Purrfect Foods to Keep Your Cat’s Teeth Healthy

The Importance of Dental Health for Cats

Dental disease is extremely common in cats, with studies estimating up to 70% of cats over the age of 3 suffering from some form of periodontal disease (1). The most common dental diseases in cats include gingivitis, periodontitis, tooth resorption, and FORL (feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions) (2). These conditions can lead to loose or lost teeth, abscesses, and mouth pain.

Poor dental health is linked to potentially serious medical conditions in cats including kidney, heart, and liver disease. Bacteria from dental infections can enter the bloodstream and damage internal organs (1). Regular dental cleanings and preventive dental care through diet are important to avoid progression of dental disease and associated health risks.

Dry Food Helps Clean Teeth

Dry kibble has long been thought to help clean cats’ teeth as they chew. The crunchy texture and abrasive action of dry food can help scrape off plaque and tartar buildup on teeth. As cats chew on the kibble, it rubs against the tooth surface and can reduce accumulation of plaque bacteria.

One study comparing dental health of cats fed dry and wet foods found significantly less calculus in cats fed dry food versus wet canned food (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4494333/). The mechanical abrasion from the kibble helps prevent tartar from adhering to the tooth surface.

When choosing a dry kibble for your cat, look for one with an appropriately crunchy texture and sized kibble for your cat’s mouth. The kibble should be large enough to encourage chewing but not so large as to be a choking hazard. A high quality dry kibble diet specifically formulated for dental health can provide much needed abrasive action for cleaner teeth.

Wet Food May Lead to More Plaque

Wet or canned cat food is often touted as more natural and better hydrating than dry kibble. However, wet food has some downsides when it comes to your cat’s dental health. According to Wellpets, wet food tends to stick to a cat’s teeth rather than helping scrape away plaque and tartar like dry kibble does.

The soft, wet texture of canned food does not provide any abrasive chewing or cleaning action for teeth. Bits of wet food get stuck in nooks and crannies in the mouth, contributing to plaque buildup and potential gingivitis. The higher moisture content in wet foods also allows more bacteria to grow, increasing risks of dental disease.

Many wet cat foods also have higher carbohydrate content compared to dry kibble. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, carbohydrates in food can increase plaque acids and the progression of periodontal disease. So the ingredients in wet food may actively contribute to dental problems in cats.

For optimal dental health, it’s generally recommended to feed cats a combination of wet and dry food, or specific dental kibble. Be sure to also follow up with regular veterinary dental cleanings and tooth brushing.

Dental Diets and Treats

Prescription dental diets made specifically to reduce plaque buildup can promote good dental hygiene for cats. These foods are formulated with unique kibble shapes, textures, and ingredients that scrub teeth clean as cats chew. For example, Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d uses technology to clean teeth and reduce plaque and tartar while providing complete nutrition.

Dental treats for cats are also formulated to clean teeth as cats chew on them. Some popular dental treat options are Greenies Feline Dental Treats and Whimzees Variety Dental Cat Treats. The texture and shape of these treats scrape away plaque and tartar. Giving dental treats provides an easy way to promote oral health as part of your cat’s daily routine.

Consider Ingredients for Oral Health

When evaluating cat food ingredients for dental health, the focus should be on high-quality proteins rather than carbohydrates. Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs provide essential amino acids for strong teeth and bones while minimizing plaque buildup. In contrast, carbs from grains and vegetables can stick to teeth, allowing bacteria to thrive. Chunks and shreds are better than pâté for encouraging chewing. Some specific ingredients to look for include:

Chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, and fish like salmon, which give cats the protein they need. Meat should be the first listed ingredient.

Eggs that are rich in protein and biotin for healthy gums.

Taurine, an amino acid cats cannot synthesize, to support oral health. Many cat foods are supplemented with taurine.

Green teas and polyphenols that have natural antibacterial effects.

Serving food in chunks or pieces rather than a smooth pâté allows more chewing to scrape away plaque. Look for morsels in a sauce or shreds in gravy rather than a single soft mass.

Ingredients like omega fatty acids, probiotics, and enzymes may also promote gum health. Crunchy meal toppers can help scrape away plaque as well.

Crunchy Mix-ins

Adding freeze-dried raw or dehydrated meats and vegetable pieces can provide dental benefits for cats. The crunchy texture helps scrape plaque and tartar off teeth as cats chew. Some popular mix-in options include:

Freeze-dried raw chicken or salmon pieces – These provide protein and crunch without the mess of regular raw meat. Brands like Stella & Chewy’s and Instinct make freeze-dried options.

