Help me help my cat.
January 24, 2017 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Do you brush your cat's teeth? Can you teach me how?

I adopted this guy In October, and so far everything is going well. He's healthy, active and eating like a champ; he loves games and snuggles and he is friendly with strangers. The only thing that I don't feel like I have a handle on is oral care. He gets wet food 95% of the time, and from what I understand, this can cause dental problems later on. My local pet store has a few options (some kind of liquid that I would put into his water to soften plaque) but I thought I would see how the cat-loving hive mind has tackled this question. Do you have an oral care routine with your cat? What do you do, and how often?
posted by janepanic to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
My vet recommended this routine on youtube/Cornell for training your cat to accept tooth brushing.

It's a slow training that takes over a month of discipline, but we got them to accept it eventually.
posted by Karaage at 3:27 PM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeaaaaaah, no. I was told to try and brush my cat's teeth. Vet did not discuss this with cat and cat did not approve. Cat was pretty adamant that brushing was NOT ON.

My cats get wet food at night and crunchies in the morning. One cat is fine but the other just had 6 teeth removed. On the plus side, she won't need them removed twice!

Meanwhile I shall save my remaining pennies in case cat 2 needs the surgery.
posted by kitten magic at 3:29 PM on January 24, 2017

In my experience, unless you train them to this from tiny kittenhood, most cats are not of the opinion that tooth brushing is an acceptable form of human/cat interaction. (Ask me how I know, ugh. I still have scars.)

Greenies makes an oral care crunchy treat, and beyond that, if he won't tolerate it after a few attempts, it's best to have his teeth cleaned by a vet when necessary.

He's very cute!
posted by ananci at 3:34 PM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

My cat is pretty tolerant of brushing, but I have such a difficult time reaching all his teeth that I now just use this oral care spray. My vet said that as long as his teeth are looking good that this is fine. He's 7 now and the vet is still happy with his teeth, so yay!

He's not super thrilled with me spraying 1-2 sprays in his mouth a few times a week, but I am an evil person and secretly consider it payback for when he wakes him up in the middle of the night or pukes on my bed ;)

I tried the stuff (more than one brand) that you can put in their water to soften plaque, but cats are no dummies and mine was so pissed at me about it whenever I tried to put it down that he meowed his face off until I gave him back his tap water. (Even my not very discerning dog was extremely reluctant about it.) Considering how serious the issue of dehydration is with cats, definitely avoid doing anything that would cause them to avoid water!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 3:44 PM on January 24, 2017

I was also told to brush my kitten's teeth. Tried from a young age but as he is a compete ratfuck it was never going to be an option.

He still gets wet food but we also feed him Oral Care dry food (Science Diet but I know there are better options out there). He gets constant access to dry food which will not work for all cats.

End result is that when I finally found a vet brave enough to inspect his teeth late last year we were told that they were in excellent condition for his age (5 years). Which was welcome news as I had been considering paying to get him sedated just to get his teeth cleaned.

Tldr- we have had excellent results feeding our arsehole cat oral care dry food in addition to wet.
posted by arha at 4:59 PM on January 24, 2017

I've tried but its very difficult to get my cat to go along with it. He does have bad dental health and needs full cleanings and has had a few teeth removed over the past few years.

Switching to dry food has helped some, along with dental treats, but if your cat is predisposed to dental problems that isn't always enough.

I alternate between doing it sometimes and then giving up, especially because he seems so distressed during it (on the other hand, now he ends up being sedated for full cleaning once a year which is also stressful... :( )
posted by thefoxgod at 5:07 PM on January 24, 2017

I'm kind of glad I didn't bother with my Siamese cat, because at the age of eighteen her teeth are still in fine shape without it. That's unusual, though. I tried and failed to teach my last pair of young kittens to accept brushing with chicken-flavored toothpaste. I wasn't sufficiently motivated. But after sedating another cat for tooth cleaning and to get one fang removed, I am determined to try again with any kittens I get in the future. I doubt it is possible to train an older cat to accept it.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 5:27 PM on January 24, 2017

I'm only adding this since you mention having heard that wet food causes dental problems, but dry food is actually not better in this regard. I did some quick googling and came up with this article:

Basically, cats end up swallowing a lot of the kibble whole, so it doesn't really clean their teeth. And the lack of moisture is really bad for them.

In the wild, cats' teeth are cleaned by chewing on raw bones. So transitioning your cat to a raw food diet that includes non-cooked bones might be one alternative. I've never been able to manage that, personally (nor the teeth cleaning), so I also budget for tooth cleanings at the vet.
posted by whistle pig at 5:36 PM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Our vet recommended regular tooth brushing at one appointment and was quite surprised at the next appointment to find out that we'd succeeded. (We do have an unusually biddable cat; I've also trained her to sit on command.) Based on the vet's response I'd guess that it is worth a shot and not worth getting too worked up over.

