A teeth cleaning is one of the easiest ways to help keep your cat healthy—if you go about it the right way. Chances are, when you adopted your kitten you were told to practice oral hygiene care. You may have even been asked to brush your cat’s teeth daily… a daunting-sounding task, to say the least!
For pet owners, cat teeth cleaning tends to fall into the same category as cat baths: a good idea in theory, but a clawing, hissing disaster in reality. Most cats simply don’t tolerate having their teeth brushed, scaled, or otherwise inspected at home.
However, just because the task of cat teeth cleaning seems nigh impossible doesn’t mean it’s not an important consideration in your cat’s overall health.
Get by with a little help from your vet
Your veterinarian will check your cat’s oral health during annual visits, but there may come a time where your cat requires an appropriate cleaning. Vets agree that the only way to pull off a true cat teeth cleaning is with a little help from general anesthesia.
Anesthesia is quite safe for most cats, barring those with certain medical conditions like hyperthyroidism (which your vet will note). Beyond teeth cleanings, your cat will also need to be anesthetized for dental X-rays and, if necessary, polishing and removal of diseased teeth.
When is a cat teeth cleaning necessary?
Certain cats or cat breeds are more prone to conditions like severe gingivitis, also known as gum disease, or the chronic inflammation of the gums that worsens over time. Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to painful tooth resorption, or when teeth sink back into the diseased and receding gums until the body eventually reabsorbs the tooth. In either case, regular teeth cleaning is necessary and teeth extractions are more common.
Signs of gum disease in your cat
The annual visit to your vet isn’t the only time someone should be paying attention to your cat’s oral health. Keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms of feline gum disease, courtesy of PetMD:
- Bad breath
- Angry, red gums
- Bleeding (from the mouth or nose), sometimes spontaneously
- Difficulty eating
- Eating on one side of the mouth or moving food around in the mouth
- Lack of appetite
- Mild swelling of the face
- Loose or missing teeth
- Looking unkempt or failing to groom
If you’ve had a bad toothache, you know how all-consuming the pain can be. If you notice any of the above signs in your cat, get to your vet right away. Cat teeth cleaning may need to become a more frequent part of your routine. Or in severe cases, your cat may need some teeth extracted from time to time.
Oral hygiene at home
If you feel you’re up to the challenge of actually brushing your cat’s teeth at home, follow these tips:
- Purchase a basic feline oral hygiene kit, which should contain a small cat-specific toothbrush, cat-specific toothpaste, some cotton swabs, and possibly some salt and water. NOTE: Never use toothpaste designed for humans, as this can pose serious health risks.
- You’ll first want to get your cat used to the idea of having his teeth touched. Use a finger or a cotton swab to gently press on your cat’s teeth and gums to ease into this.
- After a few times with just touch, introduce a small amount of cat-specific toothpaste onto your cat’s lips. Now he can begin to adjust to the taste.
- Next, incorporate the cat-specific toothbrush. It may even be designed to slip over your finger, to facilitate use and help stimulate your cat’s gums.
- Finally, use a bit of toothpaste with the toothbrush. Give your cat a gentle, yet thorough brushing.
Simpler solutions to practicing good oral hygiene at home include providing your cat with chew toys, a healthy diet of both wet and dry food, and dental treats like Greenies.
With a few proactive measures and consistent observation, many pet owners find that they will rarely have to deal with a cat teeth cleaning. If and when that time arrives, though, remember to check with your vet before you decide to start acting as dental hygienist to your cat!