Cleaning Cat Teeth! - Cat Info Detective

Cleaning Cat Teeth!

Skye Blake-updated, white background

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!

paw prints coming in from a distance

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-updated, white background

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?

person brush teeth of black cat

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?

kibble (dry) cat food in bowl

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.

dental tools, dentist

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.

savannah cat yawning, mouth open, teeth

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

calico cat stretching front half of body

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.

Scientific Evidence

tabby, white cat winking with mouth open, teeth

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.

Bones

beef bones

“…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

Dental Diets

generic man brushing tooth

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.

chewy food, treats, dental diet

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.

cat with wide open mouth - oral flea treatment

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.

vet - telemedicine-laptop

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

cat eating kibble from food bowl

No dental diet can take the place of regular brushing and veterinary care.

Here’s a good video about dental disease and special diets…

“What’s the BEST Prevention of Dental Disease? Which Products Work? A Veterinarian Explains!”, Vet Med Corner, October 2021

Dental Products

tabby cat on a shelf

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.

Tabby, white cat - closeup of yawning, angry open mouth

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
Scientific equipment in lab - veterinary medicine

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.

kittens lounging together

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.

tabby cat licking front paw

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

person brush teeth of black cat

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.

tabby, white cat winking with mouth open, 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!

Videos

Here’s a fun clicker game to teach your cat to let your brush her teeth…

“How to brush your cat’s teeth with clicker training”, Julie Posluns, Cat School Clicker Training, February 24, 2019

Here are some simple techniques in these videos…

“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

Discover More…

Now that you’ve learned something about your cat’s dental health, you might want to explore these pages…

What’s a Dentist for Cats?“, “Cat Health” and “Cat Food!


Sources

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

The Veterinary Oral Health Council

Videos

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

What’s the BEST Prevention of Dental Disease? Which Products Work? A Veterinarian Explains!“, November 2021

Updated December 24, 2023

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