The Complete Guide To Dental Cleaning For Cats

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Veterinarian inspecting a cat's teeth - cat dental cleaning featured image

As humans, we have long been aware of the importance of dental hygiene. In our feline fur-riends however, this is often overlooked. You never see a lion in the wild flossing after a snack!

Despite this oversight, our feline pets’ oral health is intrinsically linked with their overall health and wellness. Animals are unable to tell us when they’re feeling unwell or have a toothache.

Thus it’s our responsibility as pet paw-rents to maintain preventative health routines for our kitties.

Why You Should Clean Your Cat’s Teeth?

We don’t see any of the wild felines brushing their teeth regularly. They actually maintain their good oral hygiene through chewing on bones or tough grasses.

Neither of these are really options available to many pets. As a vet, I have seen many patients with dental disease or gingivitis. It often surprises owners just now soon these can develop in a young cat’s life.

In fact, periodontal disease can affect up to 70% of pet cats by the age of three. This is in comparison to less than 20% of wild cats in one study (Whyte, et al., 2018). Signs that your pet may be suffering from dental disease or oral pain include bad breath, drooling, facial swelling, or rubbing their face.

You train your kitten to use the litter tray and be groomed. Kittens can also be trained to accept having their teeth brushed. Some older cats will allow it with patience and some tasty treats. The act of brushing helps to maintain your kitty’s oral hygiene.

You get the added benefit of looking in your cat’s mouth to assess their dental and gingival (gum) health. Thus you’re likely to spot potential problems early on and start treatment, if needed, as soon as possible. This is beneficial for both your cat and your wallet.

Ways To Clean A Cat’s Teeth

There are many gadgets and gizmos on the market to help clean your feline’s canines. So many in fact, that you may be struggling to decide what may work best for your kitty.

Just remember, that as with most pet supplies, the human version isn’t necessarily suitable. This is definitely true when it comes to human dental products such as toothpaste.

Human toothpaste generally contains added fluoride and may contain artificial flavors or sweeteners such as xylitol which is highly toxic to our pets. Plus minty fresh tingling may not be the feeling your kitty yearns for after their breakfast of tuna-flavored, kitty crunchies with gravy.

How To Clean Your Cat’s Teeth At Home?

Cat teeth cleaning with a pink finger brush

Home dental cleaning is an important part of maintaining your cat’s dental health.

Cleaning your pet’s teeth doesn’t have to be an intensive process and the ever-expanding array of products means that you’re certain to find the best method for your situation and lifestyle.

1. Dental Gels And Toothpaste

There are many dental toothpastes and gels specifically formulated for pets. Some of these are often available in unappetizing (to us humans) flavors such as sausage and cheese or prawn and salmon.

The majority of cats actually prefer these flavors which help to take some of the stress out of brushing time. Many of these can be used with a range of toothbrushes or finger sleeves and some are even suitable for solo use.

Specially formulated gels containing enzymes that kill the bugs contributing to plaque and tartar build-up are available. These gels tend to be designed for daily application but don’t need “brushing” as with other toothpastes.

Read More: Best Cat Toothpaste

2. Toothbrushes

A sturdy toothbrush with a suitably sized bristle is best for your kitty’s mouth. If your feline is still a growing kitten you should consider choosing a natural fiber as they may chew on the bristles when you start the process.

There are also some “finger sleeve” brushes available that are designed for applying dental gels.

Read More: Best Cat Toothbrushes

3. Dental Treats

If your kitty is adamant that no brush will touch their delicate, pearly whites then there are a huge range of dental treats from which to choose. It’s important to remember though that many of these treats can be high in fat and calories which may not be suitable for kitties that are overweight or have some health issues.

These treats can reward your healthy and active cat while helping to maintain your pet’s fresh breath and oral hygiene.

Read More: Best Cat Dental Treats

4. Dental Toys

Dental toys are another great option to help maintain your cat’s dental health while also providing exercise and mental stimulation. Some of these have a net-like material that can act similarly to dental floss for humans.

Other toys may contain pet-safe natural fibers to encourage chewing behavior. Always monitor your pet’s play. Remove broken or damaged toys to prevent anything untoward from happening to your pet.

5. Dental Diets

Nutritionally balanced, prescription dental diets generally contain kibbles of varying shapes and sizes to encourage chewing while providing mild abrasion to the tooth surfaces, removing plaque that can build up. These diets are an excellent inclusion to your kitty’s dental program.

Professional Cat Dental Care

Professional cat teeth cleaning

Professional cat teeth cleaning is essential for removing tartar and keeping your cat’s teeth and gums in good condition.

