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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Do You Brush Your Cat’s Teeth?

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll just say it at here at the beginning: I never have brushed any of my cats’ teeth. Not once.

I know I should; I council my clients that they should. But when I get the "you’ve got to be kidding me" look, I quickly offer alternatives that, while not as effective as tooth brushing, still do help maintain feline oral health.

I don’t dispute the facts showing that daily tooth brushing not only helps maintain the health of a cat’s teeth and gums, but can also prevent more widespread health problems down the line. My decision was purely practical, originating at a time when I lived with four cats, four dogs, and two horses. If I was going to brush all those teeth every day, I wasn’t going to get much else accomplished. And since brushing teeth less frequently than every other day or so doesn’t seem to have much benefit, I just decided to forgo it completely.

So if you brush your cat’s teeth every day, keep up the good work. I am impressed. For the rest of us slackers out here, here are a few of the other options that are worth considering.

  • Regular dry foods don’t do much to keep a cat’s teeth clean, but some of the diets that have been specially formulated to help prevent dental disease do actually help. Look for a product that carries the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval.

    You do not need to feed one of these "dental diets" exclusively. You can offer a small handful of kibbles once or twice a day (decreasing your cat’s other food to compensate for the extra calories) and still get some benefit.

  • Drinking-water additives are extremely easy to use. Again, the VOHC seal of approval will let you know whether or not a particular product has undergone unbiased testing.
  • And finally, there is what I call tooth-wiping. Simply wrap one of your fingers in a piece of gauze (the rough texture is ideal), apply a small amount of a feline oral-care product to it, and run your finger once along your cat’s teeth on each side of the mouth. You’ll wipe away some of the plaque that is developing and put the active ingredients where they are needed most, from the back of the mouth up to the canine teeth. The whole procedure should take a total of about ten seconds … if your cat is cooperative, that is.

A lack of time (or desire) to brush your cats’ teeth isn’t an excuse to ignore their mouths, however. Do what you can preventative-wise, schedule a dental prophylaxis (exam, cleaning, X-rays, etc.) when one is needed, and if a problem like a broken tooth develops, deal with it quickly. Your cats may not thank you, but they’ll be healthier because of your efforts.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: Truman Gets His Teeth Brushed - 3 by John Morton

brushing cats teeth, feline dental care, oral health for cats

Comments  7

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  • Slacker
    09/19/2011 07:04am

    I too am a slacker when it comes to brushing my cats' teeth. I've attempted it a couple of times and have been an abysmal failure.

    My critters get a checkup about every 6 months and we don't hesitate to get dentals unless there's a health reason for being cautious about anesthesia.

    My excuse is that all my critters have come to me as adults. I think tooth brushing is a lot like claw clipping - much easier if started as a kitten. Anyone who has started claw clipping on an adult knows exactly what I mean.

  • 09/20/2011 04:40am

    I don't know about the "easier to start with a younger pet." I haven't seen this in the three dogs that I own. The two that I adopted as adults learned to deal with grooming (tooth brushing, nail trimming, bathing, etc.) at least as well as the dog that I adopted as a puppy. It took a lot more patience to teach the dog that I adopted as a puppy to accept nail trimming. One of the dogs that I adopted as an adult was a stray, so probably hadn't ever had any grooming from a human before I brought her home.

  • Greenies
    09/20/2011 04:00pm

    Well when I started with one dog and one cat, sure I started to do it weekly. But then came along another kitty and then I started traveling for work and hired pet sitter who I didn't want to pay extra for teeth brushing.

    Now with 5 cats and two fosters and feeding a colony of 20 on top of 2 jobs--forget it! So I give them Greenies. Does that really help?

    Whenever I take my eldest cat to vet, he scrapes off the thick tartar with his nail and encourages me to brush his teeth. So hence I just scrape it off with my nail! It still doesn't address the gums and other prevention--but who has time?!

  • 09/21/2011 03:55pm

    Check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council's website (www.vohc.org)for a list of products that do help.

  • 09/23/2011 01:32am

    Any thoughts on good oral care products for a diabetic cat? I can't seem to find any options that aren't full of sugar, and attempting to brush with baking soda just isn't going to fly with him.

  • 09/23/2011 11:36am

    Your best option might just be to clean his teeth using a toothbrush dampened in water. You'll physically remove some of the plaque without any risk of throwing his diabetic regulation out of whack.

  • Vets play a role here
    09/27/2011 11:28am

    I do not own a cat, but do own a dog whose teeth I brush daily. No vet has ever even suggested that I should brush my dog's teeth, although they're always thrilled when I tell them that I do so.

    It's perplexing to me that nearly all vets believe that pet tooth-brushing is important, yet very few (and none that I've ever met) actively advocate this practice to their clients. If vets were more active in recommending at-home dental care and were willing to demonstrate how to begin a brushing program, it seems that more of their clients would invest in brushing their pets' teeth.

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