Dental health is just as critical for cats as it is for humans. To that end, cats need to have their teeth cleaned regularly. If your cat will not tolerate getting her/his teeth cleaned, or eat whole prey or chew on raw meaty bones, plaque can build up on the teeth. If this plaque is not removed/scaled, it hardens and forms tartar (also known as calculus). Cats don't develop cavities the way humans do. Instead, tartar gets in the crevices between kitty's teeth and gums.
When you take kitty to the vet, s/he can detect tiny holes in the gums where bacteria have grown and caused cavities. These bacteria can enter kitty's bloodstream and cause major health problems such as heart and kidney disease. Untreated, kitty can develop periodontal disease such as gingivitis - swelling, inflammation, and bleeding of the gums, which can eventually cause tooth loss.
So very early in your cat's life, get into the habit of checking his/her teeth and gums on a weekly basis. If you see a red line along the gums, mouth odor, swelling of the gums, bleeding gums, or tartar on the teeth, it is time for a check-up.
It is a fallacy that dry commercial food will prevent tartar. If it did, we would not see scores of pets going in annually for teeth cleaning to the vets. Canned commercial food doesn't do cats' gums and teeth any favors either. A ground raw diet does seem to help some cats but it has not been my experience that it makes dentals history.
Raw Meaty Bones
Only whole prey (which my cats eat about 1/2 the time) works well in this regard. Since we switched from ground raw with regular neck chewing to 50-50 whole prey and ground, my cats teeth and gums are in tip-top shape. Note: painful lesions or cavities at the gum line referred to as Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions (FORLs) can still develop even in cats eating a whole prey diet. FORLs have plagued cats since their glory days in ancient Egypt, exact cause is unknown at this time.
If your cats balk at eating whole prey e.g. quail, mice, rats, small rabbits, etc. have your kitty chew on raw (never cooked; cooked bones can splinter) meaty bones (RMBs). An easy starting point is cornish game hen necks from which your cat can progress to chicken, turkey, and/or duck necks. Chicken wings and backs can be okay but watch your cat carefully to make sure s/he doesn't choke on it and that it fits in with overall diet to keep Calcium:Phosphorous in the 1.2 - 1.4:1 ratio.
Some kitties will chew on gizzards, so you can get them started with those and then move on to necks. Chop poultry necks between the vertebrae so that kitty can put her/his teeth around it. Some people initially pulverize the neck with a hammer to make it easier for their cats to eat the necks.
If your cat will not chew on necks and RMBs or whole prey, then try some of the new chew toys that are available e.g these ones by Petstages
These can be incorporated into any diet plan. Unless your cat's allergic to beef, one good option is Nature's Variety Beef Twists
Neither chew toys nor treats will work as well as RMB, but they'll bring your cat enjoyment and beats not doing anything, right.
If your kitty will not go for either food or toys, then frequent brushing is a must. You can either purchase one specially made for small cat mouths from a pet store, or use the smallest size soft bristled toothbrush from the children's section. Alternatively, a good quality microfiber cloth works well as does a wash cloth with a tight nap.
Never use a toothpaste formulated for humans, not even one for pediatric use. A majority of the products marketed for"pets" contains dangerous ingredients including xylitol, sugars, colorings, essential oils, etc. so it's safest to make your own as follows:
The following ingredients especially fish oil, lactoferrin, and CoQ10 have been studied for gingivitis, so I would use the recipe below (discussed first on my list in 2005, and since then used by 100s of cats, okay not willingly, but you get the idea):
Ingredients: (enough for 1 session per cat)
- Co-Enzyme Q10 (NOW powder or powder from capsule e.g. NOW, Doctor's Best, VitaCost, Jarrow brands, not softgel which contains plant oils) - 1 30 mg capsule
- Colloidal Silver 10 up to 30 ppm (Source Naturals Wellness or Meso Silver or Sovereign Silver brands) - dropperful or anywhere from 6 to 10 drops
- Jarrow or LEF or Symbiotics NewLife 100% Lactoferrin - 1/4 of a 250 mg capsule (62.5 mg)
- Optional mixing mediums:
- Fish oil
- Aloe vera juice or gel without sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate e.g. Lily of the Desert Preservative Free Aloe Vera (read label very carefully because many by the same brand contain more than citric acid as a preservative)
- Pure/spring water - few drops of any or each of these as needed
Mix the 1st 3 ingredients together. Add optional mixing liquids as needed until desired consistency is achieved. It won't exactly form a gooey paste consistency because there are no funky binders in it but it'll adhere to a microfiber cloth or gauze or q-tip.
[Shawn's Calisto accepting brushing between meals like a champ]
If your cat has had a cleaning, and you wish to maintain good dental health, then you don't need to bring out the Lactoferrin.
Instead you can use this recipe:
Tooth Powder Ingredients: (enough for 8-10 sessions per cat)
- 5 tsp. Green Tea powder (Shiki Matcha) – can get decaf green tea leaf and powder it using a coffee grinder
- 1 tsp Peelu Bark fibers (no flavoring, no additives)
- 1 tsp. Stevia powder
- 1/2 tsp Vitamin C - calcium ascorbate powder (not ascorbic acid as it will damage tooth enamel)
- Fish oil and Colloidal Silver between 10 and 30 ppm – at brushing time
Mix all dry ingredients thoroughly. Store tooth powder in an airtight jar in a cool dry place. You can make larger amounts and store for up to six months. To use, pour out 1 teaspoon into a small plate. Moisten gauze or finger brush a little with some colloidal silver, dip into the powder and rub over kitty's gums and teeth. If you do not have access to all of these ingredients, any one or combination of these ingredients will work.
CoQ10 can also be added fresh if needed, but it is not necessary unless there is mouth odor or some other such indication of a problem. All this assuming a vet visit has already taken place, of course.
- Sit on the floor holding kitty between your legs, facing away from you. You may need to restrain kitty further by placing in a cat sack or pillow case. It might also help if a partner holds kitty by the scruff of the neck to subdue him/her.
- Wrap the fingers of one hand around kitty's head such that you are supporting it, while tilting the head back slightly at the same time.
- With the fingers of the other hand, gently lift your cat's lips on one side of the mouth and carefully inspect the teeth and gums.
- You can open kitty's mouth by placing your index finger and putting downward pressure between kitty's two lower front felines (yes, we know they're technically canines!:)
- To start brushing, lift the side of the lips with the thumb and index finger of the hand supporting kitty's head, and brush using the other hand speaking soothingly the entire time. If you cannot find a small enough brush (CET brand makes one, am not however endorsing their toothpaste), use either gauze or microfiber cloth or a long cotton swab with a small piece of microfiber wrapped around it. Whatever works.
You can do this in steps. Slowly get kitty used to having his/her mouth touched/handled. And each day, go a little further. Eventually, brushing will become a weekly or bi-weekly ritual, and it will become easier for both of you. Be firm, yet gentle with kitty during the entire procedure. When done, praise kitty and give a chunk of raw or cooked meat as a treat. Associate teeth cleaning with a reward.
- Last Updated: 15 November 2013