How to Brush Cat Teeth and Ditch Bad Cat Breath

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16 Minute Read
Updated February 1, 2023

Should you brush your cat’s teeth? Bad cat breath is the first sign that your cat needs a consistent at-home dental routine. Stick around to find out how to brush your cat’s teeth at home.

We often think of our cats as independent and pretty self-sufficient. They are adept groomers and love to keep clean, so it’s understandable if their dental health may have slipped your mind. 

Cats generally take care of their grooming and maintenance themselves, but there are some areas that they just can't reach, like their teeth and their ears. Cats are also not fond of you poking around in their mouth or ears, the two places that they need help cleaning the most. 

Cat dental health is often forgotten about until it’s too late, and the damage is done. Starting a regular cat toothbrushing routine today can help prevent dental disease as our cat ages.

 

The Importance of Dental Care for Cats

Your cat’s oral health can have a big effect on her eating habits, her breath, and her total body health. That’s why a regular cat teeth cleaning routine is important. 

In the wild, how do cats keep their teeth clean? Well, that is a combination of chewing and diet. Wild cats eat raw meat and raw bone, both of which naturally reduce oral bacteria. They also eat a diet that doesn't contain high levels of starches and carbohydrates that contribute to oral bacteria buildup. 

Domestic cats, on the other hand, eat carb-heavy, heat-treated foods. These diets often provide adequate nutrition, but they might also be the main reason for your cat's bad breath and dental problems. 

This is why it’s important to have a consistent dental routine for your cat that includes cleaning your cat's teeth at home and regular vet check-ups. Appropriate dental care will lead to the following benefits for you and your cat:

    • Better Cat Breath
    • Healthier Teeth and Gums
    • Better Eating Habits
    • Save Money on Vet Bills

What Causes Bad Cat Breath

The tell-tale sign that your cat needs some dental care is bad breath. Bacteria that hide between teeth and at the gum line can cause some pretty nasty breath, and regular toothbrushing can help to remove that odorous bacteria. 

Just like in people, debris from food finds small nooks and crannies in your cat's mouth and acts as a food source for oral bacteria to thrive. The abrasion from brushing and the bacteria-fighting properties of cat toothpaste can remove food debris and bacteria to improve your cat’s breath. 

Your cat's diet is another factor in her breath issues. High-carb diets, like kibble, can feed bad bacteria in your cat's mouth and contribute to bad cat breath. It's often thought that the abrasion from crunchy kibble helps to remove bacteria, but cats just don't chew properly enough to gain this benefit. 

Instead, the starchy kibble will usually leave behind more debris than it removes. Without regular brushing, that bacteria festers and reproduces, leading to plaque buildup and even dental disease.

The ideal diet type for your cat's dental health is a raw cat diet, including raw edible bones. Enzymes in raw meat can reduce oral bacteria, and the low-carb nature of this carnivorous diet leaves little food sources for existing bacteria to thrive. 

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Brushing Your Cat's Teeth

What is the best way to clean your cat’s teeth at home? Do you need to clean cat teeth?

Just like with our own dental maintenance, toothbrushing is the most effective way to prevent bacteria from building up and damaging your cat's teeth and gums, causing bad breath and contributing to other health issues. 

A regular and consistent dental routine for your cat is important. Brushing your cat’s teeth should be part of her weekly grooming routines. Ideally, brushing daily is recommended, but we know that may be hard to commit to. 

Once or twice a week is enough to help reduce plaque and tartar build-up and freshen your cat's breath. The more consistently you brush your cat's teeth, the easier it will be to help them get used to this process. 

Cleaning Your Cat's Teeth

If you are wondering how to clean a cat's teeth without brushing, there are products that can help to freshen cat breath and reduce oral bacteria, but nothing will replace the benefits of brushing your cat’s teeth. 

The good news is that even though brushing is still essential, other dental care products for cats can still be a helpful addition to your cat's dental cleaning routine. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of some alternative dental care tools for cats that might help you enhance your cat’s dental routine:

Dental Water Additives for Cats

One popular method of improving your cat's dental health is water additives that are specifically designed to kill bacteria. These are a nice hand-off approach to managing bad breath.

