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How to clean your cat's teeth to keep it healthy

Whitney Coy is a freelance writer and editor based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She writes frequently for SheKnows, as well as several other websites. She writes on topics including parenting, pets...

Yes, you have to brush you cat's teeth — here's how to do it

Your cat is a master at cleaning its fur, but its teeth are a different matter.

Without regular brushing, bacteria and plaque build-up can lead to decay, gingivitis, receding gums and tooth loss. In fact, over 70 percent of cats over the age of 3 have dental issues. So if you want to keep its chompers intact, start a brushing routine ASAP.

Sure, you're probably nervous about the thought of wrestling a toothbrush into it's mouth. I don't blame you. Some cats barely tolerate being petted – and they're supposed to find that enjoyable. If you ease your cat into the habit, though, it can eventually become a painless (and healthy) part of your routine.

Start off slowly. Get your cat used to having a finger in its mouth. Dip your finger in chicken broth or tuna water, and let it lick it off. The second or third time you do this, try to rub your fingers over its gums.

Once you're ready to move past that step, pick up some soft gauze and a cat toothbrush (made specifically for cats) at a pet store or your veterinarian's office and some cat toothpaste.

Toothpastes for cats are made with flavors cats enjoy (think tuna and chicken), and while they won't leave their breath smelling minty fresh, they will make their teeth sparkle. Avoid using human toothpaste on your cats — they can't spit it out like you can, and the ingredients will make them sick.

After you've acquired the essentials, get your cat used to the toothpaste taste by having it lick some off of your finger. Once it's approved that, it's time to move on to the big league.

Wrap the gauze around your finger, and dip it in the toothpaste. Slowly and gently rub it over its teeth, focusing on the area nearest to the gums. For your first few sessions, it's probably safe to start with just a few teeth. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend on this until your cat lets you brush all of its teeth.

Next, it's time for the toothbrush. All of those bristles in its mouth is a big adjustment for your cat, so put some of the toothpaste or something else it likes on the brush, and let it lick it off. Then it's time to start all over and brush just a few teeth at a time until it's used to the whole process.

Some cats never accept the toothbrush, and that's OK. If your cat absolutely hates the bristles, go back to gauze and keep brushing that way.

Brush your cat's teeth every day, or at least every other day, for best results.

Brushing alternatives

Some cats just aren't into having their teeth brushed, and as you know, you can't force a cat to do anything it doesn't want to. Fortunately, there are some alternatives to brushing that can still help your cat have a healthier mouth.

Specially designed treats have an abrasive texture to clean teeth and are formulated with vitamins to help improve your cat's oral health. You should also talk with your vet about a dental formula food or water additive.

Professional teeth cleaning

If you can't find a way to clean your cat's teeth at home, you'll probably need to take it to the vet for a professional cleaning. Since this is done under anesthesia, it's not cheap, with an average price of about $300. This should be done about once a year, but your vet will recommend a timeline once he or she has evaluated your cat's mouth. Remember to take into consideration the cost of fixing any dental issues your vet may find during the procedure.

Danger signs

Even if you do manage to keep up a regular dental routine at home, you'll need to keep your eye out for any warning sign of dental distress. Make an appointment with your vet if you notice any of these symptoms:

    • Difficulty chewing food
    • Drooling
    • Loose teeth
    • Red or swollen gums
    • A dark-red line along the gums

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