Should I brush My Cat's Teeth?

Dental treatments for companion animals are becoming more and more common. Marsha F. writes:

How important is it to brush my cats teeth?

Marsha, it can be very important. In the wild, cats rarely have issues because, on average, they only live for three to five years. Living in our homes, cats can live more than 20 years so there's a greater likelihood of dental issues. Of course, just like humans, genetics can play a major role. Some have a greater predisposition to problems than others.

Diet also has a tremendous effect on dental health. The myth that dry food helps clean teeth is just that - a myth. In fact, dry food and treats can actually cause more problems than wet food (Think of how Cheetos get stuck in your own teeth). Cats who eat a raw diet tend to have much healthier teeth and gums because they're getting better, more complete nutrition.

The big issue with brushing is whether or not your feline friend will tolerate it. If they're trained early to accept your fingers along their gums, they'll usually accept brushing. If they have difficulty with it, we suggest you begin by using a soft hair brush along the sides of their mouths since most cats really enjoy that. Once they've accepted the hair brush, introduce them to a plain toothbrush. We like the finger brushes as opposed to the long-handled brushes because you know exactly where the brush is in the cat's mouth.

You don't have to use toothpaste, though brushing is more effective with it. Never use human toothpaste, though. Gently brush the outside of the teeth along the gum line where tartar is most likely to form. If your patient becomes restless, offer a treat and let them go on their way. You can always do a little bit at a time over several days. Whatever you do, don't force it. You want your cat to associate brushing with positive feelings.

As to veterinary dental care, be aware that some of the corporate veterinary chains use dental treatments as a new way to make extra money. While a cat will benefit from an occasional cleaning, the anesthesia can be risky for some individuals. It's up to you and a veterinarian you trust to determine whether or not the risk is worth the benefit.