How to brush your cat’s teeth (with Video)

February 14, 2020

Just the thought of brushing their cat’s teeth is enough to send many people running for the hills ?. But it doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. In this video, Dr. Elston walks you through some quick tips & techniques that can make brushing your cat’s teeth much more approachable.

First, some background…

We’ve covered this in previous articles, but here’s a quick recap.

As your cat goes about its daily life, plaque collects on and around their teeth. Over time, this plaque will harden into tartar – which is a rock hard substance that can only be removed by professional equipment. And if tartar isn’t removed, it will grow below the gum-line and lead to a host of scary medical issues.

We sell some toys that can help remove small amounts of soft plaque during playtime, as well as some water treatments that can break down plaque. But the best way to prevent tartar growth is by actively removing the plaque from your cat’s teeth, and brushing is the best way to do that.

Brushing their cat’s teeth can be intimidating for a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to be.

Dr. Tom Elston

What you’ll need

  • A comfortable environment
  • A toothbrush designed for cats
    • We recommend an “over the finger” type of toothbrush, at least to get started
  • Toothpaste designed for cats
    • There are a variety of flavors available, including chicken and fish – and cats usually like the taste
  • Lots of praise for your cat, so it becomes a positive experience for them
Important Note
Do not use human toothpaste or toothbrushes. Even if they say they’re “all natural”, human toothpaste can contain chemicals that are toxic to cats. And the bristles on human toothbrushes can sometimes be too stiff. So it’s best to avoid them altogether, and stick with brushes and toothpaste specifically formulated for cats.

Before your first brushing session…

Set your routine

Cat’s generally respond well to routines, so pick a time of day when you’ll do your brushing. For many cats, it’s easier to “trick” them into liking to have their teeth brushed if you do it when they’re hungry – for instance, right before dinner.

Introduce your cat to the brush and toothpaste

After opening your special toothbrush, let your cat sniff it and get familiar with it before you try to put it in their mouth. You can put a little dab of chicken-flavored baby food on the brush to help.

You can do the same thing with the flavored toothpaste – first putting a little on the brush and letting them lick it, or putting some on your fingers and rubbing it along their gums and teeth. Most cats like the taste of the toothpaste, and will happily lick it.

Get your cat used to having their mouth touched

You may be feeling the urge to go straight to brushing – but we recommend building up to that over a few days. If your cat isn’t used to you touching their mouth, it may prove to be a traumatic experience for both of you if you jump straight to sticking a brush in their mouth.

So, we recommend planning for a date you’ll start brushing. And in the days leading up to that, slowly get your cat used to having their face and mouth touched. Depending on your cat, it may take a few sessions before they’ll feel comfortable with this.

  • Start by sitting them on your lap, and gently rubbing their neck, head, and face
    • (Your cat will let you know if they’re uncomfortable by twisting, or trying to get away from you)
  • As they get more comfortable with you touching their face, slowly progress towards rubbing near their mouth
  • Then, progress to where you gently lift their lips and expose their teeth
  • The last step is to get them comfortable with you gently rubbing your fingers across their gums and teeth
    • If your cat likes chicken-flavored baby food, it can be helpful to put some on your finger before you rub on their gums
Approach it gradually, and be patient

If you’re starting this process when your cat is still young, it might only take a few days for them to get used to having their teeth brushed. However, if your cat is older, it may take a few weeks of consistent work on your part to help them feel more comfortable. So, be patient and remember that you’re doing something that will help them live a longer, healthier, happier life.

How to brush your cat’s teeth

Takes about: 5 minutes

  1. Sit your cat in your lap (or somewhere comfortable)

    This will vary by cat, but a lot of people find it easiest to sit on the couch and hold their cat in their laps. This allows you to keep your cat in a spot they’re comfortable, while leaving you the option of keeping them gently boxed in with the sides of your arms. (Some cats can be a little messy, so you might want to have a towel on your lap too)

  2. Start at the front of their mouth

    It’s usually easiest to start at the front of their mouth, since their “fangs” are easier to reach. Then, work your way down the sides, gently lifting their lip to expose their teeth and gums as you go.

  3. Slowly work your way around their mouth

    If you’ve started at the top, work your way down to the bottom. When you first start brushing, you may only be able to do a few teeth per day. That’s OK, just keep track of where you left off and keep working your way around their mouth tomorrow.

    Eventually, you’ll want to brush the outside surfaces of all their teeth every day. But it’s OK if you have to build up to that over the course of a few days or weeks.

  4. Give them lots of praise

    In order to make it easier on your cat – and yourself – get in the habit of praising your cat during, and immediately after, brushing their teeth. If they see it as a positive experience, it’s much more likely that they’ll let you brush their teeth regularly.

Frequently asked…

How can I tell if my cat has bad tartar buildup?

There are some subtle signs of dental disease, like smelly breath, drooling, or pawing at their face. Tartar itself will look like a yellowish coating on their teeth, and you may see redness and inflammation around their gums. If you’re unsure, or it seems like your cat may be having an issue, contact us to set up an appointment.

How often should I brush my cat’s teeth?

We recommend brushing your cat’s teeth every day. Just like with our own teeth, plaque and tartar are constantly forming in your cat’s mouth, so brushing every day helps prevent health issues down the line. It also makes it easier to do, since your cat will get used to it.

Do I need to use a special type of toothpaste for my cat?

Yes. There are a variety of manufacturers that make toothpaste specially formulated for cats. They come in a variety of flavors (like fish or chicken), and cats usually like the flavors.

They have special ingredients in them that works to break down plaque even after you’ve brushed. So they will continue working even if you don’t manage to scrub every tooth.

Are there special toothbrushes for cats?

Yes. We recommend the “over the finger” type of toothbrush to start, as many cats tend to tolerate them a bit better than the standard brush like a human would use. We stock them in our two locations, or you can also buy them from one of our online stores.
CET finger tooth brush
As your cat gets more comfortable with a brush in their mouth, you can move up to a more standard toothbrush design (again, using a cat-specific design). Standard-style brushes remove more plaque, but can be harder for cats to get used to.

Do I need to rinse my cat’s mouth after brushing their teeth?

No. The special toothpaste made for cats is designed to be swallowed, so it is perfectly safe to leave in their mouth at the end of brush-time.

What if my cat is still fidgety, or won’t sit still?

If your cat is extra fidgety, you can try gently wrapping them in a bath towel, leaving their face exposed. Kind of like a little kitty purrito, this is a holding technique that helps many cats feel more secure in uncomfortable situations.

Important Note
This article is for informational-purposes only, and should not be considered a replacement for medical advice. If your cat hasn’t seen a veterinarian recently, we strongly encourage you to take them in for an appointment before trying any of these steps.