Most cat owners are terrified at the thought that they may need to brush their pet’s teeth, not to mention hearing that they may need to do so every day.
A shiny side of the coin, though, is that brushing your cat’s teeth may seem impossible at first, but with correct training and an understanding of how to do so, the process not only becomes readily accepted by your pet but takes just a few minutes of your time.
If you still wonder whether you actually do need to clean your cat’s teeth, you should know that brushing your cat’s teeth removes plaque and prevents buildup of tartar and the spread of bacteria to other organs. You can find more about the benefits of brushing a cat’s teeth here.
Use only a toothbrush and toothpaste that are intended for pets
To brush your cat’s teeth, you will need a toothbrush and toothpaste. Choose both that are intended for pets. Why? It’s not just a marketing trick to force you to open your wallet.
- Pet toothbrushes are softer than those intended for humans. Using a human toothbrush will scratch your cat’s enamel.
- Pet toothbrushes have a different form. The main difference is that your toothbrush is made for you to clean your own teeth. A cat’s toothbrush is made with a folded handle, making it easier to brush someone else’s—your cat’s—teeth. Also, the bristles and the size of the head are different in order to “fit” your cat’s mouth better. There are also toothbrushes that you can wear on your finger. In our opinion, they are good for training your pet to get used to having their teeth brushed, but they do not brush as cleanly as does a regular brush with longer bristles.
- Cats do not spit the paste out, like humans do. Human toothpaste not only irritates the stomach when swallowed but also contains fluoride, which is toxic and not intended to be swallowed.
- Pet toothpaste is delicious. Meow! This makes toothbrush training easier. A lot easier.
In the beginning, you should not over-think toothbrush types. The most important thing is to get you going.
Visit a pet store. Buy one toothbrush that you can “wear” on your finger and one with a handle. You will also need pet toothpaste. That is all you need to start with. Later, you can try different brushes and different pastes to see what suits you the best. You can buy a cat tooth care starter kit here.
How to train your cat to accept teeth cleaning with ease
Now, let’s take a look at how to clean your cat’s teeth. Basically, the process is no different from brushing your own teeth.
Brush both the upper and bottom jaw, both arcs, and both front and back of the teeth. But not so fast! Before you jump in, you are likely to undergo a gradual training process for both of you to learn how to clean your cat’s teeth and for your cat to accept the process.
- Move on gradually. The best thing to remember is not to rush. Teeth cleaning must be done daily, and it shouldn’t be done with three people holding the cat while a fourth quickly brushes his teeth. You don’t have to clean all of your cat’s teeth in the beginning; most likely, he will not let you do so anyway. If your cat scratches you, or hisses at you, or runs away from you, it’s happening too rapidly.
- Let your cat taste the toothpaste. Put a small amount on your finger, and let your cat smell it or eat it. We already mentioned that pet toothpaste is delicious, which makes this task easy. Don’t move forward now. Let your cat first see how good the toothpaste is.
- Hold your cat like described here. It’s not about force. You just need to position him to make the brushing easier. Take your cat in your lap (alternatively, put him on a table, or get yourself on the floor) so he’s facing away from you. Wrap one of your arms around his body and push him against your chest. You now have one free arm. You may try the alternative positions instead if you and your cat feel comfortable. There is no single best way. Some people brush their cat’s teeth without holding their cat at all. Remember to be gentle and to not cause your cat discomfort.
- Do not clean your cat’s teeth yet. Just hold him, like described above, and pet him or scratch his cheeks and chin. Release your cat before he begins to dislike this action. Reward him by petting, playing, or maybe giving some more toothpaste. Take a break for at least several minutes before repeating.
- Touch your cat’s teeth. Hold him, like described above, and touch his teeth with one of your fingers. You don’t need a toothbrush now, but you can put some paste on your finger. If your cat lets you, try to move your finger as if it were a brush. If not, leave it for future advancements. Release, reward, wait, and repeat after some time.
- Get the toothbrush. Try using one you can wear on a finger for easier training, and try to touch your cat’s teeth with it. Again, do not brush, or do only a little brushing but keep an eye on him to make sure you are in his comfort zone. Release and reward. Stop and consider this short session a complete teeth cleaning for now. Do this step every day and get your cat used to it.
- Keep moving forward. Each day, brush a bit longer, covering more teeth. Keep your pet comfortable, and go by feel. It’s good to know your pet’s body language for signs of dislike and aggression. Eventually, you will be able to brush all of your cat’s teeth, even the farthest ones that are hard to reach, without causing your cat discomfort.
Be consistent with brushing your cat’s teeth. Do it daily, or three times per week at a minimum. Anything less is useless for keeping teeth clean and just causes your cat unnecessary stress.
The more consistently you brush your cat’s teeth, the sooner your cat will accept it as a ritual and the easier it will become for you. Consistent brushing is also the only way to prevent buildup of tartar and development of a dental disease.
After proper training, brushing your cat’s teeth won’t take more than a few minutes. Can you find those minutes in your tight schedule? You can also learn about other ways to keep your cat’s teeth clean here as a part of our educational series about tooth brushing of a cat.