How To Clean Your Cat’s Teeth

  • Author:

  • Why should I clean my cat’s teeth?

    Plaque is a sticky biofilm that coats the teeth. It is composed of several types of bacteria, some host cells (macrophages, white blood cells, and epithelial cells), organic and inorganic material (saliva, food debris, gingival crevicular fluid and bacterial toxins).

    Over time, plaque left on the teeth hardens into tartar, a cement-like deposit that builds upon the teeth. Toxins released by the bacteria cause gum inflammation. Over time deep pockets form between the gums and the teeth and inflammation and bacteria destroy the supportive bone structures of the teeth, which eventually leads to tooth loss. This is known as gum disease and is irreversible.

    Without proper dental care, up to 70% of cats will have gum disease by the time they are three.

    As if the loss of teeth isn’t bad enough, gum disease has a greater impact on the body than just the teeth. The mouth has a rich supply of blood vessels, and bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel to the kidneys and heart, causing damage to both organs.

    How to get a cat used to dental care

    Most cats don’t like to have their mouth touched, ideally start from an early age.

    • Start slow, just a few seconds at a time with some gauze wrapped around the finger to get the cat used to having his teeth and gums touched. Give your cat a treat afterwards.
    • Gradually increase the amount of time you are touching the mouth. If the cat resists, try again when the cat is calm.
    • Once your cat is used to having his teeth and gums touched, introduce a toothbrush. Again, don’t rush this process, just a few seconds at a time, until your cat becomes used to it.
    • Introduce the toothpaste, add a small amount to your finger and let your cat lick it off. You may have to experiment with different types and flavours of cat toothpaste.
    • Do not force your cat; this is distressing to both you and the cat and will only make him fearful. An agitated cat and fingers in the mouth make up a dangerous combination, bite wounds from cats very easily become infected.

    How long does it take to brush a cat’s teeth?

    It only takes 2-3 minutes a day to brush your cat’s teeth.

    What should I use to clean my cat’s teeth?

    A cat toothbrush and pet toothpaste. Don’t use human toothpaste on your cat as it contains ingredients that are toxic to cats. Pet toothpaste is usually meat or fish flavoured, doesn’t foam and contains only safe ingredients. Most veterinarians or pet stores sell dental products for cats.

    If you don’t have a pet toothbrush, a child’s toothbrush or a finger with gauze make suitable alternatives.

    How much does it cost?

    A pet toothbrush and toothpaste only cost a few dollars, in comparison to expensive veterinary bills. There are several types of cat toothbrush.

    • Brushes similar in appearance to human toothbrushes
    • Brushes with two heads to clean both the outer and inner side of the teeth
    • Plastic brushes which are placed over the top of the caregiver’s finger

    How often should a cat have its teeth brushed?

    Brush the teeth once a day.

    How to clean a cat’s teeth:

    • Choose a time of day your cat is relaxed; I find my cats are most calm on an evening when we are watching the television.
    • Apply a small amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush or gauze.
    • Place your cat on your lap with his head facing away from you.
    • Dental cleaning requires two hands — one to hold the chin and lift the lip, the other to brush the teeth.
    • Use one hand to cradle the cat’s chin, and with the same hand, lift the cat’s lip. Gently brush the outer side of the teeth (closest to the cheeks) and gums in a circular motion. Start on the front bottom teeth and make your way to the back teeth, do the same on the other side.
    • Once you have brushed the bottom teeth, use the same method on the top teeth.
    • Do not brush the inner side of the teeth; the cat’s rough tongue will take care of plaque.

    If you are still unsure, your veterinarian or nurse will be happy to show you how it’s done.

    Alternatives to brushing

    Brushing isn’t the only option when it comes to keeping the teeth clean; some alternatives include:

    Gel – A gel that is applied to the teeth once a day to kill bacteria.

    Dental cat food – Hills t/d is a prescription-only diet that is made up of larger sized kibble that stays together as the tooth pierces the biscuit, this helps to scrape plaque off the teeth as the cat eats. Non-prescription biscuits are also available.

    Chews and treats – These products work in much the same way as dental diets chews and treats work by scraping plaque off the teeth as the cat chews

    Water additives – Added to the cat’s water, these products help to remove plaque from the teeth.

    Raw chicken necks and/or steak – Raw chicken necks are a cheap alternative, and many cats love them. Cheap cuts of human-grade steak (such as chuck steak) can be cut into 1-inch chunks for your cat. The chewing action helps to remove plaque from the teeth. More information on feeding cats bones can be found here. Only ever feed raw bones.

    Feed chicken necks of steak two to three times a week.

    Signs of gum disease in cats

    • Red gums, especially where the gum meets the tooth
    • Bleeding from the gums
    • Bad breath
    • Reluctance to eat
    • Loose teeth
    • Drooling
    • Yellow cement-like deposits on the teeth, especially around the gum margins

    If you notice any of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

    Schedule annual checkups

    It is still possible for tartar to build up on the teeth of a cat who has its teeth cleaned regularly. All cats should see a veterinarian at least once a year for a check-up, and the veterinarian will examine the mouth at this time

    If there is a build-up of tartar or signs of gum disease, the veterinarian will need to descale the teeth.


    • Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio