Do Cats Really Need Their Teeth Cleaned? The Truth About Feline Dental Care


Proper dental care is vital to a cat’s overall health and well-being. Unlike dogs, cats are susceptible to rapid plaque buildup, Periodontal disease is one of the most common diseases found in cats, with some studies estimating that over two-thirds of cats over age 3 have some degree of it. Dental disease can cause chronic pain, tooth loss, and infection in the mouth which may spread to vital organs and reduce a cat’s lifespan. Therefore, proper dental care is essential to a cat’s quality of life and longevity.

Signs of Dental Disease

Cats with dental disease may show obvious signs or more subtle symptoms. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, the most common signs of dental disease in cats include:

Bad breath (halitosis) – This is caused by bacteria accumulating on the teeth and gums.

Trouble eating or chewing – Dental pain can make it difficult and uncomfortable for cats to eat. You may notice your cat dropping food, hesitating to eat crunchy food, or excessive salivation when eating.

Decreased appetite – Significant dental pain can cause cats to eat less due to discomfort when chewing.

Pawing at the mouth – Cats may paw at their mouth or rub their face due to oral pain and inflammation.

Sneezing or nasal discharge – Dental infections can extend to the nasal passages and sinuses.

Bleeding gums – Red, inflamed gums that bleed easily are a sign of gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Loose or lost teeth – Advanced dental disease can cause teeth to become loose or fall out.

Weight loss, lethargy – Chronic dental infections can lead to decreased appetite and energy levels.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, even if no obvious symptoms are present, most cats over 3 years old have some degree of dental disease that requires veterinary attention.

Prevalence of Dental Disease

Dental disease is extremely common in cats. Studies report that between 50-90% of cats over 4 years old have some form of dental disease (Cornell Feline Health Center). It’s estimated that 85% of cats 3 years and older have some degree of dental disease (International Cat Care). The prevalence increases with age, with over 60% of cats over 6 years old affected.

Periodontal disease, an inflammation and infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth, is one of the most common dental diseases in cats. Studies show 40-60% of affected cats continue to struggle with varying degrees of periodontal disease throughout their lifetime despite treatment (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Causes of Dental Disease

The main causes of dental disease in cats are tartar buildup, genetics, and diet. As cats eat, plaque deposits form on their teeth which consists of bacteria, food particles, and saliva. Over time, the plaque hardens into tartar which sticks firmly to the teeth and under the gums. If tartar is not removed regularly through dental cleanings, it can lead to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and destruction of the tissues around the teeth (periodontitis) (Merck Vet Manual).

Genetics also play a role as some breeds like Persians and Himalayans are more prone to dental disease. The shape and alignment of a cat’s teeth and jaws can affect how plaque and tartar accumulate. Diet is another factor as dry food helps scrape off plaque but also leads to more tartar while wet food adheres to teeth more but may reduce plaque (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Professional Cleanings

Veterinary dental cleanings are the most effective way to remove plaque and tartar from a cat’s teeth. During a professional cleaning, the veterinarian will put the cat under general anesthesia so they can fully examine the teeth and safely clean them 1. The teeth are scaled and polished using specialized dental instruments to remove all mineralized plaque and tartar above and below the gumline.

X-rays may be taken to check for signs of disease below the gumline. If any teeth are severely damaged, they may need to be extracted. Fluoride treatments, antibiotics, and pain medication may also be provided. The anesthesia, dental cleaning process, and aftercare mean professional dental cleanings range from $300-$1500 2. However, cleanings are critical for cats over 3 years old to prevent periodontal disease.

Home Care

Cats can greatly benefit from dental care at home in addition to professional cleanings. An effective at-home dental care routine for cats includes both brushing your cat’s teeth and providing dental treats or foods.

Brushing is the most effective way to remove plaque and tartar at home. It’s recommended to brush your cat’s teeth daily or at least a few times per week using a soft bristled toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste [1]. Gently lift your cat’s lips to expose the teeth and brush in circular motions. Introduce brushing slowly and make it a positive experience by rewarding your cat afterwards.

