PDSA Weekly Pet Care Column: How To Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

This Pet Dental Health Month, PDSA is shining a light on the importance of keeping your cat’s teeth clean.

“Dental disease is common in cats, especially as they get older,” explains PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing. “That’s why it’s so important to check your cat’s teeth and gums regularly because most cats try their best to hide pain, so often don’t show symptoms of dental disease until it’s very severe.

“The symptoms of dental disease in cats to look out for include eating less than normal, pawing at their mouth, chattering teeth, jumping away from their food, bad breath, difficulty eating, drooling, visible tartar, red, sore or bleeding gums, wobbly teeth, swelling around the face, jaw or cheeks, grooming less and weight loss.

“One of the best ways to care for your cat’s teeth and prevent any future issues is to learn how to brush their teeth and then do so regularly.”

How to brush your cat’s teeth:  

“If your cat will allow it, brushing their teeth is by far the best way to keep their mouth healthy because it removes plaque before it turns into tartar,” explains Nina. “It’s easier if your cat gets used to having their teeth brushed as a kitten, but older cats can learn too. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Get some cat-safe toothpaste (not human toothpaste) and a cat toothbrush or microfiber finger cloth for tooth cleaning.
  1. Give your cat a little of the toothpaste on your finger around the same time every day. This will get them used to the routine, taste, and smell. If they won’t take it from your finger, offer it to them in their food bowl, or put a small spot of it on their front leg so they lick it off – then work up to feeding it on your finger.
  1. Get them used to having their lips lifted, starting by gently touching the side of their mouth (avoiding their whiskers), and gradually build up to lifting their lips – give them lots of treats before and afterwards, so they think of it as a positive experience.
  1. Once they are comfortable with having their lips lifted, start gently touching their teeth and gums, rewarding them with lots of treats and remembering to wash your hands well afterwards.
  1. When they are happy with that, you can start to introduce a little toothpaste on your finger and pat it gently around their teeth, again, washing hands well after.
  1. Next time, use the toothbrush, making small, circular motions on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Always brush gently and not directly on their gums.
  1. If your cat shows signs of pain, or their gums look sore or bleed when you are brushing, stop the process and speak to your vet for further advice.

Other ways to keep your cat’s mouth healthy and clean:  

  1. Check-ups: Regular dental check-ups with your vet will help prevent problems from becoming serious. A good time for a dental check-up is at their yearly booster vaccination.
  1. Cat mouthwash: Special pet-friendly mouthwash added to your cat’s drinking water may help reduce the build-up of plaque. Never use human mouthwash for your pets.
  1. Dental gel: Dental gels contain enzymes and mild abrasives that can help to prevent the build-up of plaque. It can be applied by rubbing it directly onto the teeth and gums but, if this isn’t possible, you can try to encourage your cat to lick it off your finger/their own paw. Dental gels aren’t as effective as brushing your cat’s teeth but may be a good alternative if your cat won’t tolerate anything else.
  1. Diet: Feeding your cat the right diet can really help keep their mouth healthy. If possible, try to feed your cat a mix of wet food and biscuits, as the chewing required to eat biscuits helps to remove some of the plaque that builds up on their teeth throughout the day. Avoid giving sugary human foods and keep treats to a minimum. If your cat is prone to dental problems, your vet can recommend a special dental diet designed to stop the build-up of plaque.
  1. Dental treats: You can buy dental treats for cats designed to help keep their teeth clean. These are fine as an occasional treat, but you shouldn’t rely on them for your cat’s dental health.

Treatment options  

“I’d recommend booking an appointment with your vet if you think your cat might have dental disease,” adds Nina. “Your vet will be able to examine inside his/her mouth, which we know can be tricky at home!

“Treatment for dental disease depends on the specific problem but typically includes some of the following:

  • Anti-inflammatory pain relief – to keep your cat comfortable.
  • Antibiotics – to fight infection (not always necessary).
  • Scale and polish – if your vet spots plaque and tartar build-up, they may recommend a ‘scale and polish’ to prevent further problems developing – similar to a professional clean you would get from your own dentist (but this needs to be done under anaesthetic).
  • Tooth removal – if your cat has severe dental disease they may need teeth removed. This is to stop pain, prevent the jaw bones from becoming infected and to help stop other teeth from rotting. Fortunately, cats adapt incredibly well to having teeth removed.

PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information.

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