If you never brushed your own teeth, you might end up with tuna breath, too. A natural diet of mouse means a cat must bite through fur, skin and bone to get to the good stuff, and that naturally cleans their teeth. Since most cats no longer rely on mousing abilities to fill their bowl, it’s up to owners to help them stay minty fresh, or at least healthy.
But cats can be persnickety about owners putting anything in their mouth, so it can be a challenge to brush a cat’s teeth. Use these tips to help your cat accept what’s good for them when you brush their teeth.
How to Brush a Cat's Teeth
- It’s best to brush a cat’s teeth after every meal. But many cats nibble all day long, and you can’t keep up with snacking times. Once or twice a week is a good target schedule for cat tooth brushing.
- Kittens are more forgiving of rude handling, so get the baby used to having their mouth handled from the first day on. Touch their lips, slip a finger inside the mouth to touch teeth, and make it a pleasant experience for the youngster. That way the cat knows mouth and tooth care is a normal part of everyday life.
- Human baby-size toothbrushes or pet toothbrushes can work for cat dental care. But many cats prefer a rubber nub-coated “finger” brush that slips over your finger, or just your finger wrapped in a piece of gauze. You can also wrap your finger with a wash cloth or piece of gauze. For cats that already accept your finger touching their teeth, the finger brush is well accepted as a next step.
- Use only cat-approved tooth paste. Cats swallow toothpaste so swallowing human dental products that contain fluoride isn’t good for them. Pet tooth pastes come in chicken and malt flavors for cats. Let your cat sniff and taste a sample before you begin.
- Flavor your bare finger with the paste and slip inside the cat’s mouth to rub on the teeth. Don’t force the cat’s mouth open or the cat can become upset. Besides, you only need to clean the outside of the teeth since the cat’s tongue does a good job of keeping the inside tooth surface clean.
- Once the cat accepts a flavored finger, smear toothpaste on the finger-brush. Gently hold your cat’s head steady in the palm of one hand while your other hand slips the finger-brush under the cat’s lips to massage the outside of the teeth. Pay particular attention to the molars in the cheek region. Always praise cats when they accept the brushing and perhaps reward with a catnip treat.
Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, consultant to the pet care industry and the award winning author of 23 pet care books.