The Secret To Cleaning Your Cat’s Teeth Without A Fight

Causes and Effects of Tartar in Cats

Tartar is hardened plaque that accumulates on a cat’s teeth. It’s caused by saliva and bacteria interacting with food particles in a cat’s mouth. As a cat chews and eats, food debris sticks to its teeth. This debris begins to accumulate bacteria from the cat’s mouth. The bacteria mixes with saliva and forms a sticky film called plaque that coats the teeth. Over time, minerals in the saliva harden the plaque into tartar (also called calculus). Tartar begins forming in as little as 6-12 hours after eating. It appears as a tan, brown, or yellow crust on the teeth near the gums.

Tartar buildup can lead to inflammation and infection of the gums, known as gingivitis. Eventually, it can cause loosening and loss of the teeth as the infection spreads to the roots. Bacteria from the infected gums and tartar can also spread through the cat’s bloodstream, potentially affecting vital organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver. In addition to tooth loss and organ damage, tartar buildup causes bad breath and discomfort when eating. Early removal is key to preventing these issues (Source: Dental Disease in Cats – iCatCare).

Dental Issues Tartar Can Cause

Tartar buildup on cats’ teeth can lead to several serious dental problems if left untreated. The most common issues caused by tartar in cats include:

Gingivitis – Inflammation of the gums. Tartar harbors bacteria which irritate the gums. This causes reddening, swelling, and bleeding of the gums, also known as gingivitis. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, gingivitis affects over 50% of cats by age 3. Left untreated, gingivitis can progress to irreversible periodontitis.

Tooth loss – If tartar is allowed to build up below the gumline, it can lead to periodontitis, a severe gum infection which destroys the tissues and bone supporting the teeth. This causes painful loose teeth which may eventually need extraction. Per the VCA Animal Hospitals, by age 3 over 85% of cats have some degree of periodontitis.

Abscesses and infections – Bacteria in tartar and plaque can penetrate beneath the gums into the tooth roots and jawbone, causing extremely painful abscesses and infections. Systemic infections are also possible. Emergency dental treatment is required for infections.

Other issues caused by tartar include tooth sensitivity, cavities, and oral cysts. Tartar also makes it easier for new plaque to stick, compounding dental disease. Regular removal of tartar is key to preventing these common feline dental problems.

Professional Dental Cleanings

Professional dental cleanings for cats are an important part of feline oral health care. These cleanings are performed by veterinarians and veterinary technicians under general anesthesia. During the cleaning, the veterinary team will:

  • Perform a thorough oral exam to check for signs of periodontal disease, tooth resorption, oral masses, and other issues.
  • Take dental radiographs to evaluate the tooth roots and look for problems below the gumline.
  • Use specialized tools to scrape off the tartar above and below the gumline that can’t be removed with brushing.
  • Polish the teeth to smooth over microscopic scratches where bacteria can accumulate.
  • Apply fluoride treatment to strengthen enamel.
  • Extract any non-viable or infected teeth if needed.

Professional dental cleanings are the only way to fully remove plaque and tartar from a cat’s teeth and evaluate their oral health. Cleanings are generally recommended every 6-12 months, but frequency depends on the individual cat’s health and tendency for tartar buildup [1]. While expensive, professional dental cleanings are important for preventing painful dental disease and keeping cats healthy.

At-Home Tartar Removal Methods

There are several methods cat owners can try at home to help remove tartar buildup on their cat’s teeth:

Brushing Teeth

Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is one of the most effective ways to remove plaque before it turns into tartar. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and cat-safe toothpaste designed specifically for cats. Gently brush in circular motions, focusing on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Introduce toothbrushing slowly and make it a positive experience for your cat with rewards.[1]

Dental Treats and Chews

There are a variety of dental treats and chews made to help scrub your cat’s teeth. Look for treats with the VOHC seal from the Veterinary Oral Health Council, which means they are proven to reduce plaque and tartar. Offer dental treats instead of regular treats to promote oral health. Hard treats can also help scrape plaque off as your cat chews.[2]

Oral Rinses and Gels

Oral rinses and gels can reduce plaque and tartar buildup between brushings. Apply the product along the gumline daily according to package directions. Look for antimicrobial ingredients like chlorhexidine to reduce bacteria. Water additives with enzymes may also help dissolve tartar.

Brushing Teeth

Regularly brushing your cat’s teeth is one of the most effective ways to remove tartar buildup and keep their teeth clean. Using a cat-safe toothpaste and toothbrush designed for cats is recommended.

When first introducing toothbrushing, go slow and keep sessions short to allow your cat to get used to the process. Gently lift their lips to expose teeth and gums. Apply a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to the brush and gently scrub the outer surfaces of the teeth using circular motions. Focus especially on the back teeth where tartar tends to accumulate the most.

Cats should have their teeth brushed at least 2-3 times per week for optimal dental health. Be patient and reward with treats to create a positive association with brushing over time. Proper technique and using cat-safe products is key to an effective teeth cleaning routine.

