Do Dental Water Additives For Cats Work?


Dental water additives are solutions that are added to a cat’s drinking water with the goal of improving oral health and preventing dental disease. They often contain ingredients like chlorhexidine, zinc gluconate, xylitol, sodium hexametaphosphate, and enzymes that are intended to reduce plaque, tartar, and bacteria in a cat’s mouth.

By adding these dental water additives to a cat’s water bowl or fountain daily, the goal is that as the cat drinks, the solution will coat their teeth and gums. This is supposed to disrupt biofilms (plaque) from forming on the teeth, help remove tartar buildup, and kill harmful oral bacteria that cause plaque, bad breath, and periodontal disease.

Though many dental water additives for cats make big claims about their efficacy, veterinarians still have mixed opinions on whether these products truly deliver meaningful dental health benefits for cats when used as directed.

Do They Actually Work?

The research on the effectiveness of dental water additives for cats is mixed. Some studies have found that certain additives may help reduce plaque and calculus to a small degree, while other studies show no significant benefits.

One clinical trial tested a xylitol-based drinking water additive in cats and found a 14.9% decrease in calculus accumulation during the treatment phase ( Another study of a drinking water additive found it decreased plaque accumulation by 24% and calculus accumulation by 54% (

However, other studies have failed to find a significant benefit. One review concluded “there is no clear evidence to show that dental water additives are effective at reducing plaque or calculus accumulation in cats.” More high-quality research is still needed.

Overall, some dental water additives may provide a small protective effect against plaque and tartar. But they do not appear to be a substitute for regular veterinary dental cleanings and proper at-home dental care.

How Dental Water Additives Are Supposed to Work

Dental water additives are intended to reduce plaque, tartar buildup, and gum disease in cats by working in a few key ways:

Most dental water additives contain enzymes that help break down plaque before it can harden into tartar. Common enzymes include glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme, and lactoferrin. These enzymes inhibit bacterial growth and disrupt the plaque matrix, making it easier to remove (Source).

Some additives also contain antiseptics like chlorhexidine or essential oils that can kill bacteria in the mouth. This helps reduce plaque formation and fights gingivitis (Source).

Certain additives use chelating agents like EDTA to bind to calcium and metal ions. This prevents the minerals from hardening plaque into tartar (Source).

Lastly, some additives contain ingredients like xylitol or sodium hexametaphosphate that can disrupt biofilm formation on the teeth before plaque gets established.

By interfering with plaque and bacteria through these mechanisms, dental water additives aim to promote cleaner teeth and healthier gums when used regularly.

Potential Benefits If Effective

If dental water additives work as intended, they could provide some benefits for cats’ dental health. The main potential benefit claimed is preventing plaque and tartar buildup on teeth. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria, while tartar is hardened plaque that can only be removed by professional dental cleaning [1]. By reducing these substances on teeth, dental additives may help avoid more severe dental disease.

Specifically, additives containing enzymes like Mutanase and Dextranase may help break down plaque before it hardens into tartar [1]. Other ingredients like Oxygene may help reduce bacteria in the mouth [2]. With less plaque and bacteria, there could be benefits like fresher breath, less gum inflammation, and reduced risk of dental infections.

By promoting better dental hygiene, effective dental additives could potentially prevent progression of dental disease. Severe dental disease in cats can lead to tooth loss, infections spreading to other organs, and other health complications. Keeping teeth and gums healthier with an additive may help avoid these more serious problems down the line.

Risks and Potential Downsides

While dental water additives may seem like an easy solution for keeping cats’ teeth clean, there are some potential risks and downsides to consider. Some key concerns include:

Safety – Some dental water additives contain ingredients like chlorhexidine that can be toxic to cats if ingested in large quantities over time. Consuming additives meant for dogs can also be dangerous for cats [1].

Medication interactions – Additives containing chlorhexidine may interact with certain medications like doxycycline [2]. Vet approval is advised.

Reduced water intake – Some cats dislike the taste of additives and drink less as a result. Dehydration is a risk.

False sense of security – While additives may reduce plaque, they do not clean under the gumline or remove tartar. Dental disease can still progress [3].

Not a substitute for veterinary dental cleanings – Additives help with maintenance but are not a replacement for professional dental treatments when needed.

The risks depend on the specific product used and the individual cat. Consulting a vet first is recommended to avoid unintended consequences.

