Can treats really replace brushing for your cat? The surprising truth.


Dental treats have become a popular supplement for cat oral health. These treats are designed to help prevent plaque buildup and tartar formation on cats’ teeth. Unlike dogs, cats are not diligent about dental hygiene and rarely chew on things like bones or toys to clean their teeth. This leaves cats prone to oral health issues like gingivitis, tooth decay, and periodontal disease if dental care is neglected. Dental treats can help scrape away plaque and tartar to promote cleaner teeth and fresher breath in between regular brushings.

Dental treats are not a replacement for brushing, but rather a supplement to a cat’s at-home dental routine. Most vets recommend both brushing and dental treats for optimal feline oral health. Dental treats come in crunchy chews and soft texture varieties, both formulated to break up plaque and tartar. While these products don’t take the place of a teeth cleaning from your vet, they can be an easy way to improve oral hygiene at home.

Proper Feline Dental Care

Proper dental care is extremely important for cats to maintain good oral health and prevent diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis. According to, daily tooth brushing is highly recommended to remove plaque and tartar that can lead to infection.

Annual veterinary dental checkups are also crucial to identify any existing dental issues early on before they become severe. The vet will do a thorough inspection of the teeth, gums and oral cavity. Professional cleanings may be recommended if plaque and tartar buildup is detected.

Feeding dry kibble is beneficial as the abrasive texture helps scrape away tartar and provides a natural scrubbing action. According to Purina, dry food helps reduce plaque and calculus buildup compared to exclusively wet food diets.

Ingredients in Dental Treats

Dental treats for cats contain a variety of ingredients to make them tasty and effective for dental health. Common ingredients include:

Meat: Many dental treats use meat as their primary ingredient. Beef, chicken, salmon, tuna, turkey, and liver are common proteins used. Meat provides a tasty flavor cats love.

Vegetables: Ingredients like sweet potatoes, peas, carrots, and spinach are sometimes added. Vegetables add fiber and nutrients.

Grains: Grains like rice, oats, and barley are filling ingredients often found in dental treats. They can help support complete nutrition.

Sodium hexametaphosphate: This ingredient is added to some dental treats as a tartar control agent. It helps prevent mineralization of plaque and reduces tartar buildup on teeth. Sodium hexametaphosphate can make treats somewhat gritty in texture.

When choosing dental treats, look for all-natural ingredients with limited additives. Meat should feature prominently in the ingredients list. Avoid treats with artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

How Dental Treats Work

Dental treats are designed to clean cats’ teeth in two main ways:

First, the texture of the treats helps mechanically clean teeth. Dental treats have an abrasive, crunchy texture that scrapes plaque and tartar off the surface of teeth as cats chew [1]. This abrasive texture mimics the scrubbing motion of brushing to remove built-up dental calculus from the tooth’s surface.

Second, many dental treats contain antibacterial ingredients to hinder plaque and tartar formation [2]. Active ingredients like delmopinol hydrochloride work to inhibit bacteria growth and prevent the buildup of plaque biofilm on teeth. This coupled with the abrasive texture provides a dental benefit.

Benefits of Dental Treats

Dental treats can provide several benefits for cats when used properly and in conjunction with regular brushing.

One of the main benefits is reducing plaque and tartar buildup. The mechanical action of chewing dental treats helps scrape away plaque before it hardens into tartar. Studies show that treats containing delmopinol, an anti-plaque agent, are effective at reducing plaque and tartar by up to 35%.

Dental treats can also help with bad breath by reducing bacteria in the mouth. Treats containing chlorhexidine have antibacterial properties that limit volatile sulfur compounds produced by bacteria. This leads to fresher breath for cats.

Chewing on treats also stimulates saliva production. The mechanical action and ingredients promote increased saliva flow. Saliva helps neutralize mouth acids and wash away food particles. More saliva production from treats leads to a healthier oral environment for cats.

