Avoid the Scalpel. Natural Alternatives to Dental Surgery for Cats


Feline dental disease affects a majority of cats, with studies showing 50-90% of cats over 4 years old suffering from some form of dental disease (https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-dental-disease). Periodontal disease, inflammation and infection of tissues surrounding the teeth, is the most common diagnosis. If left untreated, dental disease can lead to tooth loss, abscesses, and systemic illness.

While professional dental cleanings and surgery are often necessary for advanced dental disease, there are alternatives owners can try first to improve their cat’s oral health and potentially avoid surgery. This includes options like dental diets, chews, tooth brushing, water additives, and other at home care. This article will provide an overview of non-surgical alternatives to managing feline dental disease.


What a cat eats plays a major role in their dental health. Both wet and dry food options can support oral hygiene, but they have some differences. Dry food can help scrape plaque off teeth as cats chew, while wet food may be better for hydration. Some key diet tips include:

Dental diets are formulated to clean teeth and prevent tartar buildup as cats eat. These diets include larger kibbles to encourage more chewing, fibrous ingredients to scrub teeth, and agents like sodium hexametaphosphate to prevent tartar. Studies show dental diets can reduce plaque and gingivitis in cats. Some popular prescription dental diets for cats include Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d Feline Dental Health and Royal Canin Dental Dry Cat Food.

Raw food diets are controversial but some claim they benefit dental health by replicating a cat’s natural carnivorous diet. Raw foods may help clean teeth through chewing activity. However, dental benefits are not conclusively proven. Owners should consult a vet before switching to a raw diet.

Avoiding carbohydrates may help prevent plaque. Cats have a low need for carbs, so diets higher in protein and fat suit their natural metabolism. Some cat food brands like Acana offer low-carb, high-protein options.

Dental Chews

Dental chews can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup on a cat’s teeth. Studies have shown that chewing on treats and foods with specific textures and shapes can help scrape away plaque and slow the formation of tartar (MadisonAnimalCare.com). The physical abrasion from chewing is beneficial for feline oral health.

There are many types of cat dental chews available, often made of ingredients like greenies, salmon, tuna, chicken, seaweed, parsley, mint, yucca schidigera extract, and more. Some popular vet recommended brands are Greenies Feline Dental Treats, CET Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews, Virbac C.E.T. Veggiedent Tartar Control Chews, and Iams Proactive Health Dental Treats (LakeCrossVet.com).

Experts recommend daily chewing for optimal dental health benefits. The chewing action scrapes away built up plaque and tartar, while ingredients like yucca schidigera help reduce bacteria growth. For cats that are not eager chewers, dental treats can be broken into smaller pieces and mixed in with their regular food (HomesAlive.ca).

Brushing Teeth

Brushing your cat’s teeth is an effective way to remove plaque and prevent tartar buildup, which can lead to dental disease. Proper technique is important when brushing your cat’s teeth.

Use a soft-bristled toothbrush designed for cats, with a small head to fit in your cat’s mouth. Cat toothbrushes are usually dual-ended with a larger brush on one side for the outer surfaces of the teeth and a smaller brush for the inner surfaces. Apply a feline toothpaste, not human toothpaste which contains ingredients that can upset your cat’s stomach. Hold your cat gently but firmly and lift their lips to expose the teeth. Move the brush in short strokes angled away from the gums.

Brushing should ideally be done daily according to most vets, but a minimum of three times per week is recommended to effectively remove plaque. It’s best to gradually get your cat used to toothbrushing from a young age. Make it a positive experience with praise, treats and introducing it slowly over time. [1] [2]

Water Additives

Water additives can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup on cats’ teeth. These additives are mixed into your cat’s drinking water daily. The additives work by making the plaque and tartar less sticky, so it doesn’t adhere as strongly to the teeth. Over time, the plaque and tartar can be more easily removed by brushing or veterinary cleanings.

Some common types of water additives for cats include:

  • Xylitol – A natural sugar alcohol shown to reduce plaque and tartar in cats (Clarke, 2006; Lowe et al., 2020).
  • Cetylpyridinium chloride – An antimicrobial agent that can inhibit plaque formation.
  • Chlorhexidine – An antiseptic medication often used in dental rinses.

