Article at a Glance…
- You have two main choices when it comes to toothbrushes for cats – bristle (like humans use) or finger toothbrushes.
- Yes, you do need to brush your cat’s teeth. If you don’t it can lead to tooth loss and organ infection as your pet ages.
- Try to brush your cat’s teeth daily, after meals, if possible. Otherwise, aim for at least a few times a week.
Many people believe that they don’t need to brush their pet cat’s teeth. Cats in the wild have healthy teeth without human intervention, they say. This is true, but there are some big differences between wild and domesticated cats which have a significant impact on their dental health.
Diet is a the main factor. In the wild, cats chew on bones and other tough parts of their prey. They have to spend quite a while ripping it apart before they can actually eat. Chewing on these tough bits acts as the best cat toothbrush and scrubs their teeth clean.
In contrast, domesticated cats have their meals handed to them. Their food is easy-to-chew with no bones. You see the difference? Unless your cat is chewing on kibble specially designed to clean teeth, the brushing action is sorely lacking. Not to worry, with a little work, you can keep your pet’s teeth clean and healthy. I’m going to explain everything you need to know, so read on 🙂
The Importance of Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth
I’ve already explained that you do need to brush your cat’s teeth, unless his diet is purely wild prey. Just like humans, cats’ teeth build up a layer of plaque and bacteria. If it’s not cleaned, the tooth will eventually decay and gum disease or gingivitis can develop. The American Veterinary Dental College estimates that 70% of cats have gum disease by three years old (source).
Not only is periodontal disease and gingivitis painful for your kitty, if it’s left untreated, the infection can spread around the body, damaging the kidneys and causing organ failure. Scary, huh? I know brushing your cat’s teeth is hard to get used to. It certainly takes some patience. However, it’s worth it to ensure that your pet has a long and happy life.
What about professional dental cleaning for your pet? Of course that’s a great idea too. However, there are a few reasons why you might not want to do it too often. For starters, it can be expensive. If sedation is required, there’s an element of risk. In addition, lots of cats get very nervous when they see the carrier coming out to take them to the vet. While you should definitely have your vet take a look at your pet’s teeth at least once a year, brushing at home between visits is very effective when it comes to maintaining dental health.
Different types of toothbrush for cats
I’ve already published a pretty comprehensive guide to toothpaste for cats. You may be surprised to learn that picking the right toothbrush for your feline is a lot more important than the toothpaste that goes along with it. Most of the plaque is cleared by pure mechanical action of brushing the tooth. It makes sense when you think of wild cats and how their teeth are cleaned by eating tough meat and bones. They certainly don’t have any toothpaste, although I do recommend using some to help the process along.
Cats are picky creatures, so it’s no surprise that humans have developed a few different types of toothbrush to try to entice them. Let’s take a look at the three main types.
Bristle Toothbrush for Cats
A bristle toothbrush for cats is very similar to a human toothbrush. It’s made up of a handle (long or short) with straight or angled bristles on the end. Some owners try using a human toothbrush designed for babies. This isn’t ideal because the cat toothbrushes should have a head smaller than even a baby toothbrush. Cats don’t exactly love opening their mouths wide so that you can access their back teeth. A thin head means you can sneak the brush in without having to open the cat’s lips.
Many owners find that a long handle gives the most control. One of the most popular brands is the CET toothbrush for cats. You may also hear it called the Virbac cat toothbrush. The head is teenie tiny and the handle is thin to allow sneaky access. The same company also makes a set with cat toothbrush and paste – CET oral hygiene kit for cats. It’s a kit with everything you need to start brushing your cat’s teeth – a bristle brush, some yummy seafood flavored cat toothpaste, and a finger toothbrush (more on that in the next section).
Cat Finger Toothbrush
The bristle toothbrush is the most abrasive and therefore a good cat toothbrush for removing plaque. However finger toothbrushes are another option. Finger toothbrushes for cats are like a rubber thimble with little bristles molded on. You put it on your fingertip and clean the teeth by putting your finger into the cat’s mouth.
You’d think that most cats wouldn’t like a rubber-covered finger in their mouths any more than a bristle brush. Well, it depends on your cat’s personality. My boy loves playing by biting my fingers, especially when under the influence of catnip. Sometimes it’s easier to start by using a finger toothbrush and then move on to a bristle brush when your cat is used to it.
If you’re looking for a good brand of cat finger toothbrush, this one from Pet Republique is a popular choice. It comes in a pack of six so you’ll have plenty of replacements when your cats inevitably destroy them. It’s normal for cats to chew on their toothbrushes. Pet Republique says that six of their toothbrushes should be enough to last one year of daily brushing. The quality is great, the materials and bristle hardness are tested to ensure they won’t harm your pet while still optimizing tartar removal.
Gauze & Other Options
While you’re waiting for your cat toothbrush to arrive, you can improvise by using a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. It works in the same way as the cat finger toothbrush however you’ll have to use a fresh piece of gauze each time as bacteria can grow between uses.
This video shows what not to do, but I got a laugh out of it anyway 🙂
How to brush your cat’s teeth
Unless you’re very lucky and have an easy-going cat, teaching your pet to have his teeth brushed requires a gentle and patient approach. If you’ve just got a new kitten, you should start brushing her teeth immediately. At this age, everything is new so it’s easier to implement good habits.
If your cat is fully grown, it can still be done. You’ll definitely need to use a poultry or fish flavored cat toothpaste to catch his interest. Many owners have success brushing their cat’s teeth while they nap. My personal favorite is to combine it with some catnip.
Start out by massaging the cat’s mouth on a daily basis. Let him lick some toothpaste off your finger. When he is used to that, gently place your finger inside his mouth with some cat toothpaste and rub the teeth manually. Make sure to “brush” both sides in a back-and-forth motion. After a few days or weeks of this, move onto a gauze-covered finger, then a finger toothbrush and finally a bristle brush.
It may take months before you’re able to fully brush your cat’s teeth. Experiment with different flavors of toothpaste and different brushes. It really is worth the effort as you’ll end up paying for an extraction (or worse…) if you neglect your pet’s dental hygiene.
When and how often?
The best time to brush your cat’s teeth is shortly after a meal. Like humans, bacteria in your cat’s mouth lives on leftover food particles on the teeth. However, if you find it easier to brush while you’re cat is napping, you’ll still be doing a lot of good
Banfield Pet Hospital recommends brushing your cat’s teeth as frequently as possible. Daily is best but at a minimum you should aim for several times a week. This is a long term commitment. Brushing occasionally isn’t going to have a significant benefit. You need to make it part of your routine along with grooming and nail clipping. I know it’s a drag but nobody said owning a pet was easy! He depends on you to take care of him so the least you can do is take five minutes a day to keep his teeth healthy.