Products like Bluestem contain patented and safe technology to reduce bacteria, plaque, and tartar buildup on your cat’s teeth. When added daily to your cat’s water can be an effective tool to complement your cat’s regular toothbrushing routines. 

Here are our top picks for cats:

The downside to water additives for cats is that cats instinctually get moisture from their diet and may not drink enough water to see the positive effects of the additives. 

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Dental Food Additives for Cats

Another dental care tool for cats is food additives that help to combat oral bacteria. Unlike water additives that your cat may not consume enough of, food additives are easier to ensure appropriate doses of. 

Check out a few of our favourite products:

Food additives like Proden Plaque Off Powder use Norwegian seaweed to mix with your cat's saliva to coat the teeth and break down plaque and tartar build-up. This can improve tooth and gum health and help to naturally reduce oral bacteria that can cause bad breath. 

These can be more effective than water additives because the powder mixes with your cat's saliva as they chew. Cats who tend to gulp their food quickly still may not get the full effect. 

Cat Dental Treats

One of the most overrated dental care products for cats is cat dental treats. These treats are rarely anything more than a crunchy cookie, and though the abrasion could provide some benefit, cats simply don’t chew enough to remove much bacteria. 

Look for cat treats that contain ingredients with bacteria-fighting powers, like kelp, mint, or parsley. 

Dental chews are another great option for helping cats care for their teeth. You may not think of your cat as a strong chewer, but small and flavourful dental chews are a great way to help your cat do some self-dental care.

Here are some of our best cat dental chews:

Check out our favourite Cat Dental Chews for even more suggestions. 

Best Cat Dental Toy

Another option for caring for your cat’s teeth is a cat dental toy. These are often seen as an easy way for your cat to clean her own teeth in between her regular tooth-brushing sessions.

These chew toys allow your cat to scrape away some of the bacteria in her mouth while she plays. Not all cats are natural chewers, so some encouragement might be needed to get her to chomp down. 

Here are some of our most popular cat dental toys:

 

All of these cat dental care methods can be helpful but will not replace regular toothbrushing. These tools are designed to complement your cat’s regular dental routine but will never be as effective as getting your hands in there and brushing your cat’s teeth.

 

How To Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

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Brushing your cat’s teeth may seem like an intimidating task. So, if you are wondering how to brush your cat's teeth at home, then we have some simple tips and tricks for making the process of at-home cat dental cleanings a little easier.

You may be hesitant about brushing your cat’s teeth. You may not know how she’ll react or if you are doing it correctly, but with these tips, you’ll know the best way to clean cats' teeth and freshen their breath.

 

1. Calm Your Cat

The best time to start a kitty toothbrushing session is when your cat is feeling calm and relaxed. Catch her right after a nap, or spend some time snuggling on the couch before you get started. 

You can also try calming solutions, like pheromone diffusers, treats, or supplements, though treats and supplements tend to be faster acting and can be more useful in times of short-term stress. 

Feliway pheromone spray is a helpful tool to naturally calm an anxious cat before you attempt any dental care. The spray mimics a natural calming pheromone that cats produce and use to mark places and objects that they feel safe in.

 

2. Get Into Position 

Your cat’s mouth is small, so make sure that you can maneuver around her mouth without having to force her into uncomfortable positions. Find a spot where you know your cat can get comfortable, like her cat bed or on a soft blanket.  

How she sits is important, too. Having your cat lay on her side is helpful for reaching the teeth further back in her mouth, while a sitting position may give you better access to her front fangs. 

 

3. Pick the Right Tools

Cleaning your cat's teeth at home is a lot easier when you have the right tools. Specialized toothbrushes and toothpaste for cats will make the job simpler and safer. 

Tools designed for humans are going to be less effective, too big, or possibly even dangerous, so make sure you know that the dental tools you use on your cat are actually made for a cat. 

Brushing your cat’s teeth doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment, just a simple cat toothbrush and paste. Choosing the best cat toothbrush and paste is the best way to make regular cat teeth cleaning easy and successful. 

