How Often Does Your Cat Need a Toothbrush? The Surprising Truth About Feline Dental Care


Dental health is critical for cats’ overall health and quality of life. Poor dental care can lead to plaque and tartar buildup, gingivitis, and eventually periodontitis if left untreated. Periodontitis causes pain, tooth loss, and can spread harmful bacteria through the bloodstream affecting major organs like the heart, kidneys and liver. Regular dental cleanings and exams are important preventative measures to avoid these issues and keep cats healthy and comfortable as they age. Proper at-home dental care and professional veterinary cleanings work together to promote good feline dental health.

How Often Does the Average Cat Need Dental Cleanings?

According to veterinarians, the ideal frequency for professional dental cleanings for most cats is once or twice per year. However, some cats may require cleanings more or less often than this general guideline.

Cats are susceptible to plaque buildup and periodontal disease just like humans. Without regular removal of this plaque, bacteria accumulate and can lead to infection and tooth loss. Professional dental cleanings allow a veterinarian to fully clean the teeth above and below the gumline. This helps remove tartar, plaque, and bacteria and allows for dental x-rays and examinations.

Factors that determine how often your cat may need professional dental cleanings include their age, overall health status, genetics, diet, and level of at-home dental care. Older cats or those with underlying health conditions may require cleanings more than twice a year. Kittens and cats who receive daily brushing may need less frequent cleanings, such as once yearly. Your veterinarian is the best judge of your individual cat’s dental health and cleaning needs.

According to veterinarians, a thorough dental cleaning and examination under anesthesia once or twice per year is ideal for maintaining most cats’ dental health and preventing tooth decay and periodontal disease (Hudson Animal Hospital NYC). Your vet can make specific recommendations based on your cat’s unique needs.

Signs Your Cat May Need a Dental Cleaning

There are several signs that may indicate your cat is in need of a professional dental cleaning. These include:

Bad breath – Persistent bad breath or halitosis can signal a dental problem. As plaque and tartar build up, they allow bacteria to thrive, causing bad breath.

Discolored teeth – Over time, tartar accumulation can stain the teeth yellow or brown. The back teeth tend to show discoloration first.

Reduced appetite – Dental discomfort may cause a cat to eat less food or only soft food. They may drop kibble from their mouth while eating.

Dropping food – Cats with dental pain may chew normally but then drop dry food from their mouth because chewing is uncomfortable.

Tooth loss – Advanced dental disease can lead to tooth loss. You may see missing teeth or retained roots.

Swollen gums – Gingivitis or gum inflammation causes red, swollen gums which can lead to infection.

Pawing at mouth – Your cat may paw at their mouth, rub their face, or excessively lick their lips if they have a painful tooth.

If your cat exhibits any of these signs, it’s a good idea to schedule a veterinary dental exam. Your vet can assess your cat’s oral health and determine if professional dental treatment is recommended.


Proper At-Home Dental Care

Taking care of your cat’s teeth at home is an important part of their overall dental health. Here are some tips for proper at-home dental care:

Daily tooth brushing is recommended by veterinarians as the most effective way to remove plaque and tartar buildup. Using a soft bristled toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste, gently brush your cat’s teeth in a circular motion. Focus on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Introduce brushing slowly and make it a positive experience with treats and praise (Source).

Feeding dental diets or treats can also help clean your cat’s teeth. Kibble and treats formulated for dental health are crunchy, abrasive, and may contain enzymes to help breakdown plaque. Chewing also stimulates saliva production which neutralizes mouth bacteria. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal of Acceptance when choosing dental foods (Source).

You can also find dental treats made with antiseptic ingredients like chlorhexidine to reduce bacteria. Other oral rinses and gels can be applied with a finger brush or soft cloth. Always check with your veterinarian before introducing new dental care products.

Professional Dental Cleanings

Professional dental cleanings for cats are performed under general anesthesia. The procedure typically includes dental scaling, polishing, and applying an antibacterial rinse. According to VCA Hospitals (, dental scaling involves using specialized instruments to remove tartar above and below the gum line and smooth over any minute scratches left behind on the tooth surface. Polishing helps remove any remaining plaque and provides a smooth surface to make it more difficult for new plaque to adhere to the teeth.

