Is Cleaning Your Cat’s Teeth Really Necessary?

Dental health is critically important for cats. According to, poor dental health in cats can lead to potentially serious medical issues such as heart, liver and kidney disease. Plaque and tartar buildup on a cat’s teeth provide breeding grounds for bacteria. If left untreated, this bacteria enters the bloodstream and travels to major organs, causing secondary infections. Additionally, dental disease can be painful for cats, leading to discomfort, loss of appetite and behavior changes. Proper dental care, including professional cleanings, can help prevent these problems and keep cats happy and healthy.

Signs Your Cat May Need a Dental Cleaning

There are several signs that indicate your cat may need a professional dental cleaning. The most common signs include:

Bad Breath – Bad breath, also called halitosis, is one of the classic signs of dental disease in cats. The source of bad cat breath is usually tartar buildup and bacteria colonizing the teeth and gums.

Loose or Damaged Teeth – Watch for any loose, broken, or discolored teeth in your cat’s mouth. Loose or damaged teeth are often very painful and need to be extracted by a vet.

Red or Inflamed Gums – Red, swollen, or inflamed gums indicate gingivitis and periodontal disease. This inflammation is usually caused by tartar accumulation on the teeth irritating the gums. Left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss.

Pawing at Mouth – If your cat is seen pawing at her mouth or face repeatedly, she may be experiencing discomfort from dental problems. The mouth irritation leads cats to excessively rub or scratch their mouths.

According to veterinarians at Hastings Veterinary Hospital, “be on the lookout for things like broken, discoloured, or loose teeth, as well as swelling of their face and mouth area.” These are critical signs that prompt the need for professional dental care ( If your cat exhibits any of these symptoms, schedule a veterinary exam right away to assess if a dental cleaning is required.

Professional Dental Cleanings

A professional dental cleaning performed by a veterinarian is the most thorough way to clean a cat’s teeth and treat periodontal disease. The process involves general anesthesia so the vet can fully examine the mouth and clean under the gums. Here is an overview of the veterinary dental cleaning procedure according to VCA Animal Hospitals:

    a vet examining a cat's teeth during a dental cleaning

  • The cat is put under general anesthesia so the vet can thoroughly examine the mouth and teeth.
  • Tartar and plaque are scraped off each tooth using both hand tools and ultrasonic scalers.
  • The teeth are polished smooth.
  • The vet probes under the gums to check for periodontal disease.
  • Any diseased or damaged teeth may be extracted.
  • Fluoride may be applied to protect tooth enamel.
  • Antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medication may be given.

Veterinary cleanings allow for deep cleaning below the gumline to treat periodontal disease. X-rays may also be taken to check for issues below the surface. It is a meticulous cleaning that removes built-up tartar and plaque that could not be removed by brushing alone.

Anesthesia Concerns

Dental cleanings for cats require general anesthesia so that the veterinarian can fully examine the mouth and safely clean the teeth under sedation. While anesthesia always carries some risks, the risks are generally low, especially when proper protocols are followed.

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), anesthesia death rates are less than 0.1% when bloodwork is done beforehand and monitoring is provided during the procedure. This is because bloodwork helps vets assess any pre-existing conditions, while monitoring during anesthesia allows them to keep a close eye on vital signs and make adjustments as needed (AAHA).

Some key aspects of anesthesia monitoring include:

  • Pulse oximetry to monitor oxygen levels
  • ECG to monitor heart rate and rhythm
  • Body temperature
  • Respiration rate
  • Blood pressure

Overall, while anesthesia does carry risks, the risks can be minimized through proper veterinary protocols. Most experts agree professional dental cleanings using anesthesia are safer for cats than lack of treatment, which allows dental disease to progress.
a cat recovering at home after a dental cleaning procedure


After a professional dental cleaning, your cat will need some time to recover. According to How to Care for Your Pet After a Dental Procedure, there is typically a 1-week recovery period where you should avoid brushing or touching the teeth so your cat is not uncomfortable. Your vet may prescribe pain medication to help manage any discomfort.

Your cat’s diet may need to be softened or altered after a cleaning. According to Dental cleaning and aftercare from Banfield Pet Hospital, you should feed a softened diet for 5-7 days after the procedure. Canned food or kibble soaked in water is ideal. Avoid harder foods during the recovery period.

