How to Give Your Cat a Tooth-Brushing They’ll Actually Enjoy


Dental health is extremely important for cats. According to research, between 50-90% of cats over 4 years old suffer from some form of dental disease like periodontal disease or tooth resorption. Poor dental health is painful for cats and can lead to other health issues. Bacteria from dental diseases can spread to the bloodstream and damage organs like the heart, kidneys and liver. Regular brushing and dental care can prevent plaque buildup and tartar formation to keep your cat’s teeth and gums healthy.

When to Start Brushing

It is generally recommended to start brushing your cat’s teeth when they are kittens, around 8-12 weeks old, according to experts (source 1). This allows them to get used to the toothbrushing process from a young age. Kittens’ deciduous teeth, also known as “milk teeth,” start erupting around 3-4 weeks of age (source 3). All of their deciduous teeth have usually erupted fully by around 6-8 weeks old. These deciduous teeth will eventually fall out and be replaced by permanent adult teeth starting around 3-4 months old. Therefore, the 8-12 week old timeframe allows you to brush kittens’ teeth once they have the majority of their deciduous teeth, before permanent teeth start coming in.




Choosing Toothpaste

When selecting a toothpaste for your cat, you’ll need to decide between a flavored or regular (unflavored) paste, as well as whether you want an enzyme-based formula or not. Flavored pastes like poultry, malt, or fish can make the brushing process more enjoyable for your cat. However, some cats dislike the strong tastes. Unflavored options have a more subtle minty or meaty flavor. The Spruce Pets recommends trying out a few flavors to see which your cat likes best.

Enzyme-based toothpastes contain enzymes that help break down plaque and tartar on the teeth. This makes them more effective at reducing buildup. According to VetStreet, formulas with glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase, and lysozyme work well. Non-enzymatic pastes rely more on abrasives and antimicrobial ingredients to clean teeth. Enzyme toothpastes are a good choice if your cat has moderate dental issues or tartar buildup.

Selecting a Toothbrush

When selecting a toothbrush for your cat, look for one with soft bristles that won’t hurt your cat’s gums or mouth. Many cat toothbrushes have extra-soft bristles made specifically for felines (Source: You also want to choose a toothbrush that is the right size for your cat’s mouth, as toothbrushes made for large dogs may be too big. Opt for a cat-sized toothbrush with a small brush head to comfortably fit in your cat’s mouth and effectively clean their teeth (Source:

Preparing for Brushing

Before you start brushing your cat’s teeth, it’s important to set up the area to make the experience as stress-free as possible for both you and your cat. Here are some tips for getting prepared:

  • Choose a quiet, familiar location where your cat feels comfortable, like a bathroom or spare room. Avoid areas with lots of foot traffic.
  • Have everything you need ready – toothbrush, toothpaste, treats, towel etc. Keep the toothpaste and brush within reach but out of sight.
  • Let your cat explore the area first so they feel relaxed. Provide a soft blanket or towel for them to sit on.
  • Have tasty treats on hand to reward your cat during and after brushing. Soft treats or a bit of wet food work well.
  • Go slowly and keep sessions short, especially when first starting out. It’s better to brush just a few teeth daily than trying to brush them all at once.
  • Approach brushing in a calm, patient manner. If your cat seems distressed, stop and try again later.

Setting up a quiet space with treats ready will help make tooth brushing more enjoyable. Take it slow and reward progress.

Brushing Technique

When it comes to brushing your cat’s teeth, focus on having short, gentle sessions to help your cat gradually get used to the process. Cats often resist tooth brushing, so start with brief 10-15 second sessions and work up to longer brushing over time once your cat is more comfortable.

Use gentle circular motions along the teeth and gumlines. Gently lift the lips to expose the outside surfaces of the teeth. You don’t need to brush the inside surfaces. Take care not to scrub too hard or irritate the gums.

Give your cat treats and praise throughout the process so they associate tooth brushing with positive reinforcement. With patience and persistence, regular brushing can become an accepted routine.

According to veterinary experts, the key is to “make it a positive experience” by going “slowly and keeping sessions brief.” Quick, gentle sessions with positive reinforcement will make brushing more comfortable and effective.

Difficulties Brushing

One of the main challenges with brushing a cat’s teeth is that some cats are very resistant to the process. Cats are notoriously independent and like things on their own terms. This can make it difficult to brush their teeth regularly [1]. Fussy or resistant cats may squirm, try to escape or even bite or scratch. Patience and persistence are key to acclimating a cat to toothbrushing.

Start by massaging your cat’s cheeks and gently lifting their lips to get them used to having their mouth handled. Offer treats and praise throughout to reinforce the experience positively. Introduce the toothbrush or finger brush by just rubbing it briefly against their lips and teeth at first. Slowly work up to 10-15 seconds of light brushing. Take breaks to let your cat relax. Over multiple sessions, aim to brush 30-60 seconds on each side [2]. Stay calm, even if your cat resists. Forcing the process will only increase their anxiety.

Try brushing after a play session when your cat is more relaxed. Or brush just before mealtime when your cat is eager to eat. Be patient and keep sessions positive and brief. With time, most cats will come to accept daily toothbrushing as part of their routine.

Maintaining a Routine

Frequency and consistency are key to maintaining good oral health for your cat through brushing. Veterinary experts recommend brushing your cat’s teeth at least 2-3 times per week. Doing it every day is ideal, but not always realistic. At minimum, you should aim to brush their teeth 3 times a week to help prevent tartar buildup and keep their mouth healthy.

Get your cat accustomed to brushing as part of their routine care. Set up a schedule, like brushing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Pick times when your cat is relaxed and comfortable. Over time, they will get used to having their teeth brushed as part of their regular care.

Don’t get discouraged if your cat resists at first. Be patient, go slowly and reward them through the process. Soon brushing can become a positive experience and regular part of their health regimen. Consistency is key – stick to a routine schedule as much as possible so it becomes a habit for both you and your cat.

Signs of Dental Issues

Two common signs of dental issues in cats are bad breath and inflamed gums.

Halitosis, or persistent bad breath, is a key indicator of periodontal disease. As plaque and tartar build up on the teeth and gums, it causes inflammation and bacterial overgrowth in the mouth. This leads to the foul odor associated with bad breath (source).

Inflamed gums, known as gingivitis, occur when plaque spreads under the gumline. The gums will appear swollen, red, and irritated. In severe cases, the inflammation may cause bleeding at the gum line (source). Gingivitis is painful and the primary sign of ongoing dental disease.

Other symptoms to look out for include pawing at the mouth, reduced appetite, dropping food, facial swelling, and sneezing. If your cat shows any of these signs, it’s important to get their teeth examined by a veterinarian.

Professional Cleanings

At some point, most cat owners will need to take their cat to the veterinarian for a professional dental cleaning. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, professional cleanings are typically recommended every 6-12 months or whenever significant tartar buildup is noticed.

During a professional dental cleaning, the veterinarian will fully sedate the cat and perform a thorough exam of the teeth, gums, and oral cavity. Any plaque and tartar will be scaled and polished away, which is something that cannot be fully achieved through at-home brushing. The veterinarian may also take dental x-rays to check for any issues below the gumline. If any teeth need to be extracted due to infection or other problems, that can also be done while the cat is sedated.

According to Banfield Pet Hospital, cat owners can expect the professional dental cleaning process to take 2-3 hours from start to finish. Most cats recover quickly after anesthesia. The veterinarian will also make recommendations about follow-up care such as brushing, dental treats/chews, or water additives to maintain your cat’s fresh breath and healthy gums.

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