How to Brush Cat’s Teeth: A Cat Dental Guide

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: May 26, 2023 - Author: Rebekah Carter
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: March 7, 2022  
Author:  Rebekah Carter
white cat having his teeth brushed by human

Wondering how to brush your cats’ teeth?

No, it’s not crazy. Just like us, cats need to look after their teeth if they want to keep them in great condition. Over time, your kitty’s fangs can collect plaque and even end up with damage depending on their day-to-day activities. Brushing helps to reduce tartar formation, promote healthier gums, and even reduce the risk of bad breath. 

The great thing about brushing is that, just like with cat grooming, it’s something you can introduce your cat to at any age. However, it’s worth taking your time, as some cats can struggle with a toothbrush, particularly when they’re older cats and less open to new experiences. 

Today, we’re going to give you the all-access guide to brushing your cat’s teeth, so you can ensure that you’re caring fully for the kitty’s dental situation.

How do you know if your cat has dental problems?

Any cat can generally benefit from regular brushing, but you might consider this practice more seriously if your cat shows signs of dental issues. A build-up of plaque, tartar, and other unwanted substances in the mouth can lead to bad breath and discomfort. Other symptoms might include reddened gums that you notice when your kitty is chewing on something, or yellow and brown marks on your cat’s teeth.

 If you’ve noticed your cat constantly dropping food from their mouths, or losing weight, this could also be a sign of possible cat dental issues, as your kitty isn’t eating properly because of something going on in their mouths. Sometimes, however, cats with severe dental issues won’t show any symptoms at all to begin with. That’s why it’s worth checking your cat’s teeth at home and taking them to the vet for regular examinations too.

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To check your cat’s mouth at home, start by carefully holding your cat still when it’s in a comfortable position. Use your thumb and forefinger to gently open your kitty’s mouth and take a close look at what’s going on. If your cat seems very distressed, or unwilling to let you near its mouth, a trip to the vet might be necessary.

Healthy teeth without any signs of gum or tooth disease should be white, clean, and without any signs of damage or chipping. Gums should be healthy and pink with no sores or lesions, and make sure that there’s no swelling or bleeding either. If possible, check the back of the cat’s mouth for signs of bumps, swelling or ulcers.

vet checking a cats teeth

When do you visit the vet for a check-up?

Usually, you should be able to check the inside of your cat’s mouth on your own at home. However, if you’re struggling to get a good look at your kitty’s teeth, it might be helpful to take a trip to the vet. A check-up with the vet might reveal a dental issue something that you haven’t noticed yourself. 

Obvious symptoms of teeth problems include reduced drooling activities, discomfort when your cat eats, reduced appetite, or bad breath. In rare circumstances, your dentist might suggest a procedure to deal with certain kinds of disease or damage, common tooth procedures include:

  • Tooth extraction: If your cat has fractured or damaged a tooth, this will be very painful for them, removing the tooth allows the space to heal so your cat can eat as normal. In some cases, tooth removal is an option when the tooth is excessively worn, or the structure of the tooth has begun to break down.
  • Periodontal disease: Periodontal disease refers to the weakening and inflammation of the tissues in your cat’s mouth and gums. The condition causes the development of pockets and spaces around the tooth that could lead to the tooth falling out.
  • Gingivitis: This condition refers to an inflammation of the cat’s gums that can lead to recession and even tooth loss in some cases. Although mild gingivitis is common among cats, it can become more serious over time. Treatment often requires the use of anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics.

How to care for your cat’s teeth at home

The good news for concerned pet parents is that it’s often easier to care for your kitty’s teeth than you might think. As we mentioned above, you can start tooth cleaning at any age. However, the younger your cat is when you introduce it to brushing and dental care, the easier it will be for your feline friend to get used to the treatment. 

If it’s been a while since your cat has had a tooth clean or check, then it might be helpful to take him for a professional clean before you start home care. Your vet can put your cat under anaesthetic to clean and polish his teeth. 

If your cat has just had a professional clean, leave it a few days before you start brushing. The gums, mouth, and teeth may need some time to heal, particularly if your kitty has had any fangs removed. After that, start home care with a regular routine. Choose a time that’s convenient to make sure that you stick to brushing on a consistent basis. 