Limitations of Dental Treats

While dental treats provide some benefits for feline oral health, they should not be considered a replacement for regular teeth brushing. As the American Veterinary Dental College notes, “Dental diets and treats reduce tartar accumulation to some degree but do NOT eliminate the need for professional dental care” (source). Dental treats help scrape away some plaque and tartar, but are not sufficient on their own to fully clean a cat’s teeth.

One major limitation is that treats only clean the surfaces of teeth that directly contact the treat as the cat chews. Areas between teeth and along the gumline tend to be missed. In contrast, brushing allows cleaning of all tooth surfaces. Additionally, certain dental issues like resorptive lesions require professional veterinary treatment that treats cannot address. Ultimately, while dental treats provide some supplementary oral care, brushing remains essential for thorough feline dental hygiene.

Vet Recommendations

While dental treats offer some oral health benefits for cats, veterinarians emphasize that brushing your cat’s teeth daily is still the gold standard for feline dental care. Dental treats should be viewed as a supplement to brushing, not a substitute.

According to Dr. Jason Nicholas, Chief Medical Officer at Preventive Vet, “The physical act of brushing the teeth helps remove that soft plaque before it gets a chance to mineralize into tartar.” He notes that treats simply don’t provide the same mechanical cleaning as a toothbrush.

The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) also affirms that “dental treats should NOT be used as a replacement for brushing.” While VOHC-approved treats have shown some plaque and tartar reduction when fed daily, they don’t fully clean a cat’s mouth like brushing can.

So while dental treats can provide some supplemental oral health benefits, daily brushing remains the gold standard. Veterinarians recommend treats as an addition to a dental care routine for cats, not a substitute for brushing their teeth.

Types of Dental Treats

There are three main types of dental treats that can help clean cats’ teeth:

Chew Treats

Chew treats are popular options that help scrape away tartar and plaque as cats gnaw on them. Some of the most popular chew treat brands include Greenies, Feline Greenies, and C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews.

Dental Kibble

There are specially formulated kibbles that help clean cats’ teeth as they eat. These kibbles have a unique shape, texture, and ingredients that provide a scrubbing action. Some top brands are Hills Prescription Diet t/d and Iams ProActive Health.


Dental gels are applied directly onto cats’ teeth and contain enzymes that help break down plaque. Popular dental gel options include PetzLife Oral Care Gel and VetzLife Oral Hygiene Gel.

Dosage and Frequency

Most dental treat packages provide feeding guidelines based on the cat’s weight. For example, Feline Greenies recommends feeding an 8 lb adult cat 16 treats per day. Other products may recommend slightly different amounts, but generally 1-2 treats per pound of body weight per day is sufficient.

Dental treats should not replace regular meals, but can be used as a supplement or reward. Giving a few treats in between meals helps clean the teeth more frequently. Treats are also useful for rewarding good behavior or keeping cats distracted and entertained.

When using dental treats, pay attention to any changes in appetite or weight. Reduce the amount if the cat seems less interested in regular food after getting treats. It’s also important to monitor treat consumption for cats on special diets.

In summary, dental treats are an adjunct to daily brushing and regular cat food. Follow package instructions for suggested amounts based on weight. Give treats in moderation, not as meal replacements. Monitor appetite and weight when introducing dental treats to the diet.

The Bottom Line

While cat dental treats can provide some oral health benefits for cats, they should not be considered a replacement for daily brushing and regular veterinary dental cleanings according to experts and veterinarians. Dental treats do play a supplemental role in reducing plaque and tartar buildup through abrasive action and anti-microbial ingredients, but they do not clean as thoroughly as brushing. Additionally, effectiveness depends on the individual cat’s chewing habits. For some cats who do not adequately chew treats, the benefits may be minimal.

Overall, the ideal feline dental care routine combines daily toothbrushing, annual professional cleanings, a dental diet, and treats as recommended by your veterinarian. Expecting crunchy treats alone to prevent plaque buildup and maintain good oral health is unrealistic. While supplemental, treats with dental properties can be a convenient way to reduce tartar in cats that enjoy chewing. However, treat time should not replace diligent brushing and veterinary care. Discuss options with your vet to create a comprehensive preventative dental plan for your cat’s needs.

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