Best Cat Toothbrush

A traditional human toothbrush is not going to be effective for brushing your cat’s teeth. A cat toothbrush is going to be much smaller than yours, but it will also have a different shape. 

Your cat has a small mouth, so to be able to move around and reach all the hard-to-reach areas, cat toothbrushes are often angled and sometimes have a dual head to better surround each tooth. 

Even though a feline toothbrush is smaller than one made for a dog or a human, it can still be intimidating for a small cat. A great alternative is a finger toothbrush. These slide over your finger and have a head of short rubber bristles so that you can more easily maneuver around her mouth. 

Not sure which one to choose? The Tropiclean Fresh Breath Oral Care Kit for Cats has both. You may find your cat will only tolerate a finger brush, or maybe a regular brush is better for certain areas of your cat’s mouth. Having both styles on hand is a great idea if you are just getting started. 

Tropiclean Oral Kit for Cats

 

Can Cats Share Toothbrushes?

If you have multiple pets, you might be wondering if you can buy one toothbrush for all of them to share. And the answer is no.

Sharing toothbrushes between pets can lead to transferring bacteria from one pet to another, so we recommend that you have a different toothbrush for each pet.

 

Best Cat Toothpaste

The type of toothpaste you choose for your cat is important too. For starters, never ever use human toothpaste for your cat. Not only is the foamy nature of toothpaste a significant choking hazard, but human toothpaste also contains ingredients that are not good for cats and some that are even toxic. 

Xylitol is a popular sweetener that is used in human toothpaste because of its bacteria-killing properties, but xylitol is highly toxic to cats. 

You may not be able to tell which ingredients in human products are going to be dangerous for cats, so it’s always recommended to use products specifically designed for pets, like Petsmile Professional Pet Toothpaste.

Another great option for controlling oral bacteria is to use a small amount of coconut oil in place of traditional cat toothpaste. The lauric acid in coconut oil is naturally antimicrobial and can help to freshen their breath.

 

Can You Use Dog Toothpaste for Cats?

If you have a multi-pet household, you might be looking for products that you can use on both your dog and your cat, but can you use dog toothpaste for cats? The answer is maybe. It will depend on the ingredients.

There are plenty of pet toothpastes that offer a cat or a dog-friendly option. In some cases, this may just be a marketing ploy, but if you aren't sure which ingredients are safe for your cat and which aren't, you are always better playing it safe.

If you can't find a toothpaste specifically designed for cats, look for one that is formulated for both dogs and cats. 

 

4. The Taste Test

Toothpaste for cats is designed to be palatable, so a great way to help your cat feel more comfortable with this process is to give her a taste. Food-motivated cats will be especially curious about this part of the process. 

The tasty paste will help your cat associate the toothbrushing process with a food reward and may help them to feel less nervous about letting you brush your cat’s teeth. If your cat doesn’t seem impressed by the toothpaste you chose, you could try adding in a little extra flavour with a tiny amount of coconut oil.  

 

5. Introduce the Brush

Regardless of the type of crush you choose, your cat will likely not be receptive to a foreign object in their mouth. Before you start brushing, you should take some time to let your cat explore the toothbrush and get comfortable with it. 

You can keep a few small treats on hand during this process and give your cat a reward every time she gets closer to or sniffs the brush. You want her to associate the brush with something positive. 

This may take some practice, but it’s an important step in desensitizing your cat to the dental tools you will be using. 

Once you are ready to actually start brushing, you'll want to ditch the treats as they would be a little counterproductive to the process. A good-tasting toothpaste should be enough to continue the reward system while you brush. 

 

6. Start at the Front, Work Your Way Back

brushing-cat-teeth-with-fingerbrush

Brushing your cat’s teeth isn’t going to be an instant success, so to ease your cat into it, start with the easiest teeth to reach - her fangs. These big teeth are great for practicing and helping your cat get used to the feeling of the toothbrush.

Using either your cat toothbrush or a microfibre cloth, start on the largest teeth using small back-and-forth strokes. Make sure you brush very gently, as your cat’s teeth are small and her gums sensitive. 

