How to brush your cat’s teeth

Brushing your kitten’s teeth every day will prevent a build-up of plaque. If ever there was a good time to start brushing your cat’s teeth, it is now while we’re in lockdown. Dental problems can be significant in cats. They can be extremely painful and may even prevent your cat from eating, often leading to other, more serious health problems.

Milk teeth begin to appear at around two weeks of age and your kitten will start to lose them at around three months. The process of losing the primary teeth and the emergence of the permanent teeth can take up to nine months of age.

Dental hygiene starts with daily teeth brushing and a full dental check when you take your kitten for vaccinations and once or twice thereafter. Your vet will monitor the milk teeth and permanent teeth as they come through and check for correct alignment of the teeth.

Step-by-step guide

You may have been told not to brush your kitten’s milk teeth, but this isn’t correct advice. The earlier you start, the more relaxed your kitten will be when it comes to brushing teeth.

Step 1. Getting started

You will need to get your kitten used to having something in her mouth. Initially, just use your finger. Make sure kitty is in a comfortable spot, either on your lap or on a bed or cat tower. Dip your finger into any liquid she likes – a little tuna water or the sauce from wet cat food. Rub the teeth and gums using gentle circular patterns. Do this a few times per day over the next few days.

 

Step 2. First few days

If your kitten seems happy with your finger, introduce some gauze . Dip the gauze in the liquid and use the same circular motions over the teeth. Start off with teeth at the front of the mouth, then move further back. Don’t force the issue. If your kitten seems reluctant, stop and try again tomorrow. Have a few treats on hand to reward her for cooperating.

 

Step 3. Next stop, toothbrush

Once kitten is comfortable with the gauze and will let you move from the front to the back teeth, introduce a pet toothbrush. Choose a brush with a small head. For kittens, a soft silicone toothbrush that slips over the index finger is compact and easy to use. You can change the type of toothbrush as your kitten grows.

When you introduce the toothbrush, make sure kitty is comfortable and relaxed. Use the same liquid to lubricate the brush and work in a circular motion around the teeth. Again, start off with the front teeth and work towards the teeth in the back of the mouth. Don’t force her or hold her down. If you she will only allow you to do two or three teeth at a time, that’s fine – try again tomorrow. Plaque can collect along the gum line so remember to brush here too.

Step 4. Pet toothpaste

Once your kitten is happy with the process, you can introduce pet toothpaste. The flavours available are quite pleasant to cats, but if yours is a fussy one, she may take a while to settle with the taste.

Never use human toothpaste for pets. Fresh minty, peppermint or menthol flavours are foreign to animals and may cause an aversion to teeth brushing.  We ‘rinse and spit’ – and the toothpaste and water isn’t swallowed. Animals will swallow the toothpaste and the detergents for cleaning our teeth are not meant to be swallowed. Human toothpaste also contains fluoride and cats don’t need fluoride toothpaste. The amount of fluoride in human toothpaste, combined with fluoridated water and fluoride in your cat’s diet may be too overwhelming for her.

Additional information: Dr Gerhard Steenkamp (Onderstepoort)

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