How to Brush Your Cat's Teeth

Black cat getting teeth brushed with wooden finger toothbrush

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Cats have teeth that need care just like ours but most people don't think about brushing their cat's teeth like they do their own. Chewing food and toys provides some dental care but often times it isn't enough to help prevent dental issues from developing. Knowing how to brush your cat's teeth can help prevent these issues along with unnecessary pain.

How Many Teeth Do Cats Have?

Kittens will grow 26 baby teeth that will then fall out when their 30 adult teeth come in. These 30 teeth are usually in place by about six months of age and consist of four canines, twelve incisors, ten premolars, and four molars. The canine and incisor teeth may be the most noticeable teeth since they are in the front of the mouth but the premolars and molars do all of the chewing so they are the most important teeth.

Supplies Needed to Brush Your Cat's Teeth

Preparing to brush your cat's teeth will make the task easier. Some cats will require more of your patience or help sitting still while others don't seem to mind getting their teeth brushed.

  • Finger Toothbrush: A small headed toothbrush, dry Q-tip, or another item can be used to brush the a cat's teeth. Cats have small mouths and tiny teeth so a full sized toothbrush is usually too large to do what you need to do.
  • Pet Toothpaste: Toothpaste made for people not only has ingredients that can be toxic to a cat but the flavors are also not usually enticing to a feline palate. Toothpaste designed for cats will not only be safe for a cat to swallow but may help make the process more enjoyable if your cat likes the way it tastes.
  • Treats: Tasty treats such as cheese, tuna, canned cat food, shrimp or other smelly options are great rewards for a cat that isn't used to or doesn't enjoy having its teeth brushed.
  • Calming Help: Calming supplements, anxiety easing medications, sedatives, or relaxing pheromones can help ease the fear, stress, and anxiety that many cats have when it's time to have their teeth brushed. These additives to your tooth brushing regimen can eliminate the fight that many people experience when attempting to restrain their cat.
  • Towel: A blanket or towel can be used to wrap your cat up when it's time to brush its teeth. This wrapping technique helps a cat feel calm and secure and also keeps its paws from batting the toothbrush away.
Supplies to brush a cat's teeth

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Tips to Brush Your Cat's Teeth

Once you have all the materials you need to brush your cat's teeth you can actually clean your cat's teeth. A friend may be beneficial if your cat is a little wiggly but if your cat is struggling and crying you should stop trying to restrain it. This is where supplements or drugs to calm it will be needed. If your cat isn't struggling, wrapping it in a towel is still helpful to prevent accidental scratches and help provide an additional calming mechanism. Scruffing a cat is no longer recommended to restrain a cat as this actually increases their stress level.

If your cat is ready, provide it with some treats and then as you gently hold its head still, slide the toothbrush with toothpaste under the gums and brush the teeth. Once you get a few swipes of the toothbrush in offer your cat more treats and then continue brushing if necessary. Be sure to stop if your cat starts to struggle or cries.

Black cat wrapped in towel with owner holding a treat in front

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

What if You Don't Brush Your Cat's Teeth?

Just like other animals with teeth, if bacteria and food debris builds up on the teeth of a cat it can cause inflammation and infection in the mouth. If severe enough, this infection can then enter the blood stream through the blood supply in the gums and affect the internal organs of a cat. The liver, kidneys, and even the heart can be negatively affected by diseased teeth and gums.

In addition to the damage that dental disease can have on the organs of a cat, the teeth themselves can become so diseased and infected that they break, need to be extracted, or even fall out. Dental disease is painful, can cause serious health problems, bad breath, drooling, and permanently affect a cat if not addressed in a timely manner. By simply brushing your cat's teeth you can help prevent these problems from occurring.