As a human, you know that brushing your teeth daily after every meal is important for your dental health. The same applies for cats and while you’re not expected to brush your cat’s teeth after every meal, you should be aiming for at least three times a week.
Regular dental home care helps to control the build up of bacteria, which can cause infection and serious health problems for your cat. It can also help to prevent periodontal disease, which can affect the teeth and the structures of the gums that support and keep teeth healthy.
Factors for pre-disposing dental disease
Dental disease is a common problem in both young and old cats. It is thought that as many as 85% of cats aged three years and older have some sort of dental disease. It’s commonly associated with the accumulation of plaque buildup and tartar formation, which can be easily avoided with regular brushing.
While dental disease can affect cats of any age, there are several factors that can affect the risk and severity of dental disease. These include:
Breed and genetics
Evidence suggests that genetics can play a role with some purebred cats being predisposed to the condition. Oriental short-hair and Siamese cats have small jawbones that are often too small to accommodate teeth and this can result in overcrowding. Abnormally positioned teeth increase the risk of dental disease.
Feeding only soft or wet food provides little or no abrasive action against the teeth when chewing and therefore offers little to prevent plaque formation. Dry foods (hard kibble) tend to be more abrasive and will reduce tartar accumulation.
Frequency of vet visits
Cats should ideally have their teeth examined by a vet at least once every twelve months and for cats that have had dental problems this should be increased to at least every six months. Generally, the sooner a problem is identified the easier and quicker it is to treat.
Signs of dental disease
Cats can hide symptoms of dental disease for months or even years but as dental disease progresses you may start to notice the following signs:
- Yellow deposits on the teeth
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red or swollen gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Pus around the tooth
- Sensitivity around the mouth
- Pawing at the face
- Loose or missing teeth
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach or intestinal upsets
- Difficulty chewing or eating
- Irritability or depression
- Teeth that are loose or missing
The best thing you can do for your cat is to get their teeth checked before noticing any of these signs. If you do suspect dental disease, visit your vet straight away.
Introducing home care dental hygiene
If you suspect there are already dental problems, speak to your vet before undertaking any home dental care. Your vet may recommend starting with a dental clean under anaesthetic or other treatments that require appropriate pain relief. It’s important not to start homecare brushing on a painful, infected mouth.
Once your vet has confirmed your pet has a happy (pain-free) and healthy (no gum, tooth or bone disease) mouth, you are ready to start home care brushing.
Tips for brushing your cat’s teeth at home
A regular brushing dental care program is important for the overall maintenance of your cat’s mouth. Through the use of chemical (cat toothpaste) and mechanical removal (cat toothbrush) you can help control plaque build up. When brushing your cat’s teeth at home:
Make it enjoyable
Having their teeth brushed should be a positive experience for your cat. The best thing you can do is to introduce the process of brushing early, when they are a kitten. It’s never too late to start brushing your cat’s teeth, but the longer you leave it the harder it can be.
A good idea is to get your cat used to you touching their mouth before introducing a toothbrush. Begin by touching their face and mouth and gradually start holding their mouth open and touching all their teeth.
Find the right toothbrush and toothpaste
Cats have very small mouths and teeth, therefore you’ll need to buy a toothbrush specifically made for pets. You may choose a toothbrush with a long handle, or you may prefer to use a finger toothbrush for more flexibility.
Make sure you use toothpaste designed for cats and dogs, as human toothpaste contains chemicals that can be harmful to cats. Flavours include chicken and beef too, which will be much more appealing to your cat than minty fresh!
Introduce the toothbrush and toothpaste
Before you attempt to use the toothbrush and toothpaste, let your cat interact with the products by holding out the toothbrush and letting them lick the toothpaste off. That way they won’t be afraid of the feel and taste when the time comes to brush.
When brushing, find a comfortable place to sit and cradle your cat in your lap. Speak gently with your cat and use a positive and happy tone. Praise your cat for good behaviour and reward your cat with interactive play, petting or grooming. If your cat is resisting the process, stop what you’re doing and try again when they are in a better mood.
Create a routine
Cats are creatures of habit, so try to brush your cat’s teeth at the same time every day and from the same spot. A good time to brush teeth is in the evening before you go to bed, when everyone is feeling relaxed and wound down. Start by brushing a small amount in a circular motion and then gradually build up to a full brush. Be sure to brush along the gum line in a circular motion to ensure you remove all plaque.
Remember their gums
Looking after your cat’s dental care is about more than just their teeth. The decay of the tooth usually starts with irritated or inflamed gums, so gums need to be looked after as well. After you’ve finished brushing your cat’s teeth, give the gums a massage to accelerate their healing and strengthen them. This will also reduce the risk of gum issues later down the track by stimulating blood flow to the area.
Keeping your cat’s mouth clean
There are a number of products you can purchase to maintain the health of your cat’s mouth and many of these products contain ingredients such as vitamin E, selenium and taurine, which also give your cat an overall health boost.
If your efforts are futile because your cat resists manual brushing or the introduction of dental protection products, schedule your cat in for an annual teeth clean. Performed under general anaesthesia, your vet can remove plaque and calculus, polish the teeth, and conduct a comprehensive oral examination that includes inspecting under the gums.