Okay. You asked for it so here it is. The complete guide to brushing your cat’s teeth. For this one, we teamed up with Bee Jay’s favorite veterinarian, Dr. Brenda Eisenhauer. Dr. E runs Parkside Animal Health Center in Aurora Colorado. This subject isn’t something we wanted to tackle on our own so I’ve sprinkled in Dr. E’s commentary throughout the article. Let’s get right into it!
First Things First: Why Do I Want To Brush My Cat’s Teeth?
Dental care is one of the most overlooked components of care for cats. Like we’ve mentioned before, cats can be very good at hiding their discomfort and unless you’re both looking in your cat’s mouth and know what to look for you could very easily be overlooking dental disease. Dental disease has some obvious effects too. Like bad breath! Maybe your feline friend’s breath isn’t smelling so great these days. That could be a sign periodontal disease that could be causing more than just stinky cat breath!
So what kind of problems? Well, Dr. E covers this on a page specifically about dentistry on Parkside’s website. Basically, that smell is bacteria. Over months and years that bacteria does what bacteria likes to do: spread everywhere! The first place is, of course, deeper into the tissues of the mouth. This can cause painful gingivitis or abscesses that can eventually result the cat becoming anorexic. Once a cat stops eating for a few days, you find yourself in a very difficult spot. Dr. E explains, “While it is rare, once a cat stops eating due to dental disease, we find ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. We need to fix the dental disease, which requires surgery and anesthesia, but the cat isn’t a good surgical candidate because it isn’t eating.”
Not only that, but the bacteria can spread to other organs and systems including the heart, kidneys and liver. And this process doesn’t always take that long to happen. Depending on how much your cat chews on toys and the type of food you feed the progression of dental disease can be very rapid. Dr. E points out that, “Most owners don’t think too much about whether they offer their cat wet or dry food but at Parkside we recommend everyone try to get their cat to eat dry food in addtion to wet. The hard kibble breaks up some of the tarter and plaque build up and can act as a brush to some degree. While cats don’t chew the dry kibble they do break it up sometimes while with wet food they typically just lap it up.” This article on PetMD talks about the teeth cleaning effect of dry food as well.
The last reason to stay up on dental disease? The cost of a dental. While you may sit still for an scale and polish at your dentist, your cat won’t tolerate a procedure like that. The cost of a dental will vary on the degree of dental disease but for a cleaning with a couple extractions, radiographs and obviously anesthesia you can expect to spend at least $800 and more likley closer to $1,500. While dentistal care is one of the most important things you can do for your cat it often becomes one of the last things owners do as a result of the cost.
The Solution: What Can You Do About It?
As crazy as it sounds, one of the best things you can do is brush your cat’s teeth. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking that your cat simply won’t allow you to brush her teeth? Well, stay with us, we think our plan will work with any cat! You will need a few pieces of key equipment for this process.
First, a small cat sized tooth brush that includes rubber band or a strap to allow you to put it on your finger. You don’t need to hold the toothbrush in the same way you would if you were brushing your own teeth as that would create too much leverage and force. Ask your veterinary clinic if they sell feline tooth brushes, otherwise, look around online.
Second, you need special feline toothpaste. You absolutely can not use human toothpaste for this process as it contains chemicals that your cat can’t digest. And I assure you, your cat will be digesting this toothpaste. Feline toothpaste normally comes in tuna or chicken flavor and it specifically made to be safe for digestion.
Third, a can of tuna. Hopefully, we won’t need it but we can use the juice to dilute the toothpaste and make it that much tastier.
Fourth, you will need a towel. Obviously, this process could get a little messy (tuna flavored toothpaste on the walls!) but you will also need the towel in case you run into problems getting your cat to cooperate. You can use what’s called a burrito wrap, which is exactly what it sounds like. You take your cats paws and wrap her into a little burrito with only the face and mouth exposed. This protects you from sudden swatting but can also make your cat feel more comfortable, believe it or not.
Okay! Time To Brush My Cat’s Teeth!
Now for the fun part! Time to brush! Here’s the approach we recommend- step by step.
- Place your cat on the counter top, table or your lap. We recommend trying a table or something similar first since starting with you lap may result in some unwanted scratching. Try placing a towel on your lap if you go that route.
- Pet your cat to try to encourage her to relax. Pet her cheeks and face and as you do so slowly raise her upper lip and being to brush her teeth. Make sure you’re brushing away from the gums so you can move any debris away rather than lodge them further in the mouth. Continue doing this for the bottom jaw, again brushing away from gum line.
- Keep going to every part of your cats mouth. Take your time and take petting breaks as needed. If your cat is getting irritated try mixing some tuna into the toothpaste to try and get it to be more palatable.
- You’re done! No rinsing required! If your kitty wants to wash her mouth out she can but you don’t need to do anything special.
That’s it! You should brush your cat’s mouth as often as they will let you! And that frequency will probably increase the more you get your cat used to the process.
Let us know how it goes!