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
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