Scientific studies provide evidence that certain water additives like xylitol can significantly decrease calculus buildup in cats over time. One study found a 15% reduction in calculus when cats drank water containing xylitol daily for 6 weeks (Lowe et al., 2020). More research is still needed to fully understand the effectiveness and safety of different additives.

Regular Veterinary Cleanings

A professional dental cleaning performed by a veterinarian is the gold standard for preventing periodontal disease in cats. This procedure requires anesthesia so the vet can thoroughly examine the teeth and safely remove all plaque and tartar. The cat receives a pre-anesthetic evaluation before being put under so risks can be minimized.

Veterinarians recommend an annual dental cleaning and exam for most cats in order to prevent plaque and tartar buildup that can lead to periodontal disease. Some cats with dental issues may need cleanings more than once a year. The cost for a cat dental cleaning ranges from $300-500 on average, though prices can be higher depending on your location and the veterinarian performing the procedure.

Sedation is required for a thorough veterinary dental cleaning. A combination of injectable and gas anesthesia is commonly used to keep the cat under during the procedure and allow for endotracheal intubation. Most cats recover smoothly after anesthesia when proper monitoring is provided.

Other Oral Hygiene Products

In addition to chews and brushing, there are some other oral hygiene products for cats that may help prevent dental issues:

Dental gels can be applied directly to the teeth and gums to help remove plaque and tartar buildup. Products like Maxi-Guard OraZn Gel and Oratene Enzymatic Oral Gel claim to reduce plaque, freshen breath, and soothe inflamed gums.

Oral rinses and water additives like TropiClean Oral Care Gel can be added to your cat’s drinking water to help prevent tartar buildup and bad breath. These are meant to be used daily.

There is limited scientific evidence on the effectiveness of these products, but some pet owners report anecdotal benefits. They may be worth trying, especially if used along with other oral hygiene methods, but should not replace professional veterinary dental cleanings.

Home Remedies

While home remedies may seem like an easy solution, there are some safety concerns to keep in mind. Certain human foods and household items that seem harmless can actually be toxic for cats in the wrong doses. It’s important to consult your veterinarian before trying any home remedy.

Some gentler home remedy options include:

  • Coconut oil – This has anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. Rub a small amount on your cat’s gums and teeth. Use sparingly as too much coconut oil may cause digestive upset.
  • Aloe vera – The gel from an aloe plant can help soothe inflamed gums. Apply a small amount directly to your cat’s gums, avoiding swallowing.

While these remedies may provide temporary relief, they are not substitutes for professional veterinary dental cleanings and treatment. Monitor your cat closely and discontinue use if any adverse effects occur. Talk to your vet before using any home remedy long-term.

When to See a Vet

Cats often hide signs of dental disease, so it’s important to monitor them closely and schedule regular veterinary dental exams. Contact your vet promptly if you notice any of the following signs of dental problems in your cat:

  • Difficulty eating or chewing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nasal discharge
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Swelling around the face/jaw
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Changes in behavior like hiding or lethargy

Certain conditions put cats at higher risk for dental disease. Older cats are prone to periodontal disease. Brachycephalic breeds with short, wide skulls like Persians have overcrowding and malocclusions. Diabetes, kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism are linked to dental problems. Cats with weakened immune systems are also more susceptible.

If your vet diagnoses advanced dental disease, they may recommend extraction or surgery. This is often necessary when there is severe infection, extensive tooth damage, or non-dental oral masses. Extractions can improve your cat’s quality of life. Discuss all options thoroughly with your vet before proceeding.


In summary, some of the main alternatives to dental surgery for cats include adjusting their diet, providing dental chews and toys, regularly brushing their teeth, and using oral hygiene products like water additives. While home remedies like coconut oil may provide some benefits, they should not replace professional veterinary dental cleanings and exams. It’s important to bring cats to the vet regularly, even just for checkups, so any emerging dental issues can be caught early. Addressing dental problems proactively and early on can help avoid more invasive procedures later down the road. With diligent at-home oral care and regular vet visits, many cats can maintain good dental health without needing surgery.

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