At Castle Vets, we see a huge number of pets every month with some form of dental disease. Periodontal disease is the most common dental condition we see in cats and happens when plaque and tartar build up on the teeth causing tooth decay, infection and inflammation of the gums.
Did you know that by the age of 3 years, 70% cats have some sign of dental disease? If left untreated, dental disease can lead to premature loss of teeth and gum tissue. The bacteria in plaque can also spread to vital organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys leading to infection and further problems.
Common Signs Of Dental Disease
Any problems with the teeth and gums can be extremely painful and could lead to further complications very quickly. If you notice any of these symptoms please take your cat to see your vet so he or she can be given treatment.
- Weight loss
- Chewing food slowly or only on one side of the mouth
- Rubbing the face
- Bad breath
- Chattering teeth
- Increased salivation
- Loss of coat condition
- Bleeding gums
- Inflamed (very red) gums
- Receding gums
- Plaque or staining visible on the teeth
- Loose teeth
- Missing teeth
- Swelling on the side of the face (abscess)
Most Dental Disease Is Preventable
A dental procedure or surgery performed by your vet can be really expensive; this is because your cat will need a general anaesthetic and dental surgery can be tricky and may take a long time (Sadly they won’t just say “ahhhh” under a local anaesthetic like us humans!).
The good news is that most dental disease is preventable. It is a good idea to start preventative dental health care as soon as possible in order to help avoid putting your cat through lengthy dental surgery when he or she is older. As with humans, daily brushing will keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy and help prevent bad breath.
- Brushing can be started at any age (the younger the better), but should always be introduced slowly and gently.
- Remember to reward your cat after brushing his or her teeth.
- Always use a pet toothbrush because they are designed with the shape of your cat’s teeth in mind, so will do a much better job than a human toothbrush.
- Always use a pet toothpaste CET or Logic are what i recommend, but it doesn’t matter which brand you use as long as it is designed for pets. Human toothpaste can be very harmful to pets.
How To Brush Your Cat’s Teeth
Gradually build up the following stages over a period of 1-2 weeks until your cat is happy with the procedure. It is really important that you remember to reward your cat after each session to encourage acceptance. Rewards will vary from cat to cat, you can find a really yummy treat that they don’t get at any other time, or it may be the taste of the pet toothpaste that they like and for others, a fun game with a toy will be what they enjoy most.
Stage 1 – Without using a brush, gently stroke the outside of your cat’s cheeks with your finger and try lifting each lip slowly for about 10 -20 seconds. Reward.
Stage 2 – Repeat stage 1 and also offer your pet a small amount of pet toothpaste on the end of your finger or a toothbrush and let them lick it off. (I usually recommend C.E.T. Toothpaste and Logic Oral Hygiene Gel for tooth brushing).
Stage 3 – Repeat stage 2 but this time start to gently run your finger or toothbrush, with a small amount of toothpaste, over your cat’s teeth for about 10-20 seconds. Don’t press hard onto the teeth or gums, just use light forward, backward, up and down motions.
Stage 4 – Repeat stage 3 with the toothbrush, adding another 10-20 seconds to the time spent brushing. You can now start to add in circular motions over the teeth and gums with the toothbrush.
Stage 5 – When your cat is comfortable with tooth brushing, you can build up to 1-2 minutes a day on each side of the mouth. If your cat won’t stay still for that long you could try doing one side in the morning and the other in the evening.
Hints And Tips For Successful Brushing
- The daily brushing procedure should be an enjoyable experience for your cat. If you follow up each brushing session with a really good reward he or she is more likely to accept the procedure.
- Take things slowly when you initially start brushing. If your cat becomes uncomfortable with a stage, go back to the previous stage and try again. If he or she becomes distressed at the procedure, stop. Don’t try to force them or the procedure will become far more difficult and you will end up with a very unhappy kitty.
- Try to choose a time of the day when you can spend a few minutes of relaxed contact with your cat, rather than trying to fit it in when you are rushing about.
- Find a position that is comfortable for your cat and remember less restraint is better; a cat that enjoys the taste of the toothpaste may just let you raise the lips and brush.
- The small teeth at the front of your cat’s mouth (incisors) tend to be more sensitive than the rest of the teeth, so don’t start brushing these until he or she is comfortable with having the rest of their teeth brushed.
- The outer surfaces of the upper teeth are the ones that tend to attract the most plaque, so these should be given the most attention – fortunately they are also the easiest to get to.
- You don’t necessarily need to brush the insides of your cat’s teeth as their tongue and the toothpaste will do a fairly good job there.