Even if this is all you can do for your first session or two, it’s a great start. As you and your cat get used to her new cat teeth cleaning routine, you can move onto the teeth that are further back in her mouth. 

 

7. Know When to Take a Break

The newer your cat is to toothbrushing, the shorter your sessions should be. Your cat is likely to be less than cooperative for your first several attempts, and her body language can help you determine when she has had enough or needs a break. 

Cats that are fearful or aggressive will pull their ears back, and their bodies will get rigid. This is a good time to remove your hands from her mouth and give her a breather. You know your cat and her limits best, but if you feel your cat getting very tense, then back off. 

 

8. Grab a Partner

Even the calmest kitties can get a little wild if they are put in an unfamiliar situation, so having a helping hand can be beneficial during this process. A reassuring neck scratch or a warm lap to sit on can make a big difference in keeping your cat relaxed and cooperative. 

Additionally, brushing your cat's teeth kind of requires a third arm if your cat won’t sit still, so having a friend or family member that your cat knows can be a huge help. 

 

9. Swaddle Your Cat

Some cats are just too skittish or anxious to sit still for you to brush their teeth. This is when the swaddling method can be helpful. Just like when swaddling a baby, you can use a blanket or towel to comfort your cat and keep her still.

How to Towel Your Cat

Towelling your cat, or as we prefer to call it - the Purrito, is quite simple. It’s designed to securely but comfortably hold your cat in place so that you can have your hands free for the task at hand. Here’s a quick Purrito tutorial:

      • Layout the towel flat and place your cat diagonally in the center of the towel, on her belly.
      • Start with her left side, grab the corner of the towel and fold it over her back, tucking it underbody. 
      • Fold the bottom corner up over her body and fold the towel back on itself so that it does not cover her head. Then using the right corner, secure all the folds by wrapping the corner over to the other side of her body and tucking it snuggly under her body. 
      • The front corner can then be folded up her chest and over one shoulder and tucked into the folds on her back. She should now look like a kitty burrito, hence the fun name - Purrito. 

10. Finish with a Reward

Once you are finished with your cat’s toothbrushing session, your cat could be feeling a little stressed or frustrated. A great way to help her work through her stress is to immediately follow your toothbrushing session with a fun game. 

Have your cat’s favourite toy on hand and pull it out as a reward. If your cat isn’t interested in toys, then some snuggles or a kitty massage might be the better solution to help your cat calm down. This will also help her associate toothbrushing routines with positive rewards.

 

Look for Problem Areas

checking-cat-teeth

While you work your way around your cat's mouth, take a good look at each tooth and the gums around them. Take note of anything signs of discomfort, swelling, bleeding, discolouration or other abnormalities so that you can connect with your vet. 

Some issues can be corrected with regular brushing, but others may need medical intervention. The earlier you can catch your cat’s dental issues, the easier it will be for your vet to help you fix them. 

 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is brushing a cat's teeth necessary?  

Yes, regular teeth brushing is essential for maintaining your cat's oral health and preventing dental issues such as gum disease and tooth loss.

How often should I brush my cat's teeth?

Brush your cat's teeth at least 2-3 times a week to remove plaque and tartar buildup.

What type of toothbrush and toothpaste should I use for my cat?

Use a soft-bristled toothbrush designed for cats, and never use human toothpaste. Use only toothpaste formulated for cats that is safe to swallow and comes in flavours cats would enjoy.

How can I make my cat comfortable with teeth brushing?

Slowly introduce your cat to brushing by starting with fingertip rubs on their gums and teeth. Progress to using a toothbrush once they're more accustomed to the sensation.

What's the best technique for brushing a cat's teeth?

Gently lift your cat's lips to expose their teeth and gums. Brush in small, circular motions, paying close attention to the gum line.

Can professional dental cleanings replace regular brushing?  

While professional cleanings by a veterinarian are important, regular brushing at home plays an important role in preventing dental issues and reducing the need for frequent professional cleanings.

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Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She is currently working for one very rebellious cat, Jack, and hanging out with a goofy but loveable doggo named Roxy.

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