Did you know that February is National Pet Dental Health Month, sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)? Now is the perfect time to schedule your cat's dental cleaning with your vet. You can also take steps at home to maintain your cat's dental health. A range of products are available to help keep your cat's teeth clean, from dental treats to cat-sized toothbrushes. Your local pet store also may stock toothpaste made specifically for cats, usually fish or chicken flavored, as well as gentle rubber toothbrushes that fit over your fingertip.
Brush Those Pearly Whites
Yes, you can brush your cat's teeth! No matter what your cat's age, you can make regular brushing a part of his routine by gradually introducing the process. If your pet is a kitten, introducing the process at a young age will help make it an accepted part of your pet's daily routine. Before you begin, make sure you have the right equipment. You'll need a toothbrush and toothpaste made specifically for your cat. Some people find it easier to use the fingertip brushes, while some cats enjoy chewing on the toothbrush. Either type of brush will work. A side note here: Be sure to use a toothbrush and toothpaste made specifically for cats. Do not use toothpaste formulated for humans. When introducing your cat to brushing, the key is to remain calm and take it slow. If you become stressed, your cat will pick up on your mood and become stressed, too. Let her set the pace--let her jump off your lap if she struggles the first few times. You don't want her to associate the routine with negative experiences. With that in mind, get that toothbrush and toothpaste ready! You need just a small, pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the brush. When the brush is prepared, hold your cat on your lap and gently pet her, so she knows that this will be something pleasant. When she is comfortable and relaxed, gently lift up the top gum on one side of her mouth. If she pulls back or struggles against this, relax your hold and pet her again until she relaxes. Again, you don't want to force the process, because you don't want your cat to associate toothbrushing with being held against her will. Lift up her lip again, and begin stroking the brush down away from the gums. You may want to let your cat taste the toothpaste--it will likely help encourage her to keep her mouth open. When you are ready for the bottom teeth, you may need to gently squeeze open her mouth. Again, brush away from the gums, this time in an upward movement. Work your way around her entire mouth. While you don't need to rinse your cat's mouth, make sure her water bowl has plenty of fresh water. The first few times you attempt the process, your cat may struggle before you've brushed all of her teeth. Don't force the session. Maintaining a calm, gentle attitude will help her accept future brushing sessions. Ideally, you should brush your cat's teeth every day, but even a few times a week will go a long way toward ensuring your cat's dental health. Choose a time of day when you are both relaxed and are not rushed.
In Between Brushings
Many companies offer other products that can help you care for your cat's teeth. One such product, dental treats, are formulated to help reduce plaque and tartar by encouraging your cat to chew repeatedly. The treats may contain enzymes to further help break down plaque. If your cat doesn't seem to chew these types of treats thoroughly, you may want to use another product to help her dental health. Similarly, some companies now offer dental diets. The kibble in these foods breaks up easily, meaning more small pieces abrade the surfaces of the cat's teeth, helping to dislodge tartar buildup. If your cat enjoys chewing in general, she may benefit from a dental chew toy. These typically are made of hard rubber or nylon with areas that are raised or grooved. When the cat chews the toy, the ridges and grooves massage the gums and help dislodge plaque. Still another product is a dental rinse, which is usually added to a cat's water. The rinse is formulated to help prevent plaque buildup while also breaking down existing tartar. With all dental products, look for those that display a seal from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). The council evaluates such products to ensure they meet their claims and reduce plaque and tartar by a certain amount.
Finally, to ensure the best dental health for your cat, schedule a cleaning once a year with your vet. During this procedure, your vet will take x-rays, thoroughly examine all of your cat's teeth, and clean the teeth, especially along the gum line where periodontal disease often occurs. The teeth also will be scaled and polished, discouraging future plaque buildup.