How To Brush A Cat's Teeth Without Losing Your Fingers

You can do it! 🦷✨

Brushing a cat's teeth

The thought of brushing your cat’s teeth may seem scary (for both you and your cat!), but it’s worth it in the long run since it’s a crucial part of his dental care.

Dental problems are common in cats, so it’s important to learn how to brush a cat’s teeth and put him on a regular brushing routine.

It’s likely your cat will absolutely hate having a toothbrush stuck in his mouth. Luckily, keeping your cat’s teeth clean can easily become a part of your daily routine with a little practice.

Should I brush my cat’s teeth?

Brushing your cat’s teeth means you’re helping to get rid of plaque. If plaque builds up, it can lead to dental problems in cats, like gingivitis, periodontal disease and even tooth loss. These can be very painful and can lead to other medical conditions, like heart disease and sinus infections.

“Many cats develop tartar, gingivitis, oral infections, tooth loss and even diseases of distant organs like the kidneys, lungs, liver and heart as a result of poor oral hygiene,” Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian in Fort Collins, Colorado, told The Dodo.

Believe it or not, checking out the inside of your cat’s mouth on a regular basis can be good for his health. Take this time to look for any dental issues, like redness at the gumline or unusually small teeth, Dr. Ken Lambrecht, a veterinarian at West Towne Veterinary Center in Wisconsin, told The Dodo.

If your cat’s teeth are uneven on one side, that could mean he has a chipped tooth. And if your cat’s gums are red, that could mean your cat has something called “resorptive lesions” — which basically means the surface of the tooth is too worn down. Both of these conditions can be pretty painful and mean you should plan a trip to the vet.

Even if your cat’s mouth looks healthy, it’s a good idea to have a vet check him out before you start a new brushing routine. “Have your veterinarian examine your cat’s mouth before starting to brush teeth,” Dr. Coates said. “If dental disease is already present, you’ll need to schedule a professional dental cleaning before tooth brushing.”

How often should I brush my cat’s teeth?

Both Dr. Coates and Dr. Lambrecht recommend cat parents brush their cats’ teeth daily. After a few days without brushing, the plaque on your cat’s teeth can harden into tartar — which is even more difficult to remove.

If you can’t commit to brushing daily (some cats will put up a fight no matter what you do!), aim to brush your cat’s teeth at least three times a week.

“A missed day here or there isn’t a problem, but anything less than every other day gives plaque a chance to harden into tartar that can only be removed by a veterinarian,” Dr. Coates said.

What You’ll Need To Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

“A very soft, small brush or fingertip brush usually works the best,” Dr. Lambrecht said.

Toothbrushes designed for cats typically have softer bristles as well as a longer handle and an angled head to make it easier for you to get in there (without risking your fingers).

Try this Virbac C.E.T. cat toothbrush from Chewy for $5.99

Try this Vetoquinol Enzadent cat toothbrush from Chewy for $4.99

Some cat toothbrushes can even be placed on your finger, which makes it easier to get those hard-to-reach places.

Try this finger brush from Chewy for $4.46

If your cat hates any cat toothbrush you try, you can use a clean washcloth and then transition to a toothbrush once he becomes more comfortable.

You’ll also want to buy toothpaste made specifically for cats, which is safe for them to swallow. (Never use regular human toothpaste while brushing your cat’s teeth as it can be toxic!)

Try this VIRBAC cat toothpaste from Chewy for $10.38

How to brush your cat’s teeth step by step

  1. Place your cat on your lap facing away from you.
  2. Dab your finger in a food or treat with a flavor that your cat likes (like canned tuna) and gently run your finger along his teeth.
  3. When your cat becomes comfortable with your finger, you can begin brushing.
  4. Gently tilt your cat’s head back at a 45-degree angle.
  5. While your cat’s mouth is closed, gently lift up his lips to start brushing his teeth carefully, focusing on the outside of the teeth and near the gums. To start, “only brush the outside of [the] cat’s teeth as tartar and lesions are uncommon on the tongue side,” Dr. Lambrecht said.
  6. Aim to brush for at least 30 seconds on each side. If your cat is uncomfortable during the process, take breaks between brushing every few teeth. “Constant praise for good behavior and a treat afterwards certainly helps, too,” Dr. Coates said.

Cat dental treats

Cat dental treats are a good way to maintain clean teeth in between brushing. They have a crunchy texture that works to remove tartar buildup and can be fed daily. Plus, cats love them!

Try Greenies feline dental treats from Amazon for $4.49

Tips to keep in mind

It’s best to start brushing your cat’s teeth when he is still a kitten. Introducing a toothbrush to an older cat may take longer for him to get used to.

“You can start brushing a kitten’s teeth as soon as 8 to 10 weeks of age so they grow up with the process being a normal part of their lives,” Dr. Coates said.

Be sure to rinse the toothbrush after brushing and replace the toothbrush every three months. Also don’t forget to thoroughly wash your hands after brushing your cat’s teeth. A cat’s mouth has a ton of bacteria that you wouldn’t want to spread!

Do cats need their teeth professionally cleaned on a regular basis?

Yes! You know how you still need to go to the dentist even though you brush your teeth every day? The same goes for your cat.

Besides at-home brushing, you should also take your cat to the vet for a professional dental cleaning once a year.

And if your vet notices plaque, tartar, redness or swelling during a routine checkup, your cat will need the pros to get his teeth back to pearly white.

But between vet visits and regular cleanings, your cat could show some signs at home that he needs his teeth professionally cleaned, like:

  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty eating or chewing
  • Refusing to eat
  • Drooling
  • Yellow or brown tartar on his teeth

If your cat shows any of the above signs, you should contact your vet.

But if you stay on top of brushing your cat’s teeth and keep up with his annual cleanings, you’ll give your cat the best chance at having healthy teeth — and healthy teeth means a healthy cat!

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