Dehydrated sweet potato or green bean pieces – Veggies like sweet potatoes and green beans become tooth-scraping crunchy bits when dehydrated. PureBites makes popular dehydrated veggie treats.

Dehydrated meat pieces – Look for all-natural treats made from dehydrated chicken, turkey, beef or fish. PureBites and Ziwi Peak offer single-ingredient meat options.

Try mixing in a few crunchy pieces whenever you feed wet food. The extra crunch encourages more chewing and cleans teeth naturally.

Meal Feeding

Leaving dry or wet cat food out all day for free-feeding can contribute to more dental decay over time. According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, cats that are free-fed tend to have poorer oral health compared to cats fed scheduled meals one or two times per day.

By feeding cats set meals two or three times daily rather than leaving food out at all times, you can help minimize the time food sits on their teeth. This gives less opportunity for plaque and tartar to accumulate and cause dental disease. The study showed that cats fed scheduled meals have significantly less plaque buildup and gingivitis.

Therefore, it is recommended to feed cats scheduled meal times rather than keeping the food bowl full. Feeding two or three meals per day allows the teeth to spend more time free of food and debris. Just be sure the meals are sized appropriately so the cat does not overeat. This meal feeding approach promotes better feline dental health.

Water Fountains

Using a water fountain can improve your cat’s dental health in a couple key ways. First, studies show that cats tend to drink more water when it’s flowing from a fountain versus sitting stagnant in a bowl. Drinking more water helps cats swallow food more quickly and rinse away bacteria in their mouth.

Additionally, some water fountains are designed specifically with dental health in mind. Features like circulating the water, filtration systems, and patented water patterns create a hydrating environment that reduces plaque and bacteria buildup on teeth. Products like the Drinkwell Platinum Pet Fountain use a free-falling stream to oxygenate water, while others like the Pioneer Pet Raindrop add minerals to inhibit bacterial growth.

According to veterinarians, staying hydrated plays a crucial role in overall health, including dental and kidney function. Water fountains can encourage cats to drink up to 60% more than bowls, helping wash away food debris and keep the mouth cleaner. Just be sure to clean and replace fountain filters regularly according to manufacturer instructions.

Regular Vet Cleanings

Even with a healthy diet and oral care routine at home, most cats need annual professional cleanings at the vet to fully prevent periodontal disease and other oral health issues. Vet cleanings allow for a deep cleaning below the gumline to extract plaque and tartar buildup that can’t be reached with brushing.

Professional dental cleanings are performed under anesthesia by a veterinarian and involve scaling the teeth both above and below the gumline to remove plaque and tartar. Veterinary dental cleanings also include a full oral exam, dental x-rays, and polishing of the teeth (VCA Animal Hospitals). Any signs of infection, resorptive lesions, fractures, or other issues can be identified and treated during the cleaning.

Annual dental cleanings are considered the gold standard for preventive cat dental care. While at-home care is important for maintenance in between cleanings, most cats will develop some amount of tartar and gum disease each year that requires the deep cleaning capabilities of a professional veterinarian (Forbes). Regular vet cleanings can help avoid more intensive dental surgery later on and keep your cat’s teeth healthy into old age.

Brushing Teeth

Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is considered the gold standard for optimal dental health, but it can be challenging to regularly brush your cat’s teeth.

Use a soft, small-headed toothbrush designed for pets, along with an enzymatic pet toothpaste. There are special finger toothbrushes that allow you to slip your finger into a rubber cover to gently brush the teeth. Only use toothpastes formulated for pets, as human toothpaste contains ingredients that can upset your cat’s stomach.

To brush your cat’s teeth:

  • Apply a small amount of pet toothpaste to the toothbrush.
  • Gently rub the brush in a circular motion along the gumline, focusing especially on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Go slowly and keep sessions brief, about 30 seconds on each side of the mouth, when first getting your cat accustomed to brushing.
  • Over time, work up to brushing for 2-3 minutes total, multiple times per week for full dental care benefits.
  • Offer your cat praise and rewards to create positive associations.

Talk to your veterinarian if you have any difficulties with the tooth brushing process. With time and positive reinforcement, most cats can adapt to an oral hygiene routine.

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