An antibacterial rinse, such as chlorhexidine, is often applied at the end of the dental cleaning to help reduce bacteria growth and prevent infection. The veterinarian will also examine each tooth closely and may need to perform extractions on severely damaged or diseased teeth. Radiographs may be taken periodically during the procedure to check for abnormalities below the gum line. After the professional dental cleaning, the veterinarian can advise on ongoing at-home dental care to help maintain your cat’s oral health.

Importance of Annual Veterinary Dental Exams

Annual veterinary dental exams are crucial for detecting dental disease and maintaining your cat’s oral health. Cats are notorious for hiding signs of dental pain and discomfort. Even with diligent at-home dental care, cats can develop periodontal disease, tooth resorption, gingivitis, and other issues not visible upon routine inspection.

During an annual dental exam, the veterinarian will perform a thorough inspection of your cat’s teeth, gums, and oral cavity using specialized instruments and dental equipment. They can identify early stages of disease, lesions, fractures, and other problems before they become more invasive and painful. The vet will also take dental x-rays to evaluate below the gum line for issues impacting tooth roots and bone structures.

Regular professional dental cleanings and evaluations can help prevent progression of dental disease, minimize costly extractions and other treatments, improve your cat’s quality of life, and extend their lifespan. Allowing dental issues to go untreated can lead to systemic health problems in other organs. Annual dental exams paired with at-home care provide the best chance for your cat to enjoy lifelong oral health.


Risks of Untreated Dental Disease

Allowing dental disease to go untreated in cats can lead to severe health consequences. Some of the most common risks include:


Cats with untreated dental disease often experience significant pain and discomfort. Dental issues like gingivitis, abscesses, and tooth resorption can all be very painful. This is especially true when infections spread to the tooth roots.

Tooth Loss

Chronic dental infections will eventually cause tooth loss as the infection eats away at the tooth and its supporting structures. Missing teeth impair a cat’s ability to properly chew food.


Bacteria from dental infections can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. This can lead to potentially serious secondary infections affecting the heart, liver, and kidneys (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Kidney, Liver, and Heart Disease

The bacteria released from gum infections can cause damage to major organs over time. Studies show links between periodontal disease and chronic kidney disease in cats (Cornell). Dental infections have also been associated with liver inflammation and endocarditis.

How Much Do Dental Cleanings Cost?

A professional dental cleaning for a cat typically costs $300-500 on average, according to sources like Pawlicy. However, the total cost can vary quite a bit based on your specific location, veterinarian, and your cat’s dental health.

Some factors that influence the cost of a cat dental cleaning include:

  • Your geographic location – Prices tend to be higher in major metro areas
  • Your veterinarian or clinic – Costs can vary between private practices, chains, and animal hospitals
  • Type of anesthesia used
  • Whether any tooth extractions or other treatments are needed
  • Additional services like dental x-rays or fluoride treatments

While a basic cleaning may start around $300, extensive dental work, extractions, or complications can raise the total cost to $800 or more, according to Forbes.

To keep your cat’s teeth healthy and costs down, be sure to brush their teeth and get regular veterinary dental checkups.

Pet Dental Insurance

Pet dental insurance can help offset the costs of dental cleanings and procedures for your cat. Policies vary, but many plans cover a portion of routine dental cleanings, extractions, root canals, crowns, and other treatments.

For example, Embrace Pet Insurance covers up to $1,000 annually for dental illnesses and injuries. Plans with ASPCA start at $20 per month and include some coverage for dental cleanings and extractions.

According to PetFinder, pet dental insurance increases your access to preventative cleanings and procedures. This leads to better long-term dental health for your cat.

When researching plans, look for coverage of routine cleanings. Also confirm coverage for dental illnesses like gingivitis, abscesses, and periodontal disease. Many plans have waiting periods, annual caps, and deductibles to understand as well.

While costly, dental insurance can significantly reduce out-of-pocket expenses for your cat’s dental care. An annual cleaning alone can cost $300 or more, so premiums may pay for themselves over time.


In summary, preventative dental health is crucial for cats to maintain a high quality of life. Poor oral hygiene and dental disease can lead to significant pain, tooth loss, infections, and other health complications. While cats are naturally prone to dental issues, caring pet owners can take proactive steps to protect their feline’s teeth. This includes daily tooth brushing, dental treats or chews, annual veterinary dental exams, and professional cleanings when needed. The costs involved are well worth it to prevent costly extractions and other problems down the road. With vigilant at-home care and regular vet check-ups, cat parents can help ensure their furry companions enjoy healthy smiles and fresh breath for years to come.

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