Will Water Additives Help Keep My Cat's Teeth Clean?


Now that many cats are living into their twenties, their dental care is more important than ever. Most cats struggle with daily or even weekly brushing, so many cat caregivers look for alternatives. Anthony writes:

We got both our cats a full dental cleaning last month. I was talking with my sister (formerly a vet tech) about preventative options and she mentioned something you can add to their water that helps with dental health. Do you know anything about that? Does it work?

Anthony, we’re happy to hear that you got your cats' teeth cleaned. There are still many people who neglect to provide adequate dental care for their cats, so kudos to you!

We've checked out some of the products similar to what your sister mentioned and our evaluation is that they have limited efficacy and could even be harmful. The first product like this that we checked out was made by Nutri-Vet. The directions say to add one capful of their product for every eight ounces of water in your cat’s water bowl or fountain, to be changed daily.

Some of the dental rinses on the market today

Some of the dental rinses on the market today

Our first concern is with the concentration of the product’s suggested use. The tiny amount you add to your cat’s water and the small amounts of water a cat drinks in a day mean that it's unlikely that the “effective ingredients” would get into their mouths to begin with. And what does get into their mouths wouldn’t be swished around their teeth and gums, it would be swallowed. That also raises some concerns.

While the text from the site where we purchased this product claimed that there were no added sweeteners, we can clearly see that the third ingredient is sorbitol - a sugar alcohol used in low calorie products to sweeten them. Not only is sorbitol of questionable safety for cats, it would be worthless as a sweetener since cats lack the ability to taste sweet foods. So why include it? Because Nutri Vet labels the exact same product for use with dogs. The ingredients lists are identical. It’s likely that no one at Nutri Vet even evaluated this product’s safety or effectiveness on cats. They just relabeled it in the quest to make more money.

The ingredients list from Nutri Vet Breath Fresh Dental Rinse

The ingredients list from Nutri Vet Breath Fresh Dental Rinse

We also have concerns about some of the other ingredients on their list, but we just need one major concern to choose not to recommend a product like this. If there are other similar products out there that would fare better under scrutiny, we’ve yet to find them. Yes, there are others that don’t include sorbitol, but all of the ones we’ve seen contain something a cat is better off not ingesting.

Many of these products use stabilized chlorine dioxide as their primary “effective ingredient”. So-called stabilized chlorine dioxide is not actually stabilized at all. In fact, it should be listed as sodium chlorite, but then the manufacturer would be forced to provide information on the ingredient’s concentration level. In addition, this chemical isn’t really useful as an antiseptic and it has no business being in your cat’s mouth or digestive tract. There are human versions of these dental rinses that include the same ingredient and they’ve been shown to be less than effective. If interested, you can read about their assessment here.

Some of these products use chlorhexidine gluconate or cetylpyridinium chloride in place of the sodium chlorite. These are more useful as anti-bacterials but they’re still all but useless at the concentration levels suggested. And yes, these products also contain sorbitol as well because they’re packaged for both cats and dogs. It should also be mentioned that these chemicals were designed for human use where the person spits out the product after rinsing. They aren’t recommended to be ingested in more than minuscule quantities, which may be one of the reasons why such tiny amounts are used for cats and dogs.

There are tons of these products on the market and we place every single one of them into the wish fulfillment category. Most pet lovers would like a simple solution for their pet’s dental health issues. Since there are no real shortcuts, businesses create some to pretend to fill the very real need. Many people will buy these types of products and use them even if they aren’t effective because it’s almost impossible to determine whether or not they’re working. They’ll happily purchase and use these products and give them positive reviews when, in fact, there is no observable benefit to them. This creates an anecdotal mythology around the entire class of products that can take on a life of its own in forum posts and even among vet techs. When challenged about their use, most people will defend their stance because that’s just what humans do, even when given proof that the products simply do not work.

Your best bet is to brush your cat’s teeth with an enzymatic toothpaste if they'll tolerate it and provide annual cleanings. Examine your cat’s teeth as much as they’ll let you and talk to your veterinarian if you notice redness, whiteness or anything other than healthy pink gum tissue.

We wish you and your kitties all the best!