Your vet will likely want to do a follow-up dental exam about 2 weeks after the cleaning to check the teeth and ensure proper healing. It’s important to monitor your cat’s eating habits to make sure they are returning to normal within a few days after the cleaning.

Home Dental Care

There are several things cat owners can do at home to care for their cat’s dental health between professional cleanings. Here are some of the most effective home dental care options for cats:

Brushing your cat’s teeth regularly is one of the best ways to prevent plaque and tartar buildup. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and cat-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.

Dental treats and kibble specially formulated to clean teeth can also be highly beneficial between cleanings. Look for treats and food containing ingredients that mechanically scrub teeth or contain plaque-fighting compounds. Give dental treats as rewards.

a variety of dental treats and foods for cats

Oral rinses made for cats can reduce bacteria in the mouth when used regularly. Apply the rinse after brushing or on its own using a soft applicator. Praise your cat and follow with a treat.

Cost of Dental Cleanings

The cost of a professional dental cleaning for a cat can vary quite a bit depending on your location and veterinarian. According to, a routine dental cleaning typically ranges from $100 to $400. However, the price could potentially be over $1000 if more extensive work is needed.

An article from Forbes Advisor states that dental cleanings for cats can cost anywhere between a few hundred dollars to over $2000. The wide range is due to factors like your cat’s health, the severity of plaque buildup, whether tooth extractions are required, and your location.

On average, most routine dental cleanings without complications fall within the $300 to $500 range. However, always consult your veterinarian for an accurate price estimate based on your cat’s unique needs.

How Often are Dental Cleanings Needed

There is no set schedule for how often cats need dental cleanings. The frequency depends on several factors:

Diet – Cats that eat primarily wet food or raw diets tend to need less frequent dental cleanings than cats eating mostly dry kibble. The crunchy texture of kibble can lead to more tartar buildup.

Genetics – Some cats are predisposed to more dental problems and will need more frequent dental care.

Home dental care – Regular tooth brushing and dental treats can help reduce tartar and delay the need for professional cleanings.

Overall health – Illness and medical conditions like kidney disease can accelerate dental disease.

Veterinary assessment – Your vet will examine your cat’s teeth annually and recommend the ideal frequency for professional dental cleanings based on your cat’s unique needs.

In general, once yearly dental cleanings are recommended for most cats. More frequent cleanings ranging from every 6 months to 2 years may be advised depending on your cat’s risk factors. Your vet is the best resource for determining an appropriate schedule.

Alternatives to Anesthesia

As dental care is essential for cats, some pet owners may be hesitant about putting their cat under anesthesia. Luckily, there are some alternative options that don’t require anesthesia:

OraVet is a gel that is applied weekly to your cat’s teeth and gumline. It creates a protective barrier that prevents plaque and tartar buildup without the need for anesthesia[1]. The active ingredient delmopinol breaks up existing plaque and stops bacteria from adhering to the teeth. OraVet is safe to swallow and causes no known side effects. It can be an effective home dental care solution between professional cleanings.

applying an oral gel to clean a cat's teeth

There are also non-anesthetic professional cleanings available. These involve scaling and polishing the teeth while the cat remains awake. However, these have some risks and limitations. The cleaning is less thorough since the teeth can’t be examined fully and x-rays can’t be taken. Vets also can’t probe under the gumline effectively on a conscious cat. Anesthesia provides more complete plaque and tartar removal[2]. Non-anesthetic cleanings are not recommended by veterinary dental experts since they do not allow for a complete exam and treatment[3].


Cat dental health is extremely important for your pet’s overall wellbeing. As obligate carnivores, cats’ teeth are prone to tartar buildup and plaque, which can lead to infection, tooth loss, and other health complications if left untreated. Regular professional dental cleanings under anesthesia are the gold standard for keeping your cat’s teeth clean and healthy. While dental cleanings do require anesthesia, the risks are minimal compared to the dangers of untreated dental disease. Be sure to follow up all dental cleanings with at-home dental care, and schedule regular veterinary exams to stay on top of your cat’s dental health. With vigilance and proactive care, your feline companion can enjoy healthy teeth and gums for years to come.

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