Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 2, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Brushing you cat’s teeth? Most cat parents think that they couldn’t possibly get their cats used to it. And yet, dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in cats. Seventy to ninety percent of cats have some level of dental disease. If left untreated, it can lead to health problems for your cat, ranging from bad breath, dental pain and loose teeth to systemic illnesses that can be life-threatening.
The most effective way to prevent dental disease is to brush your cat’s teeth. Ideally, you get your cat used to this when she’s still a kitten, but even older cats can learn to accept having their teeth brushed.
And before you say “I can’t brush my cat’s teeth,” consider that a regular effective home care program will reduce the need for professional cleanings under anesthesia, which is not only better for your cats, but also for your budget.
The Cornell Feline Health Center has an exceptional 4-week training program to get your cats used to having their teeth brushed. If you follow the program step by step, there are very few cats who won’t tolerate at least some brushing.
To make things even easier for you, one of our readers, who wished to remain anonymous, has provided a transcript for each video. She found it helpful to watch the video, but then have the written instructions handy as she worked through the program. I’m sharing the videos and her transcripts, and I hope that it will encourage many more of you to brush your cats’ teeth. You can read my own journey to getting Allegra and Ruby used to having their teeth brushed here.
Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth Training Program Summary
Week 1: The cat becomes familiar with the smell and taste of the toothpaste and toothbrush.
Week 2: The cat learns to let you put toothpaste inside her mouth with your finger.
Week 3: The cat will learn to accept you putting the toothbrush inside her mouth.
Week 4: You will begin to brush you cat’s teeth.
In each step, you link the activity with a reward. Select a reward the cat really likes, such as: her mealtime, her favorite treat, getting a drink from the faucet at the sink, etc. The reward should be something your cat already enjoys (in the video, the cat parent has a jar of baby food open and lets the cat lick it from the jar.)
Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: A 4-Week Training Program
The video shows the entire 4-week program. The transcript for each week follows below.
With the cat in the room (bathroom), put the toothbrush and a dab of toothpaste on the counter. Leave them out where your cat can sniff them. (Show them to the cat.)
The goal is to get your cat to accept the toothbrush as a familiar, non-threatening household item.
Each day put a tiny piece of toothpaste on your finger and let the cat lick it off.
If the cat is shy, go ahead and put a little dab inside her mouth, so she gets accustomed to the taste of it.
Follow immediately with the cat’s favorite reward.
Follow the same routine as Week 1, but this time, apply the toothpaste onto one of your cat’s canine teeth with your finger.
The cat parent in the video is holding back the cat’s gum (left side) with the thumb of his right hand. The rest of his hand is over the top of the cat’s head. He uses his left forefinger to put a dab of toothpaste onto a canine tooth, moving the gum out of the way.
Do this much every day for a week, immediately following the toothpaste application with a reward.
Start getting your cat used to the toothbrush. Put some toothpaste on the toothbrush and let her lick it off.
If she is shy about licking it, go ahead and put some toothpaste near her mouth. But don’t attempt any brushing at this point.
Always follow immediately with a reward.
You start to brush your cat’s teeth. Gently stretch her lips far back enough to allow you to insert the brush into the space between the cheek and the gums.
Position: The cat is on the bathroom counter, at the left side of the sink, facing the sink. A small tray, with toothpaste and toothbrush is in front of her, close to the sink. The cat parent in the video uses the thumb of his left hand to gently pull back the cat’s lips, with the rest of his hand circling the top of the cat’s head.
The toothbrush is between thumb and forefinger of the cat parent’s right hand. His hand comes from below, under the cat’s jaw, holding the toothbrush with bristles up.
Place the bristles of the brush at about a 45 ° angle to the teeth, aiming for the narrow crevice between the teeth & the gums. Gently move the bristles around to disrupt the plaque. (The video shows a forward and back motion, but “the direction of movement isn’t all that important.”)
Moving fairly quickly before your cat loses patience, work your way around the upper & lower teeth on both sides of the mouth.
Then, of course, immediately give the cat a reward.
You only need to brush the outside surfaces of the teeth. Cats don’t like opening their mouth to have the insides brushed. Fortunately, the tongue does a pretty good job keeping the insides free of plaque.
Note: In the video, when the parent moves the teeth on the side of the mouth away from him, he tilts the cat’s head up and back a little to get at those teeth.
Do you brush your cat’s teeth? If not, will you give this training program a try?
Thank you to our reader for providing the transcript, and for Cornell Feline Health Center for giving us permission to to publish it.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
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