once your cat seems comfortable with the toothbrush, you can add some toothpaste and try to rub the bristles on your cat’s teeth in a circular motion. Don’t forget to include the gums. Do not brush hard – the process should be slow and gentle. Every now and then, stop to give your cat a treat so they have positive associative associations with dental cleanings.
All About Professional Dental Cleaning For Cats
Even with the most solid at-home dental cleaning routine, cats are going to need professional dental attention from their veterinarian at least once a year (sometimes more depending on their age, breed, and medical history). So what is included in a cat dental appointment? How much do these appointments cost? Here’s what you need to know, including:
- The importance of anesthesia for cat dental cleanings
- Costs associated with professional dental care
- Why x-rays are non-negotiable
- Reasons your cat might need oral surgery
Proper Cat Dental Cleaning Requires Anesthesia
While your cat can be awake for an oral exam if they are calm and cooperative, they are going to need anesthesia for their professional dental cleaning. These cleanings are much more thorough and involved than the at-home cleanings, and frankly, your cat would be uncomfortable and unhappy if they were awake for the process. Your veterinarian will perform testing to ensure anesthesia is safe for your cat.
Once your cat is sedated, the cat dental cleaning procedure is much like the human tooth cleaning experience. The veterinarian will scale and polish the cat’s teeth, then rinse their mouth and use a probe to explore for any areas of erosion or significant decay. If necessary, your veterinarian might take the opportunity to remove any teeth that are not salvageable.
Why X-Rays Are Crucial to Your Cat’s Dental Health
While your cat is sedated for their dental care, your veterinarian will perform x-rays. This step is a very important part of dental care for cats because there are often things going on under the gums that can’t be seen, even during a detailed cleaning. Knowing about any growth, decay, or damage that is hidden beneath the gums will allow your veterinarian to address issues before they get worse.
Cat Dental Cleaning Costs
Cat dental care costs are expensive, with a dental cleaning appointment costing between $800 and $1500 in most parts of the US. The reason for this expense is the anesthesia.
There are non-veterinarians who will claim they can clean your cat’s teeth without the general anesthesia, but these procedures are generally ineffective and even dangerous for your cat’s health. Also, they don’t include x-rays, which are vital to prevention and treatment ofr your cat’s mouth and tooth problems.
Unfortunately, cat dental cleaning costs are a necessary expense for cat owners to keep their felines healthy. One way to off-set the costs of your cat’s regular, professional dental care is with a pet insurance policy. You may also be able to find a free or low-cost dental clinic in your area.
When Your Cat Might Need Oral Surgery
Your cat’s professional dental cleanings offer an opportunity for your veterinarian to diagnose various issues with your cat’s teeth and mouth, which may result in the need for surgery. Oral surgery might be necessary to remove damaged gum tissue, tumors, or broken or damaged teeth. Surgery may also be necessary to handle feline tooth resorption or remove impacted teeth.
Oral surgery can be scary and expensive – again, with costs running from about $300 to well over $1000 – but your veterinarian won’t recommend it unless it’s absolutely necessary. Dental issues can compound very quickly, and sometimes quick, clean removal of a problem area is the best course of action for keeping your cat healthy and pain-free.
Other Tips for Preventing Dental Issues in Cats
At-home and professional cleanings are the cornerstones of maintaining your cat’s dental health, but there are other ways to support strong teeth and gums. For a well-rounded dental care routine, make sure your cat has:
- Dental treats
- A good diet
- Supplementary rinses and gels for mouth health
Dental Treats Support Healthy Teeth
Cat dental treats, or treats that are designed to encourage chewing and include tooth-supportive ingredients, can be a wonderful resource for your cat’s overall dental health. Also, giving your cat dental treats between meals encourages their saliva production, and saliva is one natural defense against the growth of bacteria in your cat’s mouth. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a good dental treat that fits in with your cat’s overall health routine and diet.
A Healthy, Balanced Diet Will Support Cat Dental Health
Your cat’s teeth and gums will be stronger and healthier if they have a well-balanced diet and they are getting all the nutrition they need. Sometimes, if a cat is demonstrating signs of dental issues, a veterinarian might recommend a cat food designed specifically for feline oral health. These foods often have larger kibble pieces that encourage your cat to chew and bite more – actions that assist with the break-up of bacteria and food debris in their mouth.
Consider Oral Rinses and Gels
Another easy way to support your cat’s dental health is with other cat dental care products like oral rinses and gels. These are simply like mouthwash for cats. Never use a human mouthwash on a cat, but cat-specific rinses can provide cleansing benefits to reduce the growth of bacteria in the mouth.
Likewise, gels can provide a soothing and cleansing mouth treatment for cats. Neither rinses nor gels can be used as a substitute for brushing your cat’s teeth and regular professional care, but they can be rather a nice complement to a holistic dental health routine.
Cat Dental Care Is Mandatory for a Healthy Cat
Your cat needs intentional, consistent care for their mouth, gums, and teeth. If you keep up regular at-home and professional cleanings and use supportive tools like dental treats and gels, you should be able to avoid the more serious dental issues that many cats suffer from. Cat dental care is non-negotiable when it comes to your cat’s health, happiness, and comfort.