Your cat has the same risk for oral disease you do, and there’s no reason to believe she doesn’t feel the same pain of sore gums and toothache. That’s why you want to keep her teeth in good shape by brushing them. Every single day is ideal, but you can do it every other day if your cat will accept that interval better. Every three days isn’t frequent enough because it takes two days for soft, sticky plaque that collects below the gum line to turn into hardened calculus. Once plaque hardens, no amount of brushing will remove it. It requires a scaling under anesthesia by your veterinarian.
How to adjust a cat to regular teeth brushing
With patience — and we’re talking months here, in some cases — your cat will come to tolerate tooth brushing and may even actually learn to enjoy it. Regular brushing will also help you pick up on any dental problems that you may not have noticed. To get pets acclimated to dental care, board-certified veterinary dentist Bonnie Shope, VMD, a member of our editorial advisory board, gives the following advice to owners of her patients at her practice in Boxborough, Massachusetts.
1|Place your cat on a counter top every day at the same time. Start simply by rubbing and petting her face while offering praise. Do this for 30 to 60 seconds, and immediately follow up with the reward she will like best — a treat, a meal, hair brushing, or even a toy.
2| Introduce the toothbrush and toothpaste. Start by just holding the toothbrush in your hand while you continue to do everything in step 1. You might even find her rubbing the side of her face against the toothbrush. If your cat takes a treat as a reward, you can also introduce cat toothpaste at the end of step 2. (Using one with a salmon flavor or other fish-like flavor might help.) Just put a small amount on the treat she enjoys most, or even put it on her paw so she can lick it off. Again, be sure to praise throughout the process.
3| Gently hold your cat’s head. You will only see the tips of her teeth, but that’s fine. Brush one side, then tilt her head a bit in the other direction and brush the opposite side. Finish by brushing the teeth in the front of her mouth. Once you both get the hang of it, the whole procedure will take only one minute per day.
Remember never to use human toothpaste or baking soda, as these are unsafe for cats. Keep in mind, too, that some cats are never going to adjust. The world won’t come to an end. Brushing or not, you will be doing a great deal to protect your cat’s teeth if you take her to the veterinarian at least once a year for a thorough cleaning under anesthesia. (She won’t let her veterinarian probe below the gum line unless she is “out.”)
Of course, if your brush your cat’s teeth regularly, she’ll need to have her teeth cleaned by the doctor less often. But just do what you can. Fighting a never-ending battle about teeth brushing will only fray the bond, and it’s not worth it.