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Do You Really Need to Use a Cat Toothbrush on Your Kitty? Here’s What a Vet Says

We all know the importance of brushing our teeth twice a day, but what about brushing our cats’ teeth? Sure, attempting to get a kitty to sit still for long enough to use a special cat toothbrush doesn’t sound like much fun, but when you consider the fact that they often have stinky breath after scarfing down a bowl of wet food, it does seem like an occasional brush could be a smart idea. So, how does brushing your cat’s teeth work? And do you actually need to do it, or is it one of those things you can put off? We got the answers from a vet.

Do you actually need to brush your cat’s teeth?

“You do not have to brush the teeth of a cat, but there are many health benefits that are possible if you do,” says Grant Little, DVM, a veterinarian and expert for JustAnswer. He explains that there are four main reasons to get out the toothbrush:

  1. Disease prevention. Brushing your cat’s teeth “helps reduce the risk of periodontal disease from excessive tarter, plaque and bacteria under the gumline,” says Dr. Little.
  2. Preservation. Regular brushing can also “help preserve the teeth more long term,” he says, which is particularly important given that aging cats sometimes need teeth pulled.
  3. Pain relief. No one wants their kitty to be in pain, and toothbrushing can help. As Dr. Little notes, “with less periodontal disease comes less gingivitis and pain in the mouth when eating.”
  4. Freshening breath. “Brushing can reduce the foul odor of dental disease that emits from the mouth,” he says, which makes things more pleasant for both you and your cat.
A woman brushes a cat's teeth with a toothbrush

How often to brush your cat’s teeth

“It is recommended to brush your cat’s teeth daily, if possible,” says Dr. Little. But let’s face it, most cat owners are unlikely to get out the toothbrush that often. To that end, Dr. Little notes that “even several times a week can give benefits,” and that while some toothbrushing is better than nothing, “the more often you do it, the more you reduce health risks.”

Related: How to Trim Cat Nails: Vets Reveal the Secrets to Make It Stress-Free for Everyone

Close up of tabby cat smelling cat toothbrush before brushing

Cat toothbrush hacks

If you have a cute kitten, you can set them up for a lifetime of healthy teeth. “Many people wait to try a toothbrush until their cats are older and already have dental disease and pain,” says Dr. Little. This ultimately makes things more difficult for everyone, as a cat suffering from dental disease isn’t going to be too excited about having their mouth poked and prodded. As Dr. Little points out, “If you start young, you’re more able to get them accustomed to it.” That said, if you missed that step and have an older cat, it’s still worth trying.

Related: Cleaning Cat Ears: Vet And Groomer Explain How to Do It Without Triggering a Hissy Fit

No cat is going to enjoy getting their teeth brushed, but there are ways to make it slightly more pleasant. Dr. Little recommends using a finger toothbrush that’s gentler and easier to maneuver than a traditional brush with bristles. “The benefit of the slip-on finger toothbrush is that it mimics rubbing their face around the cheek while you’re able to sneak the finger in and rub around the gum line to remove plaque and tartar that is accumulating,” he says 

Woman using finger cat toothbrush on white and gray cat

He also suggests using a toothpaste in a cat-approved flavor like fish or meat to make things more palatable. These cat-specific toothpastes are also safe for them to swallow. And of course, once you’re done you should give your cat a treat (some treats are even made specifically to freshen their teeth).

The benefits of a cat toothbrush

“Dental disease is very common in cats, and most of it can be avoided with good at-home dental care,” says Dr. Little. Not brushing your cat’s teeth can lead to possible pain and issues with their chompers down the line. Getting your cat to open up and say ahh isn’t necessarily the most enjoyable activity, but like cutting your cat’s nails, it’s a task that ultimately can save both you and your feline friend from frustration.

Read on for more about cats!

How to Stop a Cat From Scratching — Cat Behaviorist Jackson Galaxy’s Best Advice

Wondering How to Train a Cat to Use the Toilet? What to Know Before You Ever Start

Study: You’re Likely Not Cleaning Your Pet’s Bowls Enough — Vet Explains Why It Matters, Especially If You Feed Them This Food

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