Is Dry Food Hurting Your Cat’s Teeth?


Cat owners often ponder the question: is dry food really the best option for my cat’s dental health? Many cat food brands market dry kibble as helping to prevent plaque buildup and promote good dental hygiene. However, recent research suggests the answer may not be so simple. Both wet and dry cat food come with pros and cons for your cat’s teeth and gums.

Dental disease affects 70% of cats by age 3, so paying attention to your cat’s dental health is crucial. Understanding the nuances around wet vs. dry food will help you make the best choice for your feline companion.

Pros of Dry Food for Dental Health

Many veterinarians and pet nutritionists suggest dry food is better for cats’ dental health compared to wet food. The main advantage of dry food is that it requires more chewing which can help scrape off plaque and tartar from the teeth.1 The kibble’s crunchy texture helps clean the teeth during eating. As cats chew on the dry kibble, it rubs against the teeth surfaces and can dislodge food particles while also massaging the gums.

Studies have shown that cats fed a dry food diet tend to accumulate less plaque and tartar on their teeth compared to cats fed only wet food. The mechanical action of chewing dry kibble appears effective in minimizing tartar buildup. Dry food formulations designed for dental health may have special shapes, textures and larger kibble to increase chewing action. So the abrasive physical cleaning from crunchy kibble can promote better feline dental health.

Cons of Dry Food for Dental Health

While dry food is often touted for helping clean cats’ teeth, there are some downsides to relying solely on kibble for dental health. One of the main cons is that dry food can actually lead to plaque buildup and tartar on cats’ teeth over time.

The hard texture of dry kibble does provide some abrasive action to scrape plaque off teeth as the cat chews. However, the small, uniform size and shape of kibble means cats’ teeth may not get a thorough cleaning. Larger dry kibbles can be swallowed whole without much chewing. This minimizes the abrasive cleaning of the teeth, allowing plaque to stick and harden into tartar that requires professional dental cleaning [1].

The carbohydrates in many dry foods also contribute to plaque formation. Plaque bacteria feed on these carbohydrates and proliferate. Over time, the plaque builds up and leads to inflamed gums, gingivitis, and excess tartar on the teeth that can only be removed by a veterinarian [2].

Therefore, while dry food does provide some dental benefits through abrasive chewing action, it does not fully prevent plaque and tartar buildup on its own. Additional dental care is still required.

Ingredients that Promote Dental Health

Certain ingredients in cat food can help clean teeth and promote good dental health. Some key ingredients to look for include:

– Meat proteins like chicken, beef, and fish can help scrape plaque and tartar off teeth as cats chew.1 The natural abrasiveness of meat proteins can clean the surface of teeth.

– Vitamins A, D, E, and K contribute to gum health and maintaining healthy connective tissues in the mouth.2 This helps prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Cats have a carnivorous bias, so a high protein diet with meat as the first ingredient provides not just good nutrition but also dental benefits.3 The right ingredients promote chewing and scrubbing action on the teeth.

Regular Dental Care Still Needed

While dry food can help clean teeth as cats chew, it should not be considered a substitute for regular dental care and cleanings. According to the Animal Medical Center of Chicago, “Most dry cat food offers no significant chewing resistance due to its small size and brittle nature. When the cat’s teeth come in contact with the dry pellet, it shatters before any mechanical cleaning can take place.”

The American Veterinary Dental College recommends daily tooth brushing and professional dental cleanings under anesthesia every 6-12 months for optimal dental health. Dry food does not provide the deep cleaning between teeth and along the gumline that brushing provides. Periodontal disease can still develop even when feeding only dry food if teeth are not regularly brushed.

Veterinarians emphasize that both brushing and professional dental cleanings are still very important for cats eating dry food. Dry kibble can help reduce tartar buildup between cleanings, but does not remove plaque bacteria or dislodge food particles from below the gumline. Regular brushing and dental visits are still crucial for preventing periodontal disease and protecting your cat’s oral health.


When Wet Food May be Better

For cats with dental issues already, wet food may be a better choice than dry food. The moisture content in wet food can help clean teeth and massage gums as cats chew [1]. Canned foods are also easier for cats with sore mouths or missing teeth to eat. According to one study, cats fed primarily wet food were less likely to develop gingivitis and had less plaque buildup compared to cats fed dry food [2].

Wet foods with chunks or pieces can still provide some dental benefits for cleaning teeth. Just be sure to choose wet foods designed for dental health, as many canned foods are high in carbohydrates. It’s also important to have regular veterinary dental cleanings as needed.

Homemade & Raw Food Options

Homemade and raw pet food diets may provide some dental health benefits compared to dry kibble according to some sources. The texture and moisture content of raw food can help clean teeth and exercise gums as the animal chews (Source 1). Raw meaty bones provide an abrasive action that scrapes plaque and tartar off teeth according to proponents. The natural moisture in raw food also doesn’t allow plaque to accumulate like it can on dry kibble (Source 2).

However, there are some concerns with raw diets including nutritional balance and pathogen risks. It’s important to consult with a veterinarian before switching to a raw food diet. Proper food handling and preparation protocols must be followed meticulously. Overall the evidence on raw diets for dental health is limited, but some pet owners do choose this option.

Tips for Promoting Dental Health

There are several ways cat owners can help promote their cat’s dental health at home:

Brushing – Regular toothbrushing is considered the gold standard for cat dental care. Using a soft-bristled brush and pet-safe toothpaste, gently brush your cat’s teeth at least 2-3 times per week. This helps remove plaque and tartar buildup. Introduce brushing slowly with positive reinforcement to get your cat comfortable with the process.

Dental treats – Look for treats made with delmopinol, an anti-plaque agent, or other ingredients to help control tartar. Giving a dental treat after meals can help clean teeth. However, treats should not replace brushing.1

Water additives – Certain dental water additives can help prevent plaque and tartar. Add the recommended amount to your cat’s drinking water daily. These are another beneficial supplemental dental care option.

While dental treats and additives can provide some benefit, regular brushing and professional cleanings are still crucial for your cat’s oral health.

Ask Your Vet

The best way to determine the right dental diet for your specific cat is to consult your veterinarian. They can examine your cat’s unique oral health needs and make personalized recommendations. Some key questions to ask your vet:

– Does my cat have any dental disease or issues that require a specialized diet?
– Should I feed dry, wet food or a mix for optimal dental health?

– Are there any ingredients or formulas you recommend for my cat?
– How often does my cat need professional dental cleanings?
– Are there any signs of dental disease I should monitor at home?

Since every cat is different, your vet can tailor their advice based on your cat’s age, breed, oral health status, and any medical conditions. Regular veterinary dental exams are crucial to stay on top of your cat’s dental health. Bring up any concerns about tartar buildup, bad breath, inflamed gums, or other symptoms. Your vet can then work with you to determine the ideal food and care plan.

While dental diets can be beneficial, they don’t replace professional cleanings and exams. But having an open discussion with your vet can ensure you’re taking all the right steps for your cat’s dental health and overall wellbeing.


In summary, there are pros and cons to feeding dry food for your cat’s dental health. Dry food can help scrape off plaque and tartar, but may not be as effective as some claim. Certain ingredients like soluble fiber can also promote dental health. Still, a combination of high quality wet and dry food, along with regular veterinary dental cleanings, is ideal for your cat’s oral hygiene and overall health. Pay attention to your cat’s unique needs and preferences as well. With some care and planning, you can support your cat’s dental health through diet while also providing balanced and customized nutrition. The most important takeaway is to partner with your veterinarian for regular wellness checks and professional dental care for your feline companion.

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