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Keeping Your Kitten’s Teeth Clean

Reviewed by Dr. Alexis Seguin, DVM, MS, DACVIM on Thursday, April 16, 2015
Posted April 15, 2015 in Cat Checkups & Preventive Care

Kitten yawning

Did you know that dental disease is one of the most common diseases affecting cats? YES! You read that correctly. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), dental disease is a number one health issue; it affects up to 75% of cats by age three. Considering the fact that most people do not brush their cat’s teeth, this should not be surprising. Unfortunately, poor feline oral hygiene doesn’t just lead to stinky, cat breath, but also a plethora of health problems.

How does dental disease occur in kittens?
The same way it does in humans and dogs, of course! Food, saliva, and bacteria all combine in the mouth and lead to the formation of plaque. If not removed by brushing, plaque mineralizes and becomes tartar. Tartar accumulation promotes bacterial infections below the gumline, which results in gum recession and destruction of the tooth’s support structures. Unfortunately, if not properly addressed, this can lead to pain and tooth loss. In addition, oral bacteria can also enter the blood stream and spread to distant organs, like the kidney, liver and heart, causing serious health issues1.

How can you prevent dental disease in your kitten?
Prevention is the best treatment for any disease, including dental disease. The best way to protect your cat from developing dental disease is to start performing routine dental care with your cat from the time she is a kitten. Starting early not only adjusts kittens to oral care, but is also the best way to prevent tartar from forming in the first place. I’m sure clean, healthy teeth is enough incentive, but there’s even a bonus! How about the money you can save by minimizing the need for professional dental cleanings?

How do you provide routine dental care to a kitten?
Just like you and me, cats should have their teeth brushed daily. Unlike us, however, they prefer poultry or beef-flavored toothpaste. Just remember to always use pet-safe toothpaste. Pet toothpastes do not bubble or foam and are safe for your cat to swallow. I recommend using a finger toothbrush until your cat gets used to having her teeth brushed, and then switch to a cat toothbrush. Ideally, you should brush your cat’s teeth daily. I say IDEALLY because for many people this isn’t possible. So do the best you can and brush your cat’s teeth as often as you can. Try to do it at least once a week if daily brushing isn’t possible. If your kitten or young cat puts up a fight and won't allow you to brush her teeth, speak with your veterinarian. Most veterinarians will be happy to have their staff demonstrate safe and effective tooth brushing for your cat, and they may even have some great tips to make it easier. If the professionals can’t tame your wild kitty, don't give up. There are plenty of oral rinses, dental diets, and dental treats designed to help reduce the bacteria and plaque that lead to tartar formation. Your veterinarian can help you choose an effective and safe product for your cat. No matter what you choose, be consistent with your cat’s oral hygiene.

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.