Can I Scrape Tartar Off My Cat’S Teeth?

The Importance of Oral Health for Cats

Dental disease is very common in cats, with studies showing 50-90% of cats over 4 years old suffering from some form of dental problem ( The most common dental issues in cats are tartar buildup, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. Tartar is a yellow or brown buildup of bacteria, food particles, and mineral deposits on the teeth. Over time, it leads to inflammation and infection of the gums known as gingivitis. If left untreated, bacteria spreads below the gumline causing periodontal disease and destruction of the tissues and bone surrounding the teeth.

These dental diseases are not just cosmetic problems but can cause significant pain, discomfort, and health risks for cats. Tartar buildup above and below the gumline irritates the gums and provides an ideal environment for harmful bacteria to multiply. The bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel to major organs like the heart, kidneys and liver. This can lead to potentially fatal health complications. Dental disease also destroys the tissues anchoring teeth in place, eventually causing tooth loss. Missing teeth impair a cat’s ability to properly chew food, leading to malnutrition. Proper oral health is therefore essential for cats to avoid unnecessary pain, maintain proper nutrition, and prevent dangerous systemic infections.

Signs of Tartar Buildup in Cats

Some common signs of tartar buildup in cats include:

  • Yellow or brown deposits on the teeth. Tartar often first appears as a yellowish or brownish material on the back teeth near the gum line, according to the VCA Animal Hospitals website ( As tartar accumulates, it spreads to encompass more of the tooth surface.
  • Bad breath. The bacteria in tartar produce foul-smelling compounds, leading to a characteristic bad breath, or halitosis, in cats with significant tartar, according to Just Cats Clinic (
  • Red or inflamed gums. Tartar buildup can lead to gingivitis (gum inflammation) which makes the gums red, swollen and painful, per the VCA.
  • Excessive drooling. Tartar may cause pain or discomfort when eating, leading some cats to drool excessively, says the VCA.
  • Difficulty eating. Advanced tartar can cause loose teeth, tooth decay or abscesses, making chewing difficult or painful.

Cats are notorious for hiding signs of illness, so even subtle changes in eating habits or mouth odor warrant an exam by your veterinarian. The earlier tartar is addressed, the better for your cat’s health and comfort.

Dangers of DIY Tartar Removal

While it may seem harmless to try scraping off tartar from your cat’s teeth at home, this can actually do more harm than good. According to experts, improper cleaning often leads to periodontitis and tooth loss (Source:

DIY tartar removal can damage the enamel on your cat’s teeth as well as irritate the gums. The metal scalers typically used can scrape too aggressively and cause micro-fractures in the enamel. This leads to further buildup and decay over time. Harsh cleaning can also injure the gums, introducing new sites for infection.

Attempting to scrape tartar on struggling or uncooperative cats often requires force that causes pain and stress. Cats may become fearful and associate these cleaning attempts with trauma, damaging the human-animal bond. The potential for injury to both the cat and owner is also greater with forceful scraping.

Overall, DIY tartar removal greatly increases the risks of damaging teeth, injuring gums, causing infections, and creating a stressful experience for cats without significantly improving oral health. Leaving tartar removal to trained professionals is the safest option (Source:

Professional Teeth Cleaning

A professional teeth cleaning is performed at your veterinarian’s office under general anesthesia. The entire procedure typically takes 1-2 hours. The steps involved are:

Pre-anesthetic bloodwork – This is done to ensure your cat is healthy enough for anesthesia. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “Pre-anesthetic blood tests are performed to identify any existing problems that could complicate the procedure.”

Placing an IV catheter – This allows easy administration of fluids and medications during the cleaning.

Anesthesia – General anesthesia ensures your cat is completely comfortable and still during the cleaning. Cat-only anesthetics like isoflurane are very safe for feline patients.

Full oral exam and x-rays – Your vet will thoroughly examine the mouth, feeling under the gums for loose or infected teeth. Dental x-rays allow examination under the gums to check for issues like fractures, abscesses, or tooth resorption. According to Great Pet Care, “X-rays give a clear picture of what lies beneath the gumline.”

Scaling – Veterinary dental scalers are used to scrape plaque and tartar off all surfaces of the teeth, above and below the gumline. Both hand scalers and ultrasonic scalers may be used.

Polishing – This smoothes and shines the teeth after scaling. It also helps prevent rapid buildup of plaque.

Any diseased or infected teeth are extracted at this time if needed. Pain medication and antibiotics may also be prescribed.



After a professional dental cleaning, it’s important to follow your vet’s recommendations for aftercare to help your cat heal properly. You’ll likely need to feed your cat softer foods for up to a week after the procedure to avoid irritating their tender mouth.

