How to Clean a Cat’s Teeth

posted: 01/19/13
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When I was a little girl, I did everything with my cat Sabrina. We crawled in and out of cabinets together and curled up on the couch to enjoy long, luxurious naps. She lived to the ripe, old age of 19, by which time she'd lost all but four of her tiny, but exceptionally sharp, teeth. Fortunately for the rest of us, her spunky, devil-may-care nature stayed intact until the end.

Although my family found Sabrina's gummy cat smile to be amusing, she probably could have benefited from the occasional cleaning during her long, ornery life. The majority of Sabrina's lifespan took place way back in the 1980s, so I seriously doubt that the veterinarian was instructing my parents on the importance of feline dental hygiene. In recent years, however, pet toothbrushing has become much more common and encouraged. Since cats lack the opposable thumbs so necessary for wielding a toothbrush, they can't effectively safeguard their teeth from the same dangers that often strike human chompers. For example, plaque, gum disease, exceptionally bad breath, tartar and abscessed teeth can all wreak havoc on your furry friend and cause serious pain and health problems.

This may have you wondering how cats keep their teeth healthy in the wild. Chewing on the bones of prey (like mice) helps clean teeth, so wild cats don't have as many dental problems as indoor domestic cats.

Fortunately for you chore-weary pet parents, kitty only needs his teeth cleaned a couple of times each week, although daily attention is ideal. Plus, the entire experience only takes a couple of quick minutes each time. You'll need to purchase some inexpensive supplies, such as feline-appropriate toothpaste and toothbrush, although those aren't necessary in the beginning stages.

Before you break out the dental tools make sure to read through our kitty teeth cleaning primer. Next, we'll learn more about the ins and outs of caring for your cat's pearly whites.

Cleaning your cat's teeth probably sounds like a fairly daunting task -- but it doesn't have to be! As long as you take it slowly and gently at first, chances are excellent that it will quickly turn into a positive experience for both you and your pet.

For the best possible results, begin giving home dental cleanings as early as possible. Cats will be more amenable to the process if they get used to cleanings while still in the kitten stage. It might be dicey at first, but will pay off in the long run. Don't worry if you have an older cat, though. He might not be a fan in the beginning, but he'll come around. Try not to get frustrated when he resists (and he will). Simply stay positive and your attitude will eventually rub off.

Now that you're in the best possible mindset, it's time to do a little bit of cuddling and cleaning. To start, hold your kitty in your lap and scratch him behind the ears a few times. Next, lift up his gums and get him used to the process by rubbing his teeth and gums using only your finger dipped in tuna water. He may take a bite at you, so either brace yourself for a few teeth marks, or wear rubber gloves, which will take some of the potential for injury away. Once everyone's comfortable with that method, wrap your finger in gauze and apply a small amount of cat-specific toothpaste. Gently scrub back and forth, taking care to clean the front and back of each tooth. You can also use a kitty toothbrush, if you prefer.

During each cleaning, make sure to mind the gums, as well as the teeth. Massaging your feline's gums will keep them healthy, pink and at lower risk for gum disease.

Much like their human counterparts, cat teeth can still develop annoying, unsightly tartar, even if their teeth are brushed regularly. Tartar forms when plaque is not successfully removed during brushing sessions. Plaque then mixes with saliva, hardens and sticks like crazy glue to the teeth. Most people recognize it as the yellowish crust found adjacent to the gum line. When tartar is left to its own devices, it can cause gum inflammation, gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Fortunately, there are some basic steps you can take toward preventing and treating the tartar on your cat's teeth. First, try to prevent tartar build-up by refraining from feeding table scraps of any kind. Human food isn't good for your cat's tummy or his teeth. However, give him raw meat from time to time to make him chew, which keeps his bones strong.

Next, consider offering your kitty a raw bone to chew on once in a while. Wild and outdoor cats snack on small animals rather than standard cat chow. Chewing on the bones of their game is more than just a tasty treat, though. Doing so also helps to remove pesky tartar and keep more from building up. Since most domestic cats are stuck with generic kitty chow, they miss out on this important act. According to PetMD, cooked bones, as well as chicken, fish and pork bones should be avoided, since they tend to splinter.

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