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Cat Teeth Cleaning: Do or Don’t?

Est. read time: 8 min.

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 parents, 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 won’t tolerate having their teeth brushed, scaled, or otherwise inspected at home. 

This can make it more difficult to get the job done, especially with a lack of communication between you and your cat. How does one explain to their precious kitten that they actually need to keep their teeth clean?

Just because the task of cat teeth cleaning seems nearly impossible doesn’t mean it’s not an important consideration in your cat’s overall health. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of cleaning your cat’s teeth and how to go about getting it done!

Why it’s important to clean your cat’s teeth

Certain cats or cat breeds are more prone to conditions like severe gingivitis, the chronic inflammation of the gums that worsens over time. Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to painful tooth resorption, which is 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. 

Not taking care of your cat’s teeth can also result in tooth decay, infection, and inflammation in the mouth. All of which can be extremely painful for your cat. Sometimes, teeth need to be pulled, or else you risk putting your cat in life-threatening danger.

Signs of feline gum disease 

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:

  • Bad breath
  • Angry, red gums
  • Bleeding (from the mouth or nose), sometimes spontaneously
  • Drooling
  • 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 immediately. 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.

Frequency of home cleanings

It may seem tricky, but daily dental care will help prevent periodontal disease and other dental-related or health issues your cat might experience. If you have your cat from the kitten stage, you should start daily brushing exercises to get them into a rhythm. If they become used to the act, it makes it much easier to keep up with. 

Trying to get an adopted senior or adult cat to enjoy at-home dental cleanings may prove to be more difficult. Often, cats at this stage that are just coming into a home or going to a new home have not experienced getting their teeth brushed. It could take more time and effort to get your cat comfortable with your finger in their mouth.

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. (Wet cat food is more hydrating, while dental treats are better for teeth.)

Other dental products that might prove helpful are:

  • Water additives: VOHC-approved additives can help reduce tartar build-up. 
  • Dental chews: While these tend to be more popular for dogs, some cats might enjoy them.
  • Dental gel on toys: Again, this is more typical for dogs; but you can try to add a touch of cat-specific dental gel to their favorite toy to chew on. 

Note: While helpful, these products aren’t enough by themselves—they’re merely part of a larger care plan and cannot replace brushing and professional vet care. 

With a few proactive measures and consistent observation, many pet parents find that they will rarely have to deal with a cat's teeth cleaning. If and when that time arrives, remember to check with your vet before you decide to act as a dental hygienist for your feline friend. 

How to clean your cat’s teeth

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 pet toothpaste, some cotton swabs, and possibly some salt and water. NOTE: Never use human toothpaste, as this can pose serious health risks.
  • First, get your cat used to the idea of having their 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 only touch, introduce a small amount of cat toothpaste onto your cat’s lips. Now they 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. Pet parents who opt for a finger brush should be relatively certain their cat won’t bite.
  • Finally, use a bit of toothpaste with the toothbrush. Give your cat a gentle yet thorough brushing.
  • Don’t forget to use lots of praise and take breaks if your cat becomes irritated. You don’t want to scar them by using dental hygiene equipment, so follow their lead and allow them to adjust to the action.

Dental cleanings at a veterinarian’s office

Your veterinarian will check your cat’s oral health during annual visits, but there may come a time when your cat requires an appropriate cleaning. Vets agree that, for many felines, the only way to pull off a true cat teeth cleaning is with a little help from general anesthesia. This makes the process go much smoother and can allow the vet to get into those hard-to-reach places.

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.

Depending on what plan you have, dental cleanings may be covered by your pet’s insurance. While it may cost more to include this service in your plan, your cat’s mouth could be much healthier as a result. 

When do cats need professional dental cleanings?

Professional cleanings are necessary if your veterinarian says they are. During a routine check-up, your cat might show signs of dental decay and gum disease that raise concerns from your vet. A specific dental check-up might be recommended later. The best thing you can do is agree to a professional cleaning to ensure your cat gets the best care. 

If there is a chance of an emerging dental issue, your veterinarian will want to act fast to come up with a solution. Otherwise, your vet might recommend cleanings that are more spread out, depending on a few different factors:

  • Age
  • Lifestyle
  • Genetics
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Other health conditions 

If you ever have any concerns about your cat’s dental health, it’s best to reach out to your veterinarian and set up an appointment. 

How much does cat dental care cost?

Cat dental care can vary in cost. Depending on the procedure or work that is being done, it can range from $50 to $3,000. The more teeth that need to be extracted, the higher the cost of the care.

You can always talk to your vet to get an estimate before going through with the care, or work with them to figure out a payment plan. 

Stay updated on your cat’s health

You want to ensure that all aspects of your cat’s life are being taken care of. From eating a healthy diet and exercising daily to having a self-cleaning litter box to keep their space tidy and fresh, your cat deserves the best care possible. Ensuring that your cat has plenty of toys that won’t hurt their teeth can make their dental journey less daunting!

And again, don’t wait for something to become more serious than it already is. When it comes to dental health, your cat needs preventative care in order to maintain a healthy mouth. You’ll notice the difference if you start practicing early on your cat, so find a feline toothbrush and a reason to smile brightly.