Canned food or food soaked in water is ideal, as hard kibble can be painful for your cat to chew after dental work. Avoid giving your cat any dental chews or hard treats for at least a week after the cleaning as well.

Your vet may prescribe pain medication to give your cat for a few days to manage any discomfort from the cleaning. Be sure to give this medication as directed. Monitor your cat closely and call your vet if you notice signs of complications like bleeding from the mouth, difficulty eating, or behavioral changes.

With proper aftercare, your cat should make a full recovery within a week and have much healthier teeth and gums.

At-Home Prevention

There are several things cat owners can do at home to help prevent tartar buildup on their cat’s teeth:

Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is one of the most effective ways to remove plaque before it hardens into tartar. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and cat-safe toothpaste. Brush gently in circular motions and focus on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Introduce toothbrushing slowly and make it a positive experience for your cat with praise and treats.

Dental treats and chews can also help scrape away plaque. Look for products formulated specifically for cats with the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval. Hard treats like Greenies help mechanically remove plaque. Choose texture and flavor options your cat prefers.

Feeding dry dental diet cat food is another good option. The crunchy kibble texture helps scrub the teeth. Select a recipe formulated to reduce plaque and tartar. VCA recommends Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d.

Water additives like Oxyfresh can make your cat’s saliva less hospitable to bacteria that cause plaque. Always follow package directions. These solutions help inhibit tartar formation between teeth cleanings.

When to See a Vet

If you notice any signs of tartar buildup or dental disease in your cat, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Some signs that your cat may need professional dental work include:

– Visible tartar accumulation – Tartar is the hard, yellowish-brown deposit that can form on your cat’s teeth. If you see noticeable tartar, especially along the gumline, it’s time for a dental cleaning.

– Bad breath – Persistent bad breath or halitosis can signal dental disease. The bacteria associated with tartar produce foul-smelling gases.

– Signs of discomfort – Your cat may show signs of mouth pain such as reduced appetite, reluctance to eat hard food, or pawing at the mouth. Dental disease can be painful.

– Annual exams – Even if you don’t notice any symptoms, it’s recommended to have your vet perform dental exams annually. Problems may exist even without obvious external signs.

Veterinary dental cleanings are the best way to remove tartar and restore dental health. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your vet so they can determine if your cat needs a professional cleaning or other treatment (Source: Early intervention can help prevent more severe dental disease.

Costs of Professional Cleaning

The average cost for a professional cat teeth cleaning can range from $100 to $400, with some procedures costing over $1000 depending on the severity of tartar buildup and dental disease. Factors that affect the overall price include:

  • Your geographic location – Costs are typically higher in major metro areas
  • The age of your cat – Senior cats often require more extensive dental work
  • The clinic you choose – Banfield Pet Hospital estimates $200 – $400 while private veterinary clinics may charge more
  • Additional treatments – Extras like dental x-rays, antibiotic therapy, or tooth extractions can add hundreds more
  • Degree of tartar accumulation and periodontal disease – More severe cases require longer anesthesia times and procedures

According to PetMD, the average claim for a routine teeth cleaning was $190, but this rose to $404 when extra dental care was required. It’s important to discuss all options and potential costs with your veterinarian beforehand.

Caring for Your Cat’s Teeth

Preventing the buildup of plaque and tartar is extremely important for your cat’s dental health. Tartar buildup can lead to periodontal disease, tooth loss, infections, and other health issues (source 1). The most effective way to care for your cat’s teeth at home is by brushing them regularly.

Get your cat used to toothbrushing gradually by rubbing your finger along their teeth and gums. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and cat-safe toothpaste to gently brush their teeth in circular motions at a 45 degree angle. Focus on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Brush at least 2-3 times per week if possible (source 2).

You can also provide dental treats and foods formulated to help prevent tartar. Look for the VOHC seal from the Veterinary Oral Health Council when choosing dental treats and foods. These contain ingredients to mechanically scrape plaque off teeth. Providing dental chews also encourages chewing which helps clean teeth (source 3).

The Bottom Line

In summary, while it may be tempting to try scraping off tartar from your cat’s teeth yourself, this is very dangerous and can seriously harm your cat. Professional veterinary dental cleanings are the safest, most effective way to remove tartar and keep your cat’s teeth and gums healthy.

Attempting to scrape tartar off carries risks like injuring your cat’s gums, accidentally removing enamel, and causing mouth pain that makes eating difficult. It likely won’t fully remove the tartar either. Leave the scraping to the professionals with proper tools and training.

To best care for your cat, have regular professional dental cleanings done annually or as often as your vet recommends. This will give your cat the healthiest mouth possible. Avoid the dangers of DIY scraping. Protect your cat’s wellbeing by only allowing properly qualified vet staff to clean their teeth.

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