Cats teeth and why cleaning your cats’ teeth is so important

Hi everyone,

Today we’ve got some important tips for you all from Andrew Bucher – Chief Veterinary Officer at MedicAnimal:

We’re all reminded from an early age that too much sugar and junk food will rot our teeth. I’m certain there are very few people out there who enjoy going to the dentist too! However, what about our pets? While we’re unlikely to be indulging our pets with fizzy drinks and chocolate, we still need to think about their dental hygiene and where necessary, taking to them to the dentist.

As we enter the festive season, with lots of treats around, we thought it would be an opportunity to put together some thoughts on how to look after your pet’s teeth.


Human teeth are very different to animals’. Carnivores need teeth for catching and slicing, whereas omnivores need large flat grinding teeth. In humans, a typical adult human has 20 baby teeth and 32 permanent adult teeth. Incisors, canines, premolars and molars all have a different role to play when we eat.

Cats only have sharp teeth in their mouth and whilst they also have two sets, the molars only come out once they are between 5 and 6 months of age.



Pets get gum disease in the same way that humans do, with bacteria and trapped food particles collecting along the gum line and forming plaque. If this is plaque is not removed (and yes, only mechanical abrasion works here so regular teeth cleaning is key), minerals in the saliva then combine with the plaque and form tartar (or calculus), which is firmly attached to the tooth.

This tartar then causes local irritation resulting in gum inflammation (gingivitis). Unfortunately prior to gingivitis, the owner will see absolutely nothing. If the calculus is not then removed (and the only way to do this is to give a general anaesthetic to your pet), then the calculus begins to actually separate the gum from the teeth, allowing even more bacteria to enter! This is called periodontal disease.

It can be extremely painful to your pet at this point but owners may not even notice this pain, as animals will often mask pain in order not to appear weak. They also learn to eat with the non-painful part of their mouth if possible. Pets can get bad breath, so at this stage, you may be able to smell their bad breath from across the room.

The biggest issue actually is not necessarily the pain that this causes but more the fact that this allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream that could end up causing direct infection of the heart valves, or disease of the kidneys and liver.

Root canal treatment is commonly performed on our pets to save discoloured, fractured or abscessed teeth. The alternative is full extraction.

Other clinical signs that may accompany periodontal disease are increased drooling (may be blood stained), pawing at the mouth, loss of appetite, nasal discharge (if extreme), loose or missing teeth or typically increased sensitivity around the mouth.


Luckily periodontal disease is preventable (as in humans) and ideally involves daily brushing (or at least twice weekly) using a specific dog/cat toothbrush and toothpaste (available in chicken, seafood or even malt flavours). Do not ever use human toothpaste as this contains fluoride which is toxic to pets.

You can also use mouth rinses that target plaque bacteria on a weekly basis. There are dental diets and dental sticks that contribute to mechanical abrasion and hence keep plaque and tartar formation to a minimum.


Costs do vary according to breed, age and level of periodontal disease present. Average cost for a ‘scale and polish’, which for some dogs may need to be done once to twice yearly, ranges from £150-£350 including a general anaesthetic. The large majority of pet insurance providers do NOT cover preventative health care (i.e.: a scale and polish) but will cover it if the teeth were damaged in an accident.


In brief:

The main message for pet owners is that the best (and cheapest) method to avoid these high costs is to brush their teeth and/or use appropriate diet/treats.

Also, even though the pet needs to have a general anaesthetic for any dental procedure, in the vast majority of cases the benefits far outweigh the risks associated with an anaesthetic.

We hope you found these tips useful and don’t forget to sign-up for our Newsletter to never miss a post again. 😀



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21 thoughts on “Cats teeth and why cleaning your cats’ teeth is so important

  1. Pingback: Cats teeth and why cleaning your cats’ teeth is so important — Katzenworld – Jeanne Foguth's Blog

  2. zoetnote says:

    Very interesting piece. It is so true “owners may not even notice this pain”–Lella was just getting anxious around food and swatting at her little sister. Interestingly, I insisted on cleaning (not the vet) and, while under, he found she needed several extractions. I had no idea her humor would improve so drastically: NO more anxiety around feeding and she’s just so sweet again. You don’t make the immediate association as cats can express pain in the oddest of ways or not at all.

    I used to think I’d one day try the non-anesthetic kind, but after all I’ve read over the years, that’s just not the right route. (1) Cats are too stressed by this and (2) they simply can’t find all that they find (or found with Lella) unless they get a proper look in there. So, I’m all for your comment that “the benefits far outweigh the risks associated with an anaesthetic!” I used to be really concerned, but now I know the benefits. Always great to learn more, thanks for the great info.

  3. Pingback: Cats teeth and why cleaning your cats’ teeth is so important – Rattiesforeverworldpresscom

  4. Khutulan says:

    I have had cats most of my life. I have had their teeth cleaned in the past. It IS necessary but I am sometimes dismayed at the cat’s reaction. For instance, currently, I have two cats, a show bred (but never shown) traditional ”apple head” Siamese, and a tabby we got from the shelter.
    The tabby, being from ‘wild stock’, so to speak…her parents were feral and the mother ended up having her kittens in the animal shelter…has excellent teeth. The Siamese, with a pedigree of 9 generations, one that goes back much further than even MINE…has a smaller jaw with smaller teeth. Every time she’s need teeth cleaning she’s also needed sedating and it makes her…crazy aggressive.For three days after coming home from the vet’s she is overly aggressive, attacking the tabby with an odd fury that is very unlike her. She is just insane for several days. Well, she’s already nuts, but excessively so.

    I have not explored the avenue of non sedation teeth cleaning. I haven’t found a vet that who will do it.

    But I have found something that at least keeps the tabby’s teeth clean. Bones. Yes, bones.
    Yes, a roasted rib bone from a BBQ spare rib feast. Or lamb chops, although those bones are much ‘softer’ and she is inclined to eat them, which hasn’t hurt her yet..but I’m wary. The Siamese won’t look at the bone, the tabby cleans it and then chews it. I’ve never given her poultry bones, just mammalian.

    Consequently, when I take them to the vet, she says what in the world, are you brushing the tabby’s teeth?
    Are you kidding me? She’s a fully armed cat and won’t even think of letting me ‘brush her teeth’. The Siamese won’t either.
    Both cats get the exact same food and are both 7 years old. The Siamese has needed teeth cleaning every other year, and the tabby has NEVER needed it. I attribute it to the bones.
    The food we feed them contributes to gingivitis, unfortunately, so we cat owners will always have to be watching out for our cats teeth.

  5. Pingback: Cats teeth and why cleaning your cats’ teeth is so important — Katzenworld | My Health Selections

  6. Diana says:

    There is a method now that is seen in natural health magazines where you can clean cat’s teeth without anethesia.
    Problem is that the people who doing this, are not usually local. However if you get several people together who have the need and interest, they will travel to your area.

    It can be done and it does take longer and need more patience with a cat, but I spoke with the woman years ago and she had success in doing it with cats teeth.

    I also, recently, had a Vet Tech (now natural minded practice doing muscle testing), that told me, just take your nail, or something like it and scrape off the tartar on their teeth.

    I have taught my older cats to get used to a brush, but it takes alot of patience and some alloted time to do that. It is possible! And I was doing it at one point in their life.
    Lost one earlier this year and the other is a senior now. Don’t really want to put her thru the stress of doing a cleaning at a vet’s office.
    Not to mention the ridiculous costs involved (quotes from $350-700). !!!

    I can have my horse’s teeth cleaned and have them sedated for about $150-200. (without extractions)

    You decide what’s wrong with this picture.

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