The Purrfect Diet for Cats with Dental Problems


Dental disease is extremely common in cats, with studies estimating that between 50-90% of cats over 4 years old suffer from some form of dental problem ( Periodontal disease, tooth resorption, and tooth decay can all cause pain, tooth loss, and serious health complications if left untreated. Providing proper dental care through diet is crucial for preventing issues from developing or worsening.

Feline dental health largely depends on providing the right nutrition from kittenhood through the senior years. Cats have unique oral health needs compared to other pets, and their food can either contribute to dental disease or help avoid it. Diet is one of the most important preventative measures owners can take to maintain their cat’s dental health and quality of life long-term.

Dry vs Wet Food

There is much debate over whether dry or wet cat food is better for dental health. Dry food is often touted as being able to clean teeth and reduce plaque buildup as the cat chews. However, recent research has questioned this assumption.

A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry in 2015 compared the dental health of cats fed dry and wet food. It found that “cats fed a wet diet had significantly fewer plaques and tartar accumulation than cats fed a dry diet” ( The researchers concluded that “dietary moisture seems to be more important than tooth-brushing abrasion from dry food in maintaining dental health.”

One reason is that dry food does not provide enough abrasion as cats swallow it whole rather than chewing thoroughly. Wet food also contains more moisture, which helps neutralize plaque acids. However, some dental diet kibbles are designed with larger pieces, fibrous textures, and special coatings to enhance the cleaning effect.

Overall, while dry food may provide some dental benefits from chewing, wet food’s high moisture content seems more beneficial for reducing plaque buildup and promoting dental health.

Prescription Dental Diets

Prescription dental diets are formulated especially for pets with dental issues. These foods are designed to reduce tartar buildup and plaque and promote oral health. Prescription dental diets have a modified texture and kibble size to aid in chewing and cleaning. They also contain ingredients that support healthy gums and reduce bacteria growth in the mouth. Some of the key differences in prescription dental diets are:

  • Smaller kibble size – The smaller pieces are easier for cats with sore mouths to chew and swallow.
  • Softer texture – A softer crunch helps clean teeth surfaces without being too hard.
  • Low carbohydrates – Lower carbs mean less plaque and tartar buildup.
  • Added vitamins – Ingredients like vitamin C support gum health.
  • Antioxidants – Antioxidants reduce inflammation and fight bacteria growth.

Some of the most commonly prescribed dental diets for cats include Hills Prescription Diet t/d and Royal Canin Dental. These foods are only available with a veterinarian’s prescription. Be sure to follow your vet’s recommendations closely when feeding a prescription diet.

Dental Diet Kibble

While dental chews and treats can help clean cats’ teeth, one of the most effective ways to maintain your cat’s dental health through diet is by feeding them prescription dental kibble. Dental kibbles are specially formulated dry foods designed to help prevent plaque buildup and reduce gingivitis. As your cat chews the kibble, the unique shape and texture help scrape away tartar and slow the formation of plaque.

Most dental kibbles contain ingredients to control bacteria in the mouth. For example, some brands use sodium hexametaphosphate, which prevents calcium in your cat’s saliva from binding with plaque on the teeth. Other dental diet kibbles include additives like delmopinol hydrochloride and zinc ascorbate to inhibit plaque formation. Both ingredients have antimicrobial effects.

Compared to regular kibble, dental diet kibbles are also usually larger in size and may have a specialized shape. Larger kibbles require more chewing, which helps scrape the teeth, while specialized shapes like ridges and grooves provide extra friction and contact with the tooth surface for cleaning. Overall, dental kibble provides mechanical abrasion to control plaque while also reducing bacteria in the mouth through its unique formulations.

Canned Food

Canned cat food can be a good option for cats with dental issues. The soft texture of canned food is easier for cats with sensitive teeth and gums to eat. Canned food does not require much chewing, putting less stress on sore teeth and inflamed gums. This makes canned food an appealing choice for cats experiencing tooth and gum pain when eating.

Additionally, canned cat food typically has high moisture content. The added water content helps keep cats hydrated, which is important for oral health. Dehydration can worsen dental diseases. The moisture provided by canned food helps stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize harmful bacteria and flush food particles from the teeth.

Canned food formulations are also less likely to accumulate tartar and plaque on the teeth compared to dry kibble. The soft texture does not scrape and wear down the tooth enamel either. For cats with dental issues, a diet of wet food can help minimize further dental problems. Be sure to choose canned cat food designed for dental health, with label statements about oral care benefits.

Raw Food Diets

Some pet owners choose to feed their cats raw food diets to help improve dental health. Raw diets consist of uncooked meats, bones, fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients. According to Fetching Foods, raw diets can significantly benefit dental health because the raw bones help clean teeth and massage gums as the cat chews. The meat and bones are also softer than kibble, putting less stress on teeth.

However, raw diets do come with some risks. There is a small chance of bacteria like salmonella being present in raw meats. Proper food handling and preparation is essential. Consult with your veterinarian before switching to a raw food diet, as it may not be suitable for every cat. Make sure to follow portion guidelines and feed a nutritionally complete raw diet.

Avoiding Hard Chews

Hard chews and bones can be dangerous for cats with dental problems. According to experts, weight-bearing bones like beef marrow bones are too hard and dense for cats to chew safely (Source). The hardness puts extra strain on their weakened teeth and can result in fractures. Additionally, bones can splinter and cause lacerations or obstructions in the mouth or digestive tract.

It’s best to avoid any treats marketed as ‘dental chews’ or bones for cats with dental issues. Look for softer treats made of 100% meat with no by-products. Freeze-dried meat like chicken breast or beef liver are safer options. You can also try meat-based pastes that cats can lick. Just be sure to monitor your cat closely when introducing any new treats.


Staying well-hydrated is critical for cats with dental problems. Water helps flush food particles and bacteria from the mouth, reducing plaque buildup and preventing infection. Dehydration can exacerbate dental issues by allowing plaque to accumulate and harden on the teeth and gums.

Make sure your cat always has access to fresh, clean water. Consider using a cat fountain or filtered water to encourage drinking. You can also add dental water additives to your cat’s water to support dental health. Products like Oratene contain enzymes that help prevent plaque buildup and freshen breath.

Aim for your cat to drink at least 2-4 ounces of water per pound of body weight daily. Monitor your cat’s water intake and hydration status, and consult your vet if you have concerns.

Regular Vet Checkups

Cats with dental disease should receive professional cleanings and regular checkups with their veterinarian. Professional dental cleanings require anesthesia so the vet can fully clean the teeth above and below the gumline, as well as take dental x-rays to check for issues below the surface (1). Most cats need a professional dental cleaning once a year.

During regular vet visits, the vet will examine the teeth and mouth for signs of plaque, tartar buildup, gum disease, tooth decay, or other issues. The vet may recommend a professional dental cleaning if they spot any problems. Monitoring your cat’s dental health will allow early treatment before advanced disease sets in (2).

Professional dental cleanings typically range from $300-800 depending on the extent of disease. While expensive, cleanings are critical for preventing infection, tooth loss, and oral pain in cats with dental issues (3). Discuss options like payment plans with your vet to manage the costs of needed dental care.


In conclusion, the ideal diet for a cat with dental problems should focus on softer, easier-to-chew foods that still provide complete and balanced nutrition. Prescription dental diets from reputable pet food companies, high-quality canned foods, and balanced homemade raw food diets are all good options. Avoid hard kibble and crunchy treats, make sure your cat stays hydrated, and have regular vet checkups to monitor dental health. With the right dietary changes, you can help your cat manage dental disease and improve their quality of life.

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