Although dental home care is usually a good idea after your cat has eaten, you might prefer to brush your cat’s teeth during the earlier hours if that’s easier for you and your furry friend.

What do you need to brush cats’ teeth?

Having the right equipment ready is crucial when you’re caring for a cat’s teeth and gums. Start by making sure that you have plenty of time, and patience to ensure that you can work with your cat on their teeth slowly. Also, never use products intended for humans on a cat. Specific products for animals are available both from your vet, and pet stores. You’ll need:

  • Some treats: These will help to make the experience a little less frightening for your cat, so you don’t have to worry as much about uncomfortable brushing experiences. You can even get dental treats that help with cleaning too.
  • A toothbrush: A suitable cat toothbrush is a must-have. Look for something small that’s appropriate for babies, as cats don’t have a lot of space for bigger brushes. Don’t use the same brush for multiple cats, as this can lead to cross-contamination.
  • Vet toothpaste: You should never use human toothpaste to brush a cat’s teeth. Human toothpaste can cause gastric irritation and discomfort. Pet toothpaste comes in a variety of different flavors to make it more appealing to your kitty.

If your vet has recommended brushing your cat’s teeth, then he or she may also give you the option to buy some of the items you need there and then. Some vets offer starter packs or can recommend the products you need.

orange and white cat using blue toothbrush with left paw

Brushing your cats’ teeth: A step by step guide

Now that you’re prepared with the right equipment to brush your cat’s teeth, it’s time to actually attempt the process. For the first couple of days, you can build your cat’s trust by placing small amounts of your chosen cat toothbrush onto your finger and offering it to them. If your cat loves the taste, then it’ll be much easier to convince it to allow you to brush later.

Think about how you’re going to hold your cat when you’re feeding him or her, and how you can make sure they remain calm and comfortable. Sometimes, it might help to have a blanket that you can wrap around your cat to avoid scratching. Remember, it’s better to have your cat with its back towards you rather than facing towards you as it’s less confrontational. Plus, your cat will usually move backwards to avoid the brush.

  • Spread your hand wide, as a gentle and firm grip is necessary here, and place the palm on top of your kitty’s head, towards the back. You can use your index finger and thumb to grip the cheekbone just under the eyes, and your finger should be lifted so you’re not covering your cat’s vision.
  • Tilt your cat’s head upwards slightly and use your thumb to lift his upper lip carefully. You can use the thumb or finger of your other hand to pull your cat’s mouth open carefully. This will give you a good view of your cat’s teeth for brushing.
  • For a few days, just practice opening your cat’s mouth and holding them in this way. You can apply some toothpaste to your brush or cotton bud after they’re used to this holding experience. Start at the back teeth and work your way forwards until you reach the longer canine teeth at the front.
  • If your kitty tries to kick out of your grip or avoid you in some way, don’t just hold them harder. You might find it’s easier to wrap your cat in a blanket or towel to stop them for struggling. Get your cat used to the brushing experience gradually and try to help them feel as calm as possible.
  • When brushing your cat’s teeth, use careful circular motions starting from the back and working towards the front. You should aim for about 30 seconds on each side, but you can start smaller, with five or ten seconds to begin with.

If you’re struggling to practice good dental care practices on your cat alone, it might help to get your vet to show you how everything works first. Sometimes it’s easier to see someone demonstrate dental home care on your cat before you try it alone.

Other Ways to Care for Your Cat’s Teeth

Some cats just aren’t going to tolerate brushing, no matter how much you try to make them feel as comfortable as possible. In these cases, there are still ways to help your cat with keeping teeth healthy and well-protected. Ask your vet to check whether using treats and new food might be a good option for your kitty. 

For instance, switching your feline friend from soft food to dry food or including more dry treats in your cat’s regular diet will help to reduce tartar accumulation and plaque. Remember that it can take a while to switch your cat from one food to another, though. 