Rigorous and diligent tooth brushing and preventative care aren’t sufficient for cats. Professional dental cleaning by your veterinarian is an important part of their care.

Even some younger kitties need professional dental cleaning from time-to-time. We can’t simply ask our feline side-kicks to open wide while we set to work. Therefore, cats need a general anesthetic for a complete oral examination and thorough clean.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • Your veterinarian needs to be able to fully visualize your kitty’s mouth. This allows for a thorough inspection of any cavities or evidence of gum disease.
  • The many nooks and crannies in cats’ teeth take time to clean properly. Patience isn’t a well-known trait in most kitties.
  • The anesthetic allows the protection of your kitty’s airway as well. A special tube is placed in your pet’s airway when under anesthetic. This tube delivers anesthetic gas and oxygen. The tube also prevents any debris during the cleaning process from being aspirated into your kitty’s lungs. Inhaling debris increases the risk of your pet developing pneumonia. Sedation is rarely enough for a thorough clean unless your kitty cannot undergo anesthesia for health reasons. This is because, unlike anesthesia, sedation doesn’t provide the same airway protection.


Dental care is an essential part of your kitty’s home health management plan. Dental health is important, not just to prevent cavities but also to prevent other health problems.

Did you know that poor dental health or gum disease can actually contribute to life-threatening illnesses? These include organ failure and heart disease.

Taking a multi-modal approach toward your kitty’s dental care will maximize the benefits for your pet. Use a selection of dental treats, toys and brushing at home. Coupling this with periodic cleaning under anesthesia will help your pet to maintain a healthy mouth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do cats really need teeth cleaning?

Yes, even wild cats maintain their oral hygiene through chewing on bones and fibrous grasses. This helps to minimize the build-up of plaque and tartar on their teeth. Modern diets for our pet cats don't provide these same opportunities. Pet paw-rents need to provide additional assistance to our pets to help maintain their healthy bite.

How much does it cost to have cats’ teeth cleaned?

The cost of professional teeth cleaning will vary depending on where you live. You should expect to pay at least $180 for thorough cleaning under anesthetic in most cities. This cost will increase if your pet needs blood work, dental fillings, radiographs (x-rays), or extractions. Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with a personalized estimate for your cat.

How often should a cat's teeth be professionally cleaned?

Annual check-ups and a dental clean is advised, as a general rule. This allows your vet to thoroughly assess your pet’s teeth and instigate any treatments or more aggressive preventative methods to protect your cat’s gums and teeth.

What to expect after cat teeth cleaning?

Your pet will have undergone an anesthetic for their procedure. You can expect that they may be sleepy and lethargic for the following 24-hours. Some pets may also have reduced appetite the following day. Offering small amounts of their favorite, soft food helps to encourage eating. If these signs persist or you have any concerns, then you should contact your veterinarian.

View Sources

Whyte, A, A. Gracia, C. Bonastre, M.T. Tejedor, J. Whyte, L.V. Monteagudo & C. Simón (2017). Oral disease and microbiota in free-roaming cats. Top. Companion Anim. Med. 32(3) pp

About Edele Grey, BSc (Hons), MVB (Hons), Cert ESM (Hons), CertAVP, MRCVS

Graduating in 2013, Edele has had a passion for writing and education, further stimulated during the completion of an Internship in Equine Medicine and Surgery within the University of Liverpool’s Equine Hospital, UK. Since graduation, she has continued to write for scientific journals and websites primarily aimed towards maximizing the pet-owner bond and welfare through education accessible to everyone.

3 thoughts on “The Complete Guide To Dental Cleaning For Cats

  1. David

    Something in your website information is hazardous because I clicked on dental treats to learn more and my curser immediately seized up. It finally freed itself and within seconds it seized again and that happens when there’s a virus or malware trying to install itself. You need to check your links!!

  2. Donna M Israel

    I have just recently become unemployed, and previously adopted a 3 month old kitten. Please tell me how I can best see to her dental health in my curent curcumsrtances.

    Thank you
    Donna Israel

    1. Mallory Crusta

      Fortunately, a kitten at that age shouldn’t have any dental issues. The cheapest way to care for her teeth would be to take a damp washcloth and gently rub it against her teeth. This will help to acclimate her to the feeling of having her teeth brushed while gently removing anything that may have accumulated there. Once you have a little more cashflow, you might invest in a tube of enzymatic toothpaste. Enzadent is the most affordable brand I’m aware of. I know being unemployed can be stressful, and preventive care could easily slip down your priority list, so it’s wonderful that you’re still making an effort to take care of your kitten’s dental health during this time. Take care.


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