How Can I Get Plaque Off My Cat’S Teeth?

The Importance of Cat Dental Health

Just like humans, cats can develop serious dental disease if plaque is allowed to build up on their teeth over time. According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, between 50-90% of cats over 4 years old have some form of dental disease (1). Dental disease refers to conditions like gingivitis, periodontitis, tooth resorption, and tooth abscesses. Left untreated, these conditions can negatively impact a cat’s overall health and quality of life.

The main cause of dental disease in cats is plaque. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria that forms on the surface of teeth. Over time, the minerals in a cat’s saliva harden the plaque into tartar. As tartar accumulates along the gumline, it provides an ideal environment for more bacteria to thrive. The bacteria cause inflammation of the gums known as gingivitis. Eventually, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis, which damages the tissues and bone supporting the teeth.

By regularly removing plaque before it turns into tartar, cat owners can help prevent the progression of dental disease in their pets. Proper dental care is essential for cats to maintain healthy teeth and gums throughout their lives.

Signs Your Cat May Have Dental Problems

Some common signs that your cat may be experiencing dental problems include:

  • Bad breath (
  • Discolored or broken teeth
  • Bleeding or inflamed gums (
  • Difficulty eating or chewing
  • Dropping food
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth

Gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease, is characterized by red, swollen gums that may bleed easily. Your cat may show signs of discomfort like chattering her jaw or pawing at her mouth. As the condition worsens, plaque and tartar buildup can lead to loose or infected teeth and tooth loss. The bacteria from dental infections can spread through the bloodstream and potentially damage internal organs. For these reasons, it’s important to monitor your cat’s dental health and see your vet if you notice any warning signs.

Methods to Remove Plaque from Your Cat’s Teeth

There are several effective methods for removing plaque from your cat’s teeth to maintain good dental health:

Brushing Daily

One of the most effective ways to remove plaque before it turns into tartar is by brushing your cat’s teeth daily. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste. Brush gently along the outer surfaces of the teeth in a circular motion. Introduce toothbrushing slowly and make it a positive experience for your cat with praise and treats. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “Wiping the outside of the teeth with a Q-tip at least twice daily [is] one of the most effective ways to remove plaque before it turns into tartar.” (

Dental Treats or Chews

There are a variety of dental treats and chews made specifically for cats that can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup. Look for treats containing delmopinol, an anti-plaque agent. Give your cat these treats regularly as part of their dental care routine. According to The Honest Kitchen, “Dental gels are products you place on your cat’s teeth to dissolve tartar and prevent plaque.” (

Dental Diets

There are specialty cat foods formulated to help prevent tartar. Look for veterinary dental diets that are scientifically formulated with ingredients to reduce plaque or mechanical textures that scrape away plaque. Feeding these diets exclusively can inhibit plaque and tartar buildup.

Professional Cleanings

Even with diligent at-home dental care, most cats will still need professional dental cleanings by a veterinarian. Veterinarians can perform a thorough cleaning of the teeth above and below the gumline to remove all plaque and tartar. Cleanings are usually recommended once a year.

Anti-Plaque Rinses

There are anti-plaque rinses and gels formulated for cats that can reduce plaque and prevent tartar when applied to the teeth regularly. These can supplement other dental care methods.

How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth

Brushing your cat’s teeth is one of the most effective ways to remove plaque and tartar. However, it does take time and patience to get your cat used to having their teeth brushed.

First, you’ll need to get either a finger toothbrush designed for cats or a very soft bristle toothbrush made for human babies (see ref 1). Never use a regular human toothbrush as this can damage your cat’s gums.

You’ll also need a toothpaste formulated specifically for cats, not human toothpaste. Cat toothpastes come in appetizing flavors like poultry, malt, and fish to make the experience more positive (see ref 2).

Start by gently handling your cat’s mouth and massaging their gums with your finger to get them used to having something in their mouth. Introduce the toothpaste and let them lick it off your finger so they associate it with a treat.

When your cat is comfortable with you handling their mouth, gently introduce the toothbrush. Make sure to brush in small circular motions and avoid scrubbing too hard on their delicate gums. Work up slowly from brushing just a few teeth to eventually brushing the whole mouth.

With positive reinforcement like treats and praise, regular tooth brushing can become an accepted part of your cat’s routine and greatly benefit their dental health.



Choosing the Right Dental Treats and Chews

When choosing dental treats and chews for your cat, it’s important to look for products that have received approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). The VOHC evaluates dental treats, chews, and other products to ensure they are safe and effective at reducing plaque and tartar in pets. According to the VOHC’s website, some top recommended dental treats for cats include C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews, Greenies Feline Dental Treats, and Purina Dentalife.

You’ll also want to choose treats and chews that are properly sized for your cat. Look for mini or petite options for smaller cats to avoid choking hazards. When first introducing dental treats, supervise your cat to ensure they are chewing and consuming the treats appropriately before leaving them unsupervised. Provide longer-lasting chew sticks or textured chews that will allow your cat to gnaw and scrape away plaque and tartar as they chew.