There are also dental treats and foods available that help control tartar. Look for treats formulated to improve dental health, like Greenies Feline Dental Treats. Feed kibble and canned food labeled as “dental” or “tartar control” as these are designed to scrape plaque off teeth [2]. Though not as effective as brushing, dental treats and food do provide some oral health benefits.

Cost of Cleanings

Professional dental cleanings for cats can be quite costly, with prices ranging from $200 to $1,000 or more depending on the clinic and the extent of dental disease (Source 1). Factors that influence the cost include the type of anesthesia, blood work, antibiotics, extractions, polishing, and other procedures needed.

In contrast, home dental care products are much more affordable, typically ranging from $10 to $50. These include products like dental wipes, gels, toothbrushes, dental diets, treats, and water additives. While helpful for maintaining good dental health, home care does not replace professional cleanings which allow for deep scaling, polishing, x-rays, extractions and more thorough care.

Ultimately, professional dental cleanings provide the deepest cleaning and dental assessment. But consistent home care can help reduce the frequency and cost of professional cleanings. A combination of professional and home care is ideal for cats’ dental health.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, it’s important to seek veterinary dental care if you notice any signs of oral disease in your cat These signs include bad breath, broken or loose teeth, discoloration of the teeth, swelling or bleeding of the gums, changes in eating or chewing habits, pawing at the face or mouth, and dropping food. Daily Paws notes that if a cat’s teeth have a significant buildup of tartar, plaque, and bacteria, a professional veterinary dental cleaning is likely needed. The longer dental disease goes untreated, the higher the chance of developing serious health issues. Thus, it’s recommended to get your cat’s teeth professionally cleaned by your vet every 1-2 years.

Chewy also advises paying attention to any hesitation or pain when chewing, reduced appetite, or avoidance of dry food. These can all be signs of dental disease that warrant a veterinarian visit for cleaning, possible tooth extraction, x-rays, and treatment. Catching dental issues early is important to prevent infection, tooth loss, and damage to internal organs. If your cat exhibits any concerning dental symptoms, schedule an exam so your vet can assess if a professional cleaning and treatment is needed.

Preventing Dental Disease

There are some key things cat owners can do at home to help prevent dental disease in cats:

  • Brush your cat’s teeth daily or at least a few times per week. Use a soft bristle toothbrush and cat-safe toothpaste. This helps remove plaque before it hardens into tartar. [1]
  • Feed dry food. Dry kibble helps scrape plaque off teeth as cats chew. Choose a veterinary dental diet formulated to improve dental health.
  • Provide dental treats and toys. Chewing on treats and toys can also remove some plaque buildup.
  • Have annual veterinary dental cleanings. Even with home care, most cats need occasional professional cleanings to fully remove tartar and treat any underlying disease.
  • Ask your vet about sealants and oral rinses. These products help prevent plaque adherence when applied to teeth.

With diligent home care and regular vet visits, it’s possible to maintain good dental health and prevent painful dental disease in cats.


Just like humans, dental health is a critical component of overall wellbeing for cats. Dental disease is unfortunately very common in cats, but being proactive about home care and professional cleanings can help prevent many dental issues. With proper prevention and treatment when needed, cats can maintain healthy teeth and gums throughout their lives.

Daily tooth brushing, dental diets, and other at-home care can reduce plaque and tartar buildup. Professional dental cleanings allow veterinarians to scale off calculus, identify issues below the gumline, and provide solutions as needed. While the process does require anesthesia, it is safe when performed by licensed professionals.

Ignoring dental care can lead to tooth loss, infections, and systemic illness in cats. But focusing on prevention and regular veterinary visits for cleanings allows cats to benefit from improved long-term health and quality of life. Healthy teeth and gums are important for cats to comfortably eat, play, and live their very best lives with us.

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