We scruff her or get her backed up against us, tilt her head back, swish the little kitty toothbrush around as long as she will stand it, and lavish her with dental treats and pets.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:02 PM on January 24, 2017

Best answer: I just bought this cat toothbrush set for my kitten, Richard. My Big Cat had a serious infection in his mouth when he was trapped as a stray, and consequently all of his teeth needed to be extracted. He does fine without them, but to spare Richard the pain of infected teeth (and myself the expense of extracting said infected teeth), I decided to start early with the brushing.

The kit I linked comes with a gigantic tube of "poultry flavor" toothpaste, a toothbrush with large and small heads, and a thing I'm evidently supposed to coat with delicious chickeny toothpaste, place on my finger, and cram into the mouth of the cat. From there, the cat's frantic attempt to remove my finger from its adjoining hand and/or claw out my eyeballs distributes the toothpaste around his mouth and hopefully gets some of the the gunge off of his teeth.

So far, I have had more success with the fingertip brush. Considering that I can't even get the toothbrush within a yard or so of his face, I consider it a work in progress.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:03 PM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

We also used the Cornell method linked above. Our cat is surprisingly laid-back about it now, though he clearly doesn't enjoy it. He's pretty food-oriented, though, and he likes the taste of the poultry toothpaste. I try to make it fast and let him lick a bit of extra toothpaste off the brush when we're done.
posted by fussbudget at 8:06 PM on January 24, 2017

Best answer: Our cat gnaws on the grooming arch we got her; she pulls it down and chews on the little plastic bristles (which stay attached or we wouldn't let her do it.). This seems to act like a toothbrush and floss. The vet says her teeth are pretty good.
posted by Hypatia at 9:12 PM on January 24, 2017

I tried to accustom my cat Kaylee to brushing when I first got her as a seven month old. Ended up with a pissed off kitty and chicken flavored toothpaste in her fur. Fortunately she has had good teeth so far and is now almost 12 years old. My other cat Nimbus however, didn't hit the genetic lottery and has had several infected teeth removed at age 11. I have tried some no brush dental gels to squirt in his mouth, but that hasn't gone over very well either. They do both get Greenies, which is about all the dental care they seem to tolerate. A savings account for vet bills has helped so the cleanings are not such a pinch.
posted by weathergal at 1:19 AM on January 25, 2017

Yup our cats are pretty mellow and very much "pets" and we started brushing their teeth as they hit middle age. They don't like it, but my husband would come up behind them and sort of squat over them so they couldn't run and just... do it. The CET toothbrush linked to above is helpful, but the real game changer was the delicious chicken flavoured toothpaste! We also switched from normal crunchies to Science Diet(?) TD special stuff for teeth - one of them would swallow normal crunchies whole, but the TD is bigger and must be chewed.

Also, if your cat is interested half a raw chicken neck a couple times a week is good, low fat, and really gets their teeth scraped clean. The chicken necks work really well, and are cheap too. We just reduced the amount of wet food a bit on chicken neck nights. All in all, this was cheapest, easiest, and most effective of what we tried.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:52 AM on January 25, 2017

My vet showed me how to remove built-up plaque with a thumbnail. You kind of open one side of the cat's lips, put your thumbnail on the tooth near the gumline, and push downward to scrape off the plaque. It's kind of hard and flakey and comes off in little chunks. Very quick and not particularly distressing for my cat, who I'm sure would never accept actual tooth-brushing.
posted by embrangled at 3:12 AM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

i'm sorry, but i require more pictures of this adorable, personality filled cat!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:34 AM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, my kitty is 15 and still has all her teeth, and they're in great shape. I've never once brushed them (I value the possession of my fingers), and she eats soft and hard food. So unless your kitty is showing signs of problems, I'd leave it alone and rest easy.
posted by jhope71 at 10:11 AM on January 25, 2017

He is precious! Those little socks! /swoon

Anyway, yep, get him to chew on stuff. I poke my cat around his mouth with a cat toothbrush and that is enough to get him to start inquisitively chewing on it, so I can get a little brushing action in while he chews. I find with kittens and younger cats they just love chewing.

They also make dental chews like these ones that smell like a demon's armpit but are somehow really attractive and fun for cats to chew on. Greenies treats are also a nice reward that are designed to get cats chewing on them and using their teeth.
posted by capricorn at 10:44 AM on January 25, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses. I have a lot to think about! He loves chewing ALL THE THINGS so I feel confident that I could convince him to gnaw on a toothbrush.

Here he is looking out my bedroom window.
posted by janepanic at 1:37 PM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

My previous vet told me to use a soft-bristled human toothbrush, and suggested using one of the free ones given out by dentists. She said not to bother with toothpaste, and to focus on the upper back teeth and not worry about the rest.

I've been doing my two cats' teeth for about a year and a half since then. They were two years old when I started. They don't love it, but they know they get treats after, so they tolerate it. I think it would be harder if they weren't food motivated.
posted by lazuli at 10:03 PM on January 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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