By selecting VOHC-approved treats in appropriate sizes for your cat and providing chews they can gnaw on, you can effectively supplement your cat’s oral care routine with products specifically designed to reduce plaque buildup on their teeth.

Feeding Dental Diets to Cats

One way to help control plaque and tartar buildup on your cat’s teeth is by feeding a dental diet formulated for cats. Dry cat food in general can provide some dental benefits since crunchy kibble helps scrape away plaque as your cat chews. However, certain veterinary dental diets for cats are clinically proven to be more effective at reducing plaque and tartar.

Prescription dental diets like Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d Feline dental health ( and Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Dental Feline ( are specially formulated with unique shapes, textures and ingredients that mechanically scrub teeth clean as your cat chews. These diets also contain ingredients like sodium hexametaphosphate that prevent plaque and tartar from sticking to teeth.

When feeding a prescription dental diet, be sure to follow the feeding guidelines provided on the product label. Portion sizes, calories and nutritional needs differ between various dental diets. Consult with your veterinarian on choosing the best dental food for your cat and transitioning to the new diet gradually.

Professional Cleanings by Your Veterinarian

One of the most effective ways to remove plaque and tartar from your cat’s teeth is to have a professional dental cleaning done by your veterinarian. These intensive cleanings are often needed for cats with advanced dental disease or severe tartar buildup above and below the gumline.

During the cleaning, your vet will scale your cat’s teeth using ultrasonic tools and hand instruments to scrape off plaque and tartar. This allows them to thoroughly clean surfaces above and below the gumline that you cannot reach at home. They may also polish the teeth after cleaning to smooth them and remove any remaining buildup.

In many cases, your cat will need to be under anesthesia for a full dental cleaning to allow your vet to fully access all their teeth safely. The procedure may take 1-2 hours for the cleaning, polishing, and dental exam by your vet. It is an important preventive treatment for cats prone to dental disease.

According to the American Veterinary Dental College, professional dental cleanings and home care can extend your cat’s life by reducing bacteria and inflammation from dental disease. Be sure to discuss your cat’s dental health at their regular vet exams for advice on when professional cleanings are needed.

Using Anti-Plaque Rinses

Daily rinsing with solutions like chlorhexidine can help reduce plaque buildup on your cat’s teeth. Chlorhexidine is an antimicrobial that reduces bacteria in the mouth which contribute to plaque formation. Using an oral rinse as part of your cat’s dental care routine can help prevent tartar buildup and bad breath.

There are cat-safe oral rinse products like VetOne Chlorazinc Rinse that you can buy online or get from your veterinarian. It is important to consult your vet on the proper use and dosage of any oral rinse for your cat before starting.

Rinsing should be done daily, ideally right before or after brushing your cat’s teeth. Put a small amount of the rinse into a bowl or cup and gently pull up the lips to saturate the gumline. Let the solution sit briefly before releasing. Give your cat praise and a treat afterwards.

While chlorhexidine rinses can be effective at reducing plaque, they do not eliminate the need for regular brushing and professional cleanings. Check with your vet to see if adding an antimicrobial rinse can boost your cat’s oral health as part of a dental care routine.

Other Tips for Cat Dental Health

In addition to brushing, treats, and professional cleanings, there are some other tips to help keep your cat’s teeth clean and healthy:

Regular vet exams allow your veterinarian to monitor your cat’s dental health and alert you to any emerging problems. Cats should have a full oral exam at least once a year.

There are toys made specifically for dental health that have textured surfaces or integrated bristles to help remove plaque as your cat chews and plays. Look for toys marked as “dental” or “tartar control.”

For some cats, catnip can help stimulate chewing and saliva production which helps clean teeth. Try infusing catnip into dental treats or toys.

Water additives like Oxyfresh Pet Dental Solution can help reduce plaque buildup and freshen breath when added to your cat’s drinking water.

Dental wipes like Vet’s Best Dental Wipes are another easy way to wipe away soft plaque from your cat’s teeth between brushings.

When to See the Vet

If your cat is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible:

  • Persistent bad breath or drooling
  • Broken or damaged teeth
  • Swollen or bleeding gums
  • Facial swelling around the mouth
  • Oral tumors or abnormal growths
  • Difficulty eating or signs of mouth pain

These can all be signs of serious dental disease, infection, or other oral health issues that require professional veterinary attention. Left untreated, dental problems in cats can lead to tooth loss, mouth pain, and systemic illness. Some potential causes include periodontal disease, tooth resorption, oral cancer, and tooth fracture.

Your vet will perform a full oral exam under anesthesia and may take dental x-rays. Treatment may involve professional teeth cleaning, extractions, antibiotics, pain medication, or other options. Prompt veterinary care can stop dental disease from worsening and relieve your cat’s discomfort.

Don’t delay if you notice any persistent signs of trouble. Though they may be subtle at first, dental issues in cats should always be addressed. Annual veterinary dental cleanings and exams are also advised to protect your cat’s health and catch problems early.

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