Senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson has covered everything from stocking up a medicine cabinet to adopting a pet. She is particularly passionate about running (she worked in a running shop) and cat furniture
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If you have a cat, you probably pay very close attention to feeding them the right litter, and providing them with plenty of perches and toys to keep them entertained. But unless you focus that much on your cat’s teeth, veterinarians say this is a huge mistake. “Your cat’s mouth is the gateway to their health and wellbeing,” says veterinarian Liz Bales, who tells us that more than half of cats suffer from dental disease. Just like in humans, plaque on cats’ teeth hardens into tartar, which can lead to cavities, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), abscessed teeth, and even kidney and heart infections, as bacteria can migrate from the earth to various organs and blood vessels in the mouth.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to take care of your cat’s teeth to avoid illness and expensive vet bills. As with your own teeth, “Regular daily brushing remains the gold standard for reducing the bacteria in your cat’s mouth,” said Jamie Richardson, veterinarian and chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary. In addition to regular veterinary exams, home care can make a big difference in your cat’s oral health. As you can imagine, brushing a writhing cat’s teeth is not exactly an easy task. That’s why we consulted with three vets to learn about the best products and techniques to keep your cat’s mouth clean and healthy.
Note: When strategist writer Liza Corsillo reported on the best products for keeping dogs’ teeth clean, she mentioned finding products with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval, calling it “the dog and cat equivalent of the ADA” Seal of approval. “Although there are fewer products for cats than for dogs that have been accepted by the VOHC, we have indicated here which products both meet the recommendations of our veterinarians and are approved by the VOHC.
The type of toothbrush you use will depend on what your cat can handle. “Whichever brush you choose, make sure it can reach your back teeth,” says Jessica Hermann, veterinarian at Fuzzy: The Pet Parent Company. Richardson recommends baby toothbrushes (like the one above) “because they have short, easy-to-control handles and soft bristles that won’t damage the delicate gingiva.”
Hermann says some cats may prefer finger brushes, small rubber caps with bristles that fit over your finger and give you better control. As for how to actually brush your cats’ teeth, she recommends starting early (if your cat is a kitten, if possible) and introducing the process gradually. “For now, just let the cat taste the toothpaste from your finger or a bowl. Then let her lick it off the brush. If they let it, brush the outside of the cheeks and lips (without toothpaste) so they get used to the feeling and see the brush as something pleasant, ”she says. It can take days or weeks – or longer, especially with older cats – so remember to be patient and work at your cat’s pace.
There are also pet toothbrushes like this one that come in a small size that is good for cats. Regardless of which brush you end up using, veterinarians say that trying to prepare for your daily brushing shouldn’t be discouraged – and that any brush is better than none. As Richardson says, “While it’s ideal to open your cat’s mouth and get the entire surface of the tooth, the most important area tartar builds up is if you can only get the outsides of the teeth.” She says one technique that you should try is brushing while your cat is sleeping and in a very relaxed state.
Since cats swallow their toothpaste, it’s especially important to choose a non-toxic formula that is specifically designed for cats. In flavors like chicken or fish, these are designed to be appetizing for cats and make brushing easier. “You may have to try a few strains to see which your cat prefers,” says Hermann. So don’t be discouraged if your cat doesn’t use the first strain you try. Richardson recommends Virbac, which makes a few different flavors, including this “poultry”.
If your cat isn’t getting brushed, you can try introducing foods that are designed for dental health. Richardson states that Hill’s t / d Dental Care dry food (also VOHC approved) has a uniquely shaped nibble design that “can help mechanically break down tartar to keep teeth clean”. However, since it is a prescription food, you will need your veterinarian’s approval to purchase it.
For foods that don’t require a prescription, the Hill’s Science Diet line makes a VOHC-approved dry food that works through a similar mechanism. As Bales explains, “A dental diet is done with a larger size nibble that requires chewing and contains fibers that scrape off teeth when chewed.”
If you’re happy with your cat’s food but want to add a treatment that offers some dental benefits, these are VOHC approved. Bales estimates that tooth foods and treats can improve cats’ oral health by up to 20 percent. Just make sure you don’t overfeed treats. As Hermann says: “Many of these products have a high calorie density and can lead to increased weight gain in our cat friends”, which can lead to additional health problems. Treats should include instructions on the correct amount of food, based on your cat’s weight. You can always ask your vet for safety.
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