Max's House

Tooth Brushing

James Richards, DMV, Director, Cornell Feline Health Center

You can reduce plaque and tartar buildup by brushing your cat's teeth at home, and thereby help keep your cat's mouth much healthier.  Regular veterinary dental examinations are also essential, but brushing your cat's teeth on a regular basis can help limit the frequency of professional cleanings, which often require general anesthesia. It would be ideal to brush your cat's teeth every day, but once a week, or even twice a month, is very beneficial. It can be difficult to get your cat to cooperate. The younger your cat is when you begin tooth brushing, the better your chances are for success.

Don't force the issue or you may never get your cat to adapt to tooth brushing. It may take several weeks for your cat to allow you to brush her teeth, so take your time and be patient. It's best to begin when your cat is relaxed or sleepy. To get your cat comfortable with having her head and mouth handled, make the procedure an extension of petting her head and scratching her chin, and move gradually through the following steps one at a time. Keep the sessions short, and if your cat starts to struggle, take a break and try again the next day. When you and your cat have succeeded with a step, reward her with a special food treat.

With your cat testing on your lap, a table, or the floor, and facing you, gently hold her head in your hand, with your palm on the top of her head and your thumb on her lower jaw. Move the forefinger of your free hand around and over her lips, and then gently slide it between the cheek and the teeth and rub it in small circular motions over the outside of the teeth, especially the long canines, the premolars, and the molars. (See diagram of cat teeth.) The inner surfaces of the teeth are inaccessible and rarely have tartar buildup. Repeat the rubbing on the other side of the mouth; you may have to switch hands.

Once your cat is comfortable with having her teeth rubbed (a step that may take several days), you can introduce her to specially formulated pet toothpaste, available from your veterinarian. (Don't use people toothpaste-it contains detergents that can upset a cat's stomach.) Put a little bit on the tip of your finger before you rub the teeth. The final step is to use either a special brush that fits on your finger or a soft-bristled cat toothbrush, both available from your veterinarian or pet supply store. Alternatively, some cat owners find that a cotton swab, a gauze pad, or a soft cloth dipped in lukewarm saline works just fine.

Brush your cat's.teeth with a special cat toothbrush, or wipe them with a cotton swab, a gauze pad, or a soft cloth.

                                                                          Photo: Courtesy of Zan Carter

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