- Make sure you include the gums when brushing teeth as the gum line is as important to keep clean as the teeth.
- Some cats hate the idea of finger brushes. With these cats try a small piece of gauze over your little finger, it should be abrasive enough to clean the teeth but may be far less invasive.
- I never recommend long handled toothbrushes as they can bump and bruise the gums. Electric toothbrushes should be avoided as they can be too harsh.
If your cat won’t tolerate brushing at all don’t worry, there are some alternative methods. Nothing is as good as brushing but some of the alternatives are far better than doing nothing at all.
Alternatives To Brushing
Although nothing beats brushing, some cats (by some, I mean most) will just not tolerate it unless they have been used to it from kittenhood. Fortunately there are a few of other ways that you can help your cat including dental gels and mouth washes. The following are a few of the products that I have seen, used on my own pets and recommend in practice, but there are many more brands available; you may need to try a few to see what is best tolerated by your own cat.
If your cat has any current health problems, I would advise that you check with your vet about any potential products that you would like to use to make sure they are suitable. A few of them may contain ingredients that could interfere with illnesses or medications; for example any products containing seaweeds may have increased iodine levels, which may be detrimental to a cat that has hyperthyroidism.
- Logic Oral Hygiene Gel is a medicated dental gel that helps prevent the formation of dental plaque and fights bad breath. The multi-enzyme system in Logic Oral Hygiene Gel supplements the animal’s own defence mechanism to help fight harmful bacteria in the mouth. The gel also contains a surfactant which ensures that the active ingredients remain in contact with the teeth and gums and mild abrasives that help break down existing plaque. Logic is ideally used as a toothpaste with brushing, but it is still beneficial if you cannot brush due to the abrasive and enzymatic properties. (My own cat really enjoys the taste of this, which is great because I really struggle to brush his teeth!)
- C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Rinse is a dental mouthwash and breath freshener. It provides antibacterial action and plaque prevention and is effective in helping maintain oral health when used daily with or without brushing.
- ProDen Plaque Off is a supplement that can be added to the cat’s food. The active ingredients in Plaque Off prevent oral bacteria from producing plaque and tartar. Existing tartar becomes porous and loosens by itself or is easily removed through normal brushing of the teeth. Improvements are normally seen within 5-8 weeks. Plaque Off is also made from 100% natural ingredients. WARNING: Plaque Off may not be suitable for use in cats with hyperthyroidism, check with your vet first.
What You Feed Your Cat Can Make A Difference
Your cat’s diet plays a major role in the development of plaque. Soft or sticky foods should be avoided, especially if you cannot brush your cat’s teeth. Commercial dry pet foods are not enough, because the biscuit just crumbles when your cat chews their food, so they do nothing to clean the teeth. Many food manufacturers are now making cat diets with bigger kibble pieces to promote chewing, which helps and there are specially formulated ‘dental’ prescription diets available from your veterinary practice which have been proven to help prevent dental problems and plaque buildup. My cat gets Hill’s t/d diet and has 10 kibble pieces twice daily and his normal dry biscuits (I find prescription diets can be expensive so I do a ratio of about 40% t/d to 60% normal food)
A word about dental chews and treats
Chewing produces saliva, which can help protect your cat’s teeth and some types of dental treats can help to reduce tartar build-up and plaque, but they are usually only helpful if they encourage sustained chewing, which generally does not apply to cats. There really do not seem to be any good cat dental chews available in the UK at the moment. There are plenty of so-called ‘dental treats’ around, but they often don’t encourage sustained chewing and if your cat can swallow a treat in one or two bites, it is not really going to do much to help keep his or her teeth clean.
Watch out for the calorie content of these products; they can range from 2kcal to 60kcals per treat! (If you own a dog, the dog ones are much worse!) So if you do feed these, it is really important to remember to reduce your cat’s normal food accordingly to avoid weight gain – if in doubt ask a veterinary nurse to work out the calorie content and advise on how much you should reduce your cat’s food by.
For those of you with dogs we’ve also included a handy link to a guide on how to make natural tooth paste for your dog!
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I am a qualified and registered Veterinary Nurse with over 20 years experience working with small animals.
i currently work for Castle Vets Pet Healthcare Centre in Reading, which is a large, single center, small animal veterinary practice.
The recently rebuilt premises now includes a separate but integrated cat clinic, outstanding in-patient wards and operating theatres, spacious comfortable waiting areas, 9 consulting rooms for both veterinary surgeon and veterinary nurse consultations, diagnostics room with x-ray, ultrasound and endoscopy equipment and a well equipped laboratory.