Other options include:

  • Cat dental chews: These are generally available from vets and pet stores. They come in a variety of flavors and are often useful for reducing tartar formation and plaque. Ask your vet what kind of treats will suit your kitty.
  • Toothpaste: If your cat is happy with the toothpaste, but not the brushing part, then consider adding some to their dry food or chews. This will rub the toothpaste against the teeth gently as your kitty eats it.
  • Mouthwash: Yes, you can get mouthwash for your cat, although it isn’t always easy to use. Antiseptic mouthwashes like Chlorhexidine are a common choice among vets and feline professionals. Just be careful, as prolonged use of some mouthwashes can harm your cat’s tooth enamel.
  • Special diets: Just as there are foods for things like gastrointestinal issues and better eyesight, you can also get foods that specifically support oral health. Your vet may suggest a dental diet that’s helpful for cats with dental disease if you find brushing difficult

Keep in mind that if brushing really isn’t an option for you and your cat, there is a risk that you may have a higher need for dental treatment from a vet at a later stage. Of course, even with regular home toothcare, there’s a chance that your kitty will need treatment at some point in their life. Investing in proper dental care can help to reduce the expense and severity of the treatment, though.

white cat getting teeth cleaned by toothnbrush

FAQ for cat teeth brushing

When should I brush my cat’s teeth?

Regular brushing is a good idea if possible, as this will help to minimize the build up of plaque and tartar. Daily dental care would be ideal, but if you can’t commit to this, brushing your cat’s teeth two or three times a week will help to establish a positive routine.

When should I begin brushing?

As mentioned before, you can start brushing a cat’s teeth at any point during its life, but it’s better to teach acceptance while he or she is still a kitten if possible.

Do I need a specific toothbrush?

A baby toothbrush might be suitable for some cats, but it’s best to get your vet’s insight on this. There are some toothbrushes out there specially designed for cats. These come with soft bristles, and angled handles that help you to access your cat’s teeth.

Do I need special toothpaste?

Yes, human toothpaste includes ingredients that might be harmful to your furry friend if swallowed. Using your own toothpaste on your cat could lead to a variety of problems, including digestive disturbances. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can use baking soda either. This substance has a high amount of alkaline in it, which can be dangerous for your cats.

How long do I need to spend brushing?

Ideally, most vets recommend spending around 30 seconds brushing each side of your cat’s mouth. However, it isn’t easy to accomplish this at first. You might find it easier to start with just 5 or 10 seconds and work your way up.

Is brushing safe for me?

Wrapping your cat in a blanket can reduce the risk of accidental scratches when he or she tries to escape the brushing. You might also want to wear gloves when brushing your cat’s teeth, as a cat’s mouth does have a lot of bacteria in it. Remember to rinse the brush thoroughly before you put it away to stop bacteria from growing.

Tips for teaching your cat to accept brushing

Most cats aren’t going to be totally comfortable with the idea of allowing you to brush their teeth for them. The most important thing you can do when teaching a cat to accept brushing is taking your time. You’ll need to brush all of the outside surfaces of the cat’s teeth once each day, with a soft-bristled brush and vet-recommended toothpaste. It might take a while for your cat to get comfortable with the brushing routine, so remain consistent. 

As mentioned above, cats (like children), often respond well to routine. Being consistent with the time you choose to brush your kitty’s teeth is usually a good idea. Pick a time of day that’s usually quiet and simple, when your cat is more likely to be hungry. 

Have a reward ready to support the brushing experience too. Treats that motivate your cat like a great toy or a bit of brushing after the tooth cleaning experience can reduce some of the anxiety your cat faces. Sometimes, calming pheromones and sprays are helpful for people with anxious cats. 

Set up your surroundings carefully, making sure that your cat can see what’s going on while you brush. Speaking to your feline friend in a reassuring tone is often a good idea in these situations, as it will reduce the amount of stress your cat feels. You can also take breaks in between brushing sessions to offer extra pets and a tasty treat if you think your cat is getting distressed.

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About the author

Rebekah Carter is a dedicated animal lover. Her Savannah cat, Roscoe, has a lot of attitude, while her Maine Coon, Dukino, is full of love. When not writing, she’s looking after her cats and researching ways to help them live their best possible life. Her passion for animals and natural skill for writing led her to pursue pet blogging.