Teeth brushing in cats

Brushing your cat’s teeth doesn’t need to be a hassle. There are lots of ways to help keep your cat’s teeth clean and healthy. Yet, tooth brushing remains the most effective way. 

50-90% of cats older than 4 years old have some form of dental problem. Most of these problems can be prevented with good oral hygiene. You should start brushing your kitten’s teeth at an early stage, but it’s never too late if your cat is older.


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What it’s for

Why do cats need to have their teeth brushed?

Because, just like us humans, a healthy mouth is a healthy body!

  • Given that most cats will eventually develop dental problems at some point in their lives, a good oral hygiene routine can help prevent some of these problems later on.
  • These dental diseases are mostly caused by plaque and tartar buildup.
  • The accumulation of bacteria and food particles in your cat’s mouth leads to plaque. If not removed through regular brushing, plaque thickens and mineralizes, resulting in tartar.

When should you brush your cat’s teeth?

  • Daily brushing should be your goal.
  • Plaque forms within 24 hours, which is why frequent tooth brushing is so important.
  • Brushing is the most effective way to get rid of plaque.
  • However, even using a brush, 20% of the plaque on tooth surfaces will be missed. This can explain why dental home care should be used in combination with regular professional care (cleanings under anaesthesia),  just like with humans.
  • The frequency of professional cleaning under anaesthesia can depend on your cat’s medical problems as well as their genetics.

What kind of oral hygiene products are there?

Here are some examples in order of effectiveness:

1. Tooth brushing

Ideally once a day, but at least once a week if no medical issues are found. Toothpaste often has a good taste that will make toothbrushing more enjoyable for your cat, but it is not essential. It’s the mechanical aspect of brushing that removes plaque from the teeth.

2. Wipes/gauze

Wipe their teeth daily. If your cat won’t let you put a toothbrush in their mouth, wipes are a good alternative.

3. Dental prescription food

Hill’s Prescription Diet Dental Care t/d is a good option since it helps reduce plaque, stains, and tartar buildup.

4. Liquid or food supplements into their water or food

There is no liquid or supplement that will remove tartar on its own without toothbrushing. These should be considered a complement to brushing and professional dental care.

5. Dental chews and treats

These can encourage chewing and tongue action, which helps remove some plaque and tartar from teeth as a complement to brushing and professional dental care.

Certain dental products may be unsuitable for your cat. Check that chew toys are:

  • Big enough to avoid choking or accidental swallowing.
  • Not too hard for your kitten or senior cat’s mouth.
  • Free of dangerous chemicals.
  • Well made to prevent splintering or easy destruction.
  • Free of squeakers, glass eyes, or other small decorations.


Just like us humans, proper dental care involves professional care. 

It’s expected that your cat might need this type of dental care at your vet’s at some stage of their life.

The frequency of these professional cleanings may depend on your cat’s genetics, dental problems and diet (when it’s mostly soft).


How it’s done

How to prepare your cat for tooth brushing

Brushing your cat’s teeth can be nice and simple.

It is best to train your cat to allow you to use a toothbrush from a young age.

Try to make this an enjoyable experience with reward-based training.

  • Choose a quiet time and place.
  • Offer the toothpaste as a treat.
  • Place yourself behind your cat, or use another person to help.
  • If your cat is fidgety, use a towel to wrap them up and gently restrict their movements.
  • Gently pull back their lips, keeping the mouth closed.
  • Rub a cotton swab along only a few teeth, rather than the whole mouth, the first few times.
  • Once your cat is completely used to you rubbing with the cotton swab, start using a toothbrush.

How to brush your cat’s teeth

After getting your cat used to having their teeth brushed, follow the next steps:

  • Apply a small amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush.
  • Place your cat’s head slightly up and pull back their lips.
  • Focus on cheek teeth and canine teeth, which build more tartar.
  • If your cat isn’t cooperative, don’t worry about brushing the tips or inside of the teeth.
  • Try to brush for around 1 minute.



Does it cost a lot to support your cat’s oral health?

Prevention is always cheaper!

Daily tooth brushing:

  • Costs roughly £24 per year for toothpaste and a new toothbrush.

Dental prescription food:

  • The Hill’s Prescription Diet cat t/d dental care 3kg size bag – can last more than a month for a cat weighing 4kg and it only costs you £0.75 per day to feed your cat.

Professional dental cleaning at vets:

  • Dental scale and polish under anaesthesia can cost an average of £325.



What are the risks of ignoring oral hygiene?

If plaque is not removed through regular brushing, this will evolve into tartar.

Left untreated, this will accumulate under their gums and on their tooth surfaces, resulting in inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis.

Gingivitis may progress into loss of tooth support (periodontitis), which may be painful and ultimately lead to tooth loss.

For more information, read our periodontal disease and dental problems articles.

Is it safe to have anaesthesia-free tooth cleaning at a non-vet facility?

Anaesthesia-free tooth cleaning is available in some places in the UK, which involves scaling the tartar off the teeth without the use of anaesthesia.

Performing scaling without anaesthesia is possible in humans since we are willing to cooperate. Is not possible to do a comprehensive scale treatment and have a pet remaining completely immobile.

Damage to sensitive teeth structures and an incomplete assessment of the general health of the teeth can easily result in more complicated problems in the future.

Simply removing the visible tartar from above the gum line is not effective or useful in tackling dental disease.


Recovery tips

Recovery recommendations

No recovery time is needed after tooth brushing, it’s a daily procedure that your cat will get used to.

Be consistent and incorporate it into your daily routine; it should help your cat get used to it.


When to worry

When should you worry about your cat’s mouth?

You should contact your vet if your cat shows signs of:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Bad breath
  • Tartar in the teeth
  • Broken or missing teeth
  • Pawing at the face
  • Drooling saliva
  • Dropping food
  • Not eating
  • Not improving despite treatment

Joii can help:

  • How to improve your cat’s oral hygiene
  • How to brush your cat’s teeth
  • Changing their food
  • Identifying pain in your cat
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