The Basics of Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth

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Proper dental care can keep your cat’s gums and teeth healthy as well as other body systems like the kidneys and valve systems, so it’s a very important part of caring for your cat. For a long and healthy life, a cat’s teeth must be well-cared for. Periodontal disease and gingivitis can lead to permanent tooth loss in cats, and you wouldn’t want that!

» You might also be interested in How to Deal With an Angry or Moody Cat and How Often You Should Bathe Your Cat.

cat balking at toothbrush

Properly caring for your cat’s teeth can not only ensure that they live happily and healthily, but the time spent together taking care of their teeth can also help establish a bond between the two of you. 

It might sound a bit daunting or scary, but brushing your cat’s teeth does not have to be an adventure. All it takes is some patience and planning.

Signs of You Need To Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

The American Animal Hospital Association encourages pet owners to regularly examine their pet’s teeth for signs of:

  1. Periodontal disease, such as brownish colored teeth
  2. Swollen, red, or bleeding gums
  3. Persistent bad breath
  4. Loose teeth or loss of teeth
  5. Pus between the gums and teeth
  6. Broken teeth and any unusual growth in the mouth

Reluctance to eat, play with chew toys, or drink cold water is warning signs of periodontal or gum disease. Consult your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs in your pet.

How Often to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

For the best dental health, you should clean your cat’s teeth every day, just as you would your own, but that might be easier said than done.

cat sitting next to toothbrush

The best way to keep your cat’s teeth clean, if daily brushing is not tolerated by your cat, is to brush them several times a week. Plaque can be kept at bay by cleaning every other day, before it has a chance to build up.

Also note that the best results will come from starting to brush your cat’s teeth at a very young age.

Examining Your Cat’s Mouth

It’s best to start by examining your cat’s mouth so you can become familiar with what it looks like now and what problems might be present.

Choose a proper time – when you and your cat are both relaxed – and place, somewhere quiet and peaceful.

Many people are wary when first attempting to examine their cat’s teeth. The trick is to approach your cat calmly. Speak to your cat as you would any other time, petting their head continuously as you prepare to open their mouth. Once your cat seems relaxed, slowly tip their head back and use your fingers to pry their mouth slightly open. 

person holding open cat's mouth to see teeth

Here is what to check for:

  1. Examine your cat’s teeth and gums. You will want to do this in a location with lots of natural light where you can get a good view of their mouth. A penlight and small dental mirror may come in handy for this examination, as well. 
  2. As unpleasant as you may find this, dentists and veterinarians suggest that you begin by making note of the smell of your cat’s breath. If your cat’s breath has a distinctly foul odor, your cat may be suffering from some kind of infection, most commonly a gum infection. If your cat’s bad breath persists, even after regular brushing and maintenance, pay a visit to your vet. 
  3. Examine the teeth for signs of plaque, the sticky bacterial substance that causes cavities. Early signs of plaque consist of yellowing at the back of the teeth, although in severe cases you may find it near the front of your cat’s mouth. You will also want to check for tartar, which is slightly darker than plaque. 
  4. Examine your cat’s mouth for broken or missing teeth. Your cat’s gums should be a healthy bright pink. If they are red or very pale, your cat may be suffering from an infection. Any sign of abscesses, bleeding, or irregular colors should be checked out by your vet as soon as possible.

How to Clean a Cat’s Teeth

If your cat has never had its teeth cleaned before, start by using your index finger as a toothbrush.

cat licking toothbrush
  • Wrap your ‘finger’ brush with sterile gauze, dip the tip of your finger into a bit of toothpaste, and slowly open your cat’s mouth.
  • Use your finger brush to very gently rub the paste against your cat’s teeth and gums. 

Once your pet has become accustomed to the process of tooth brushing, introduce the smallest available toothbrush or finger toothbrush into the process.

How to Use the Brush

  • The bristles of the brush should be held at a 45 degree angle and be moved in an oval motion. If the cat refuses to accept the toothbrush or a dental swab, keep using the finger brush. 
  • Using an oval circular motion while brushing your cat’s teeth, brush the gum line and a few teeth at a time. Try to get to the rear teeth where large amounts of plaque and tartar tend to build up. 
  • Try to brush 30 seconds on each side. Go slowly and gently and don’t make it a torturous affair for your cat.

Stop before your cat begins to fuss or you may never be able to clean your pet’s teeth at home without an angry kitty. And be sure to reward your cat with a treat and praise for a job well done. 

Don’t beat yourself up if your progress is not what you expected. Even a little toothpaste on your cat’s teeth and gums is better than none at all.

If your cat experiences pain, they may have a deeper health concern such as an infected, broken tooth or inflamed gums. Consult your veterinarian so your pet can be under anesthesia when having a deeper cleaning. 

What Toothpaste to Use

Toothpastes are available in a variety of pet-friendly flavors from your local pet or grocery store including seafood, malt, and chicken.

This C.E.T. enzymatic toothpaste is veterinary dentist recommended and it’s safe for daily use. Never use human toothpaste as it causes stomach aches in cats. 

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How Diet Can Improve Dental Health

cat licking lips

Dental diets may also be a step toward good pet dental hygiene. Some foods eliminate plaque buildup and some are formulated to prevent plaque. Dry food and raw food may be better than canned food for your cat’s teeth. 

Feeding your kitty high quality kibble is essential. In order to ensure that your cat benefits from a regular oral hygiene program, make sure they munch on only high quality food. While most cats love the taste of moist cat food, your cat needs the dry, crunchy texture of dry kibble to keep her teeth strong and clean.

You will want to inspect the ingredients to make sure the food you feed your cat does not contain artificial preservatives and flavorings, as these are usually hard on the teeth. 

Use Dental Treats

cat treats

Treat your kitty to special dental treats. For the sweet and cooperative cat that enjoys the pleasures of good oral care, dental treats are a great way to reward them and keep their teeth clean. These special fish-flavored treats are specially formulated to cleanse and freshen your cat’s breath while killing plaque and tartar. 

Another special gift for your kitty is the C.E.T. Cat Oral Hygiene Kit. This kit comes with everything you need to keep your cat’s mouth healthy, including a special seafood-flavored toothpaste, a finger brush, and a special toothbrush designed for the size of the average cat’s mouth.


As should be apparent by now, brushing your cat’s teeth isn’t too much of a hassle. Make sure to take your time and make brushing your kitty’s teeth an enjoyable activity for you and the special feline in your life.


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Basics of Brushing Your Cat's Teeth

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