The best time to introduce dental hygiene and teeth brushing to your cat or kitten is when he or she is relatively young. If you have an older cat, or if your cat already has tooth decay or bad breath, don’t get discouraged. Any cat can learn to accept the practice of dental hygiene if they find it to be a rewarding experience, and many cat dental problems are reversible with a little bit of care and attention. Read on to learn more about how to safely and effectively establish your cat’s dental regimen.

How to introduce dental hygiene to cats:

Messing around inside a cat’s mouth is invasive. Your cat doesn’t understand what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it. You really need to go slow, be gentle, and practice patience. Remember that cats respond to routine and reward, so start small, be consistent, and reward handsomely. Use non-food treats as rewards, like catnip or cat grass that won’t undo the work you’re trying to do. Pick a treat your cat gets really excited about. A cat may not particularly love having her teeth brushed, but if she knows it leads to catnip, she may be willing to tolerate it just to get the reward. Eventually, she may look forward to it. You could even reward with a favorite toy or special play time if that’s what your cat loves.

Use the following cat dental hygiene schedule as a guide for integrating dental care seamlessly into your cat’s life. If your cat is older, you can still use the pace of this schedule to introduce new habits. Just ignore the age labels and start by introducing enzyme toothpaste.

Cat dental care:

Kittens, 0-1 years old: During the first year of your kitten’s life, he will shed his baby teeth as new adult teeth come in. Teething can be uncomfortable and you will notice some redness around his gums as adult teeth grow in and push the baby teeth out. This process is usually complete by about six months of age. Once teeth are firmly in place, you can begin to introduce enzyme toothpaste. Enzymatic toothpaste is a specially formulated toothpaste made for cats. It’s safe to swallow and works by dissolving food off of your cat’s teeth. Human toothpaste, on the the other hand, often contains fluoride, which works by hardening enamel and should not be ingested. Never use fluoridated or human toothpastes on an animal because it can make them sick.

Kittens, 1-2 years old: The second year of your kitten’s life is when you should introduce finger tool brushing and tooth brushing. See How to Brush your Cat’s Teeth for full instructions. By the time your cat is two years old, you should be brushing on a regular basis.

Mature adult cats: As your cat progresses into its later years, teeth can become more sensitive to pressure and chewing. If you’ve maintained good dental hygiene throughout your cat’s life, this shouldn’t cause much of a problem. If your cat does have dental problems such as tooth decay, impacted or infected teeth, understand that these conditions can be really painful. Pain may be localized to the affected gums and teeth, and/or it may be causing headaches and jaw pain. All of this can make eating difficult, and your cat may not feel like doing much. It’s important to take your cat to a local vet or clinic where it can get the necessary medical attention it deserves.

Professional dental cleanings

If you notice your cat’s gums are red around the teeth or if your cat has bad breath, this is a sign that he or she would benefit from a professional cleaning. In addition to your own at-home checks, your vet should check and monitor the health of your cat’s teeth and gums every time you go in for a service or check-up, and let you know you if your cat needs to get a professional cleaning. Sometimes just starting an at-home cleaning regimen is enough to reverse any inflammation that’s already set in.

Why does my cat have bad breath?

Bad breath is a sign of decaying food between teeth and around the gum line. Cats really shouldn’t ever have bad breath except for right after they’ve eaten cat food. If they have bad breath all the time or if their breath is excessively foul, it means they have food and bacteria building up in their mouth. If you let this go for too long, your cat’s gums will begin to get inflamed, ultimately leading to tooth decay. Tooth decay in cats is similar to tooth decay in humans; where painful infections and cavities can form. Learn more about tooth decay in cats on the diet and dental disease page.