Greetings feline fanatics! Skye Blake here with some helpful tips on cleaning cat teeth…
Yes, every single tooth in our fuzzy feline heads is important and must be kept healthy!
It’s just like your teeth… if you don’t take care of them, they’ll rot and fall out… and that hurts! Ewww!
To find out why, check out “Dental Care for Cats“.
Let’s look at some surprising things I’ve found while following this trail…
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
Sources are given at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
How Do You Clean Cat Teeth?
There are a few things you can do to help keep your cat’s teeth healthy.
Some common beliefs, though, are proving to be ineffective, so let’s discover more…
Does Cat Food Clean Teeth?
Many veterinarians commonly say that dry cat food will clean your cat’s teeth.
The idea is that since it’s crunchy, kibble cleans food particles, biofilm and tartar off your cat’s teeth.
There’s no scientific evidence to support this claim and many cats who eat kibble still have dental problems at some point in life.
Here’s what veterinary dentist Dr. Fraser Hale said a lecture he gave to the World Small Animals Veterinary Association (WSAVA)…
“It has long been felt that feeding a cat or a dog a dry kibble diet is better for the teeth than feeding them a processed, canned diet.
The logic goes that dry food leaves less residue in the mouth for oral bacteria to feed on and so plaque would accumulate at a slower rate.
Despite that, many animals fed on commercial dry diets still have heavy plaque and calculus accumulations and periodontal disease.
…While there is no conclusive scientific evidence to tell which diet is optimal for feline dental health, it is safe to say that regular dry food does not keep your cat’s teeth any cleaner than other kinds of food.” 1 Does Dry Food Actually Clean Your Cat’s Teeth? – TheCatSite Articles
This is because most dry pet foods are brittle and the kibble shatters without much resistance, so there is little or no abrasive effect from chewing.
Add to that the fact that cats tend to chew only enough to swallow pieces of food.
The kibble pieces can’t get below the gumline to keep it clean.
Many dry kibble products don’t need to be chewed… your cat simply swallows them whole.
As mentioned above, to date there’s no conclusive scientific evidence that dry, wet or raw diets help keep your cat’s mouth and teeth healthy.
There also is no evidence that any of these diets cause dental disease or contribute to it more than others.
“…while there is some evidence that bones, like any abrasive chewing material, can help clean teeth, the many risks of bones, including fractured teeth and potentially life-threatening injuries to the gastrointestinal tract, likely outweigh any benefits.
So while dry diets in general may not be of benefits in terms of preventing periodontal disease, this does not automatically mean that the alternatives to commercial dry foods are any better.”2“Dry Pet Food and Dental Disease in Dogs and Cats”, septvet.com, October 17, 2011
Discuss your cat’s dental care with your vet before using any dental products, including special diets for cleaning cat teeth.
If your cat has any sore spots in his mouth your vet should fix the problems before you try any dental products.
Otherwise, you can cause pain and your cat won’t cooperate.
There are now some feline dental diets that manufacturers claim help reduce plaque and tartar buildup.
Some studies have shown that there can be improvement using these products.
Dental diets consist of a larger, chewier kibble that doesn’t break apart as easily as regular kibble.
Your cat’s teeth sink down into it and the food rubs all tooth surfaces.
In some cases, these diets can help keep teeth from deteriorating as long as they’re the main source of food, not just given as treats.
Be sure any diet you use is complete and balanced so your cat is getting all necessary nutrients.
VOHC Approval of Dental Care Diets
The Veterinary Oral Health Council reviews the clinical studies to be sure they’re legitimate and follow the required scientific standards.
The approved diets are given the official VOHC Seal of Approval.
Here’s a list of approved dental-care diets for cats… VOHC Accepted Products for Cats
No dental diet can take the place of regular brushing and veterinary care.
Here’s a good video about dental disease and special diets…
There are many products claiming to clean cat teeth, but are they worth the money?
You don’t have to spend a lot to help your cat avoid dental disease.
Keep some gauze on hand to wrap around your finger and gently massage her gums and teeth.
If your cat allows it, use a pet, finger, or baby toothbrush with soft bristles.
VOHC Approval of Dental Care Products
To have some assurance that a product is worthwhile, look for those that have the Seal of Approval from The Veterinary Oral Health Council.
If that Seal of Approval is not on the product, don’t bother with it.
There are two categories where the Seal of Approval is given…
- A product helps control plaque
- A product helps control tarter
A company must submit a request for review of each of their products, with evidence of their value, to qualify for the Seal of Approval.
They must include separate sets of data and analysis summaries from clinical trials if they want approval in each category.
Products approved by the VOHC are listed at “VOHC® Accepted Products for Cats“.
They include dental diets, water additives, topical gels, topical sprays, anti-plaque wipes, powder, a toothbrush/paste combination, and dental treats.
Toothpaste for cats is specially made for them… never use human toothpaste because flouride is toxic to cats.
Instead use an enzymatic toothpaste for cats as listed on “VOHC® Accepted Products for Cats“.
If you use water additives, be sure you supply plain fresh water separately.
Cats won’t drink water that tastes weird and might not drink from a bowl with additives.
You don’t want your cat to get dehydrated!
How to Brush a Cat’s Teeth
You’re probably wondering how in the world you can convince your cat to let your brush her teeth!
Dental care should be a positive, calm, even enjoyable experience for both you and your cat.
Clicker training is a great way to get your cat to enjoy having clean teeth.
The younger your cat is when you start, the easier it is for her to accept it.
Don’t use human toothpaste, only what’s made for cats. You don’t want to poison your cat!
Here’s a fun clicker game to teach your cat to let your brush her teeth…
Here are some simple techniques in these videos…
Now that you’ve learned something about your cat’s dental health, you might want to explore these pages…
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. Sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“Cat Teeth Cleaning Tips & Advice (Written By a Vet)” – All About Cats
“Dry Pet Food and Dental Disease in Dogs and Cats” skeptvet.com, October 17, 2011
“Pet Dental Health” – Pet Food Institute
“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011, pp. 240-1
“How To: Brush Your Cat’s Teeth at Home“, Cats Only Veterinary Clinic, June 19, 2017
“How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth | Vet Tutorial“, Healthcare for Pets, November 2, 2016
“How to brush your cat’s teeth with clicker training”, Julie Posluns, Cat School Clicker Training, February 24, 2019
Updated December 24, 2023