Vet Recommendations

Veterinarians generally do not recommend relying solely on dental water additives for cats. According to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), while some dental water additives may provide ancillary benefits, they should not be considered a substitute for professional veterinary dental care and proper at-home maintenance.

The AVDC states that evidence for the efficacy of dental water additives is limited. Most additives have not undergone rigorous clinical trials to evaluate their impact on feline dental health over time. The AVDC advises speaking to your veterinarian before using any dental additive to understand potential risks and benefits.

Additionally, cats are less likely than dogs to drink water containing additives due to taste aversion. Cat owners should monitor their pet’s water intake if using dental additives. Dehydration is a serious risk.

Overall, veterinarians caution against expecting significant dental benefits from water additives alone. Proper veterinary care, tooth brushing, dental diets, and dental treats are more reliable for maintaining feline dental health. Additives may provide some supplemental effects but should not replace other evidence-based prevention methods.[1]


Other Options for Feline Dental Health

There are several alternatives to dental water additives that can help maintain good feline dental health:


Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is considered the gold standard for preventive dental care. Using a soft bristled brush and pet-safe toothpaste helps remove plaque and tartar buildup. Though challenging, many cats can be trained to tolerate brief brushing sessions. Patience and positive reinforcement is key to making it a habit.

Dental Treats and Food

There are specially formulated dental treats and kibble that help scrub your cat’s teeth as they chew. These foods have larger, crunchier pieces as well as ingredients like sodium hexametaphosphate that prevent tartar buildup. Feeding dry food and treats also promotes increased saliva production. Look for the VOHC seal indicating the product is veterinarian approved for oral health.

Professional Cleaning

Veterinarians can perform a professional dental cleaning under anesthesia to thoroughly clean teeth above and below the gumline. Tartar and plaque is removed and the teeth are polished. This is recommended usually once a year to control bacteria, infection and tooth decay.

Signs of Dental Disease in Cats

Some common symptoms to watch out for that may indicate dental disease in cats include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Inflamed or bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Discolored or loose teeth
  • Difficulty eating or chewing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge

Cats are very good at hiding signs of dental pain. Pay close attention if your cat stops grooming, loses interest in toys or play, or seems irritable when touched near the head. These behavior changes can also indicate an oral health problem.

Some signs like bad breath and tartar buildup are common in older cats. But red, swollen, or bleeding gums indicate infection and inflammation that requires veterinary attention. Left untreated, dental disease in cats can lead to tooth loss, infections, and damage to internal organs.

For more information see:

When to See a Vet

There are certain cases of feline dental disease that require professional veterinary attention and treatment:

  • Visible tooth loss, fractures, or excessive wear
  • Significant tartar and plaque buildup on teeth
  • Bleeding, inflamed, or receding gums
  • Loose or shifting teeth
  • Bad breath that doesn’t resolve with tooth brushing
  • Difficulty eating or changes in eating habits
  • Drooling, pawing at the mouth, or other signs of oral discomfort
  • Gum abscesses, cysts, growths or swellings
  • Nasal discharge, facial swelling, or sneezing indicating tooth root abscess

According to veterinary dental specialists, exams every 6-12 months can help detect dental disease early on while it is still treatable. Routine professional cleanings and exams are an important preventative measure, especially for older cats.

If you notice any signs of dental disease or oral discomfort in your cat, schedule a veterinary dental exam. The sooner dental issues are identified and treated, the better the outcome for your cat’s health and comfort.


In conclusion, there is not enough evidence to definitively say whether dental water additives for cats are truly effective at improving feline dental health. While some additives like C.E.T. have shown promising results in initial studies, independent research remains limited and inconclusive. Claims about reducing plaque and tartar buildup should be taken with caution until more robust studies are conducted.

The best approach for caring for your cat’s teeth is to feed wet food, provide dental treats or toys, brush their teeth daily if tolerated, and schedule regular dental cleanings with your veterinarian. While some dental additives appear safe when used as directed, they should not replace professional dental care. Monitor your cat for signs of dental disease like bad breath or discomfort eating and see your vet promptly if issues arise.

With diligent at-home dental care and check-ups, you can help keep your feline’s teeth clean and healthy for years to come. Water additives may provide a helpful boost, but should be considered an addition rather than an alternative to proven dental hygiene methods.

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