Over half of all cats older than three years have some form of gum or tooth disease. Cats are vulnerable to many of the same dental illnesses that affect people. Plaque builds up on a cat's teeth and causes cