Yes, you read the title right, this is about brushing cat teeth, and yes you need to brush their teeth every day because they form periodontal disease just like we do. And no, cat breath is not normal. I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah right, not in a million years, my cat….” Finish that thought however you like, but I’m here to show you how to brush all the same.
The biggest difference between brushing cat and dog teeth is with a dog you can say, “Let’s do this!” and gradually after a little bit of training and time they acquiesce and off you go. With cats you say, “Let’s do this!” and they look at you with that expression of “yeah, right,” push something off the table (usually something breakable), and walk away in triumph totally crushing your hopes and dreams. So how do you deal with such a singular creature? Well, it’s kind of the same way you manage your boss at work to get something you want, you make it their idea.
How do we go about doing that? By breaking the process down into as many small steps as possible (just not so many that you end up procrastinating on the actual brushing part). Cats are creatures of habit and routine, they thrive on it. So, making big or sudden changes can stress a kitty out to the point where they want nothing to do with it—more so when trying to shove something in their mouth they’re not used to.
Pre-Brushing Prep Work
- Face Rubs—Start handling the mouth area by doing something your kitty loves to do anyway, rub the side of her face. The next time your fuzzy musical lap warmer decides to grace you with her presence engage her to rub the side of her face on your fingers. As she does this, gently and very briefly pick up her lip and let it fall again. (Cat Fig 1) Do this for both sides. Over a period of days as you continue to do this, increase the time you hold the lip up in small increments until you can hold the lip and your brave companion no longer thinks you are that (Well, you may be, but that’s a discussion for a different day, just know your cat loves you all the same). Once you can pick up the lip on each side, try doing both sides at the same time by getting her to push her face through your thumb and forefinger stopping momentarily to pick up the lips and hold her head. (Cat Fig 2) Again, do this until you kitty thinks this is a fun new game, or at least tolerates it because you happen to be the human she might like, ‘cause really, it’s all about her. This part alone could take a few weeks to a month. The key here is to make a routine out of it and take it slow.
- Toothpaste treat—While getting your feline wonder used to face handling, you could also introduce the toothpaste like a treat. Find a pet safe toothpaste with a flavor your cat will love. You never want to use human toothpaste, it contains fluoride and that’s toxic to everyone—it’s one of the reasons why we spit it out. Plus, cats are carnivores (meat-eaters) and giving them something that has a plant taste will not be appetizing to them. So find a flavor they will enjoy—chicken, seafood—it will help you in the long run if they want to eat what’s on the end of the brush.
- Small bristle brush—(Cat Fig 3) Cats have tiny mouths so find as small a toothbrush as you can and make sure it’s a bristle brush. It’s tempting to use a finger brush, but the problem with the finger brush is first of all your finger is very big, bigger than the space between their teeth and their lips (it’s like shoving a large hair brush in your mouth—see how far that goes). The second problem with the finger brush is, well, your finger. If your cute little ball of fluff decides she likes the taste of the toothpaste she may want to snack on the brush and you may not appreciate those pearly white spears chomping down. The third problem with the finger brush is the plastic nibs, they don’t do much where you’re going. So, have I convinced you finger brushes are not the way to go yet? What you want to do with the bristle brush is let your sweet fur-face investigate the brush, bite it, paw at it, knock it off the table. Pet around her mouth with it and show her it’s all going to be okay.
The Art of Brushing
Start with the teeth you can see—It doesn’t matter where you start, whether it’s the canine teeth (the fangs) or the teeth on the sides that you can see, just take the brush angle it towards the gums, and with light to moderate pressure, have at it! Give the teeth a couple of swipes then reward. If your feline friend is still around after this first venture, then try adding in a few more teeth and see how she does. (Cat Fig 4)
- Make a routine—Everyday add in a couple more teeth so long as your kitty is cooperating with this. It helps to keep it at the same time every day or in a particular sequence of events to cue your cat in on what’s happening. As we all know, cats have far superior intellects than ours so it will not take her long to figure out what you’re up to.
- Use the treat or activity your cats loves as a motivator—If there is something that your kitty loves, use it to get them to work through brushing. They will learn to associate their favorite activity or treat with brushing so keeping positive is important and as they get used to brushing they will grant you permission to brush, just so they can get what they really want. Just remember it could take a month or two, so be patient.
- Brushing the back teeth—Remember all that prep work you did with brushing by the face and pausing to hold the lip up? Now it’s time to use that training. Cats have tight lips, you know this because when you ask them a question, they never answer you, even though you know they have the answer. Using your fingers to pick up the lip and brush the teeth. Sometimes getting to the bottom teeth can be a little challenging because they like to clamp their mouths shut, but as with everything, be patient and keep at it (notice a theme yet?). (Cat Fig 5).
Brushing the insides of the teeth—As if trying to brush the outside wasn’t hard enough, the insides need attention too, but don’t rush it. Let your feline love get used to the outside being brushed. When she’s ready, if she isn’t snacking on the brush already, hold her cheeks and gently open her mouth and brush the insides starting in the front and working your way back. If she objects back off and try again later, this can scary for them, because you’re being weird again. (Ever notice that with cats, it’s always your fault?) (Cat Fig 6)
Once your kitty has accepted that you are the strangest thing on two legs, and has begrudgingly assented to your odd routines of brushing her teeth, it shouldn’t take you more than about a minute to get through her whole mouth. If you can do it routinely at the same time everyday, your higher life form will know when that time is and when paired with something she really enjoys, you might see her telling you to stop procrastinating and get brushing. (If your furry companion has decided that she has better things to do check out these 7 hacks to help with brushing.)
If you have questions about your cat specifically, call us to make an appointment if you’re in the area and we’d be happy to work with your kitty.