Cat chewing on a toothbrush

keeping your cat’s teeth healthy

did you know that an estimated four out of every five cats over 3 years of age already has dental disease? signs of dental disease include:

·      bad breath

·      a brown- or gray-colored appearance to the teeth

·      chewing with one side of the mouth

·      redness near the gum line

·      pawing or rubbing of the face or mouth

·      drooling

·      bleeding from the gums

·      difficulty chewing, especially hard kibble (e.g., picking it up and dropping it out of the mouth)

when it comes to your cat’s health, maintaining healthy teeth and gums is so important. while February is National Pet Dental Health Month, I want to remind you to take care of your cat’s mouth all year-round. don’t ignore that bad breath, as it could be an indicator of serious health problems in your cat and result in secondary damage to other internal organs also (e.g., such as the heart, kidneys, etc.). more importantly, keep in mind that short-term dental care (e.g., just brushing your cat’s teeth in the month of February) doesn’t help — rather, aim for long-term goals of keeping your cat’s teeth clean!

with cats, it’s hard to keep their teeth clean at home, but with patience, a gentle approach and positive reinforcement, you can do it!

here are a few easy tips to make it easier to take care of your cat’s mouth:

1) the easiest tip? feed a dental diet approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). you can find a list of VOHC-accepted dental treats here. these diets are designed to help prevent tartar and plaque accumulation with a “tooth-scrubbing effect” that is abrasive and works by providing a scraping effect during chewing. some prescription diets offer a specific shape of the kibble that helps with this, while others contain a chemical called poly-phosphate that helps prevents tartar. also, consider dental-friendly treats for your cat, although research on these dental treats in cats is limited.

2) water additives. if you have a young, healthy cat, consider anti-plaque water additives. unfortunately, cats often won’t drink water containing these additives, due to the altered taste of the water or the taste of the chemicals within them. as a result, consider adding a small, diluted amount of canned tuna water (not oil!) as a treat. if your cat has a medical problem in which hydration and water intake is important (such as diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, urinary problems or kidney failure), I don’t recommend water additives, as it’s important for your cat to have fresh water available at all times in these circumstances.

3) positive reinforcement with brushing! believe it or not, you can train your cat slowly over a period of weeks to tolerate a toothbrush. our goal of brushing is to gently remove the bacterial film (e.g., plaque) to prevent it from hardening on the teeth.

start by getting your cat used to you rubbing the sides of its jaw and face while you’re sitting on the sofa. next, slowly acclimate your cat to licking a meat-based (e.g., poultry or seafood flavor) veterinary toothpaste off your finger. after a few weeks, gradually teach your cat to lick it off a small cat toothbrush (e.g., Virbac’s cat toothbrush or a finger brush from your veterinarian). don’t forget to reward your cat after it does this with his or her all-time favorite treat. do not use human toothpastes, which can have poisonous xylitol (a sugar-free flavoring) in it. also, human toothpastes have certain detergents and abrasives that cats shouldn’t eat.

here is a great video by Cornell University about a four-week training program for how to get your cat used to toothbrushing!

if you care about your cat’s health, start these three dental-friendly tips today! when in doubt, always seek veterinary attention if your cat shows any signs of dental disease. a dental cleaning under anesthesia may occasionally be necessary, but you can help reduce the frequency of this with these three tips!