For difficult or uncooperative cats, a finger brush or towel can be used to wipe the teeth and gums. Any amount of cleaning is beneficial. Check with your veterinarian for additional tips and guidance on proper toothbrushing technique.

Dental Treats and Chews

Some cat dental treats have ingredients that can help scrape away or prevent the buildup of tartar on your cat’s teeth. When shopping for dental treats, look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Approval, which means the product has gone through rigorous testing to prove it reduces plaque and tartar in cats[1].

Some popular VOHC-approved options include:

  • Greenies Dental Treats – These treat have a crunchy texture and unique shape that scrape away tartar as your cat chews.[2]
  • Purina DentaLife – These soft treats contain an active ingredient that prevents plaque from turning into tartar.[3]
  • Whiskas Dentabites – These treats come in chicken and salmon flavors, and are designed to clean teeth and freshen breath.

Giving your cat dental treats daily can help reduce tartar buildup between professional cleanings. Always provide treats in moderation according to package guidelines.

Oral Rinses and Gels

Oral rinses and gels are products that can be applied directly to a cat’s teeth to help remove tartar buildup. These products contain enzymes and other ingredients that work to dissolve tartar so it can be wiped or brushed away more easily1.

Some popular oral gel brands for cats include TropiClean Fresh Breath Gel2 and Vetality Brush Free Oral Gel. These gels are formulated to adhere to the teeth so the active enzymes can break down plaque and tartar. They help reduce bad breath and promote dental health when used regularly.

To use dental gels, pet owners simply squirt a small amount on their finger and rub it along the cat’s teeth and gums. It’s best to start slow and work up to daily use. The gels are safe if swallowed but follow package directions.

While oral rinses and gels promote dental health, they work best paired with other home care and professional cleanings. But they provide an easy way to apply enzymes directly to tartar buildup between other cleaning methods.

Dietary Considerations

When it comes to your cat’s dental health, choosing the right food is important. Wet cat food is generally better for dental health than dry food. This is because dry kibble can be overly starchy and stick to a cat’s teeth. Over time, this can lead to more tartar buildup. Wet food has high moisture content which can help clean the teeth.

According to What is Better for Your Cat’s Dental Health: Wet or Dry Cat Food?, wet food is less likely to get stuck in the teeth compared to dry kibble. The experts recommend choosing a wet food diet or a combination of wet and dental kibble.

You’ll also want to avoid cat foods with a lot of carbohydrates and fillers. These can increase tartar. Look for high protein, low carb wet foods. Meat-based proteins are ideal for dental health.

Some wet foods made specifically for dental health include Hill’s Prescription Diet dental wet food and Royal Canin’s Veterinary Diet dental wet formulas. These use ingredients to help reduce plaque and tartar.

Other Preventative Measures

In addition to the at-home teeth cleaning techniques already discussed, here are some other tips to help prevent tartar buildup:

Get your cat’s teeth professionally cleaned by your vet annually. Veterinarians can scale off tartar above and below the gumline and polish the teeth to a smooth finish. This helps slow the progression of tartar buildup over the next year. Regular dental cleanings are key for keeping your cat’s teeth and gums healthy (Plaque and Tartar Prevention in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals).

Provide dental toys for cats to chew on. Look for toys made of rubber or firm plastic that have bumps, ridges, and knobs to scrape plaque and tartar off teeth as your cat chews. You can also find interactive feeders that make your cat work to get kibble out, which provides cleaning action (Tartar Prevention in Cats). Rotate different dental toys to keep your cat interested.

When to See a Vet

It’s recommended to take your cat to the veterinarian if you notice any signs of advanced tartar buildup or dental disease. Some signs to look out for include:

  • Bad breath or a foul odor coming from your cat’s mouth
  • Red, swollen, or inflamed gums
  • Bleeding from the mouth or loose teeth
  • Difficulty eating or chewing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pawing at the face or mouth
  • Visible tartar buildup on the teeth

These can all be signs of periodontal disease, which occurs when plaque hardens into tartar and spreads below the gumline. Periodontal disease is extremely common in cats and can lead to tooth loss, infections, and other health problems if left untreated. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, by age 3, most cats have some evidence of periodontal disease.

Bringing your cat to the vet at the first signs of tartar buildup and dental disease allows for earlier treatment and prevention of more severe issues. The veterinarian will do a full oral exam, looking for signs of gingivitis, resorptive lesions, tumors, or tooth damage. From there, they can recommend the best course of treatment, which usually involves a professional dental cleaning under anesthesia to remove all built-up tartar and plaque.

It’s recommended to get your cat’s teeth professionally cleaned once a year. However, depending on your cat’s health history, your vet may suggest cleanings every 6-12 months. Professional cleanings are the only way to fully remove tartar from a cat’s teeth and below the gumline. They also allow the vet to take dental x-rays and closely inspect each tooth for any issues. Don’t try to scrape off tartar at home, as this could damage the teeth and cause pain. Instead, leave it to your veterinarian to safely remove all plaque and tartar.


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