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If you have a cat, you are probably paying a lot of attention to making sure you are feeding them the right food, using the right litter, and offering plenty of perches and toys to keep them entertained. But if you don’t just focus on your cat’s teeth, vets say that’s a big mistake. “Your cat’s mouth is the gateway to her health and comfort,” says veterinarian Liz Pallis, who tells us that more than half of cats suffer from dental disease. Just as with humans, when plaque builds up on cats’ teeth, it hardens and turns into tartar, which can lead to tooth decay, gingivitis (gingivitis), dental abscesses, and even kidney and heart infections, where bacteria can travel to various organs. from the body. blood vessels in the mouth;
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to care for your cat’s teeth to avoid illness — and expensive vet bills — down the road. As with your teeth, “regular daily dental cleaning remains the gold standard to help reduce bacteria in your cat’s mouth,” says Jamie Richardson, veterinarian and chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary. Combined with regular veterinary checkups, home care can make a huge difference to your cat’s oral health. As you can imagine, brushing your cat’s teeth isn’t exactly an easy task, so we consulted with three vets to learn more about the best products and techniques for keeping your cat’s mouth clean and healthy.
Note: When reporting on the best products for keeping dogs teeth clean, Strategist Lisa Corsello stated that she is looking for products with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval, calling them “the dog and cat equivalent of the ADA’s Seal of Approval.” While there are fewer products for cats than dogs that are VOHC approved, we’ve noted here products that fit our vets’ recommendations and are VOHC approved.
The type of toothbrush you use depends on what your cat can tolerate. “No matter which brush you choose, make sure it reaches the back teeth,” says Jessica Herman, MD, veterinarian at Fuzzy: The Pet Parent Company. Richardson recommends a baby toothbrush (like the ones above) “because they have short, easy-to-control handles and soft bristles that won’t harm delicate gums.”
Hermann says that some cats may prefer finger brushes and small rubber caps with bristles that fit your finger, giving you better control. As for the How do To actually brush your cat’s teeth, she recommends starting early (when your cat is a cat if possible) and introducing the process gradually. “Start by letting the cat just taste the toothpaste off your finger or from a plate. Then let them lick the brush. If they do, start brushing the outside of the cheeks and lips (without toothpaste) until they get used to the feel and see brushing as a fun thing,” she says. It can take days or weeks – or longer, especially for older cats – so remember to be patient and work at your cat’s pace.
There are also toothbrushes designed for pets, such as those that come in a small size suitable for cats. No matter what type of brush you end up using, vets say you don’t lose heart trying your daily brushing — and that any brushing is better than none. As Richardson says, “While it’s best to open your cat’s mouth and get the entire surface of the tooth, if you can only get to the outside of the tooth, this is the most important area where tartar builds up.” One technique to try, she says, is to start brushing your cat’s teeth while your cat is sleeping and very relaxed.
Since cats ingest their toothpaste, it is especially important to choose a non-toxic formula designed specifically for cats. In flavors like chicken or fish, they are designed to be appetizing for cats and can help make brushing easier. “You may need to try a few varieties to see which one your cat likes,” Hermann says, so don’t be discouraged if your cat doesn’t take the first variety you try. Richardson recommends Virbac, which makes several different flavors, including “Poultry.”
If your cat isn’t brushing, you can try offering a food designed for dental health. Richardson explains that Hill’s t/d Dental Care Dry Food (which is also VOHC approved) has a unique design that can help mechanically break down tartar to aid dental cleaning. It’s a prescription-only food, so you’ll need your vet’s permission to purchase it.
For over-the-counter foods, Hill’s Science Diet line makes VOHC certified dry food that works through a similar mechanism. As Bales explains, “a dental diet is made in a larger size, which requires chewing and contains fibers that loosen the teeth when they chew.”
If you are satisfied with your cat’s food but would like to add a treat that has some dental benefits, these are VOHC approved. Bales estimates that dental foods and treatments can improve cats’ oral health by up to 20 percent. Just make sure you don’t overeat. As Hermann says, “Many of these products are high in calorie density and can cause our feline friends to gain weight,” which can lead to additional health problems. Rewards should come with instructions on the correct amount of feeding depending on your cat’s weight, and you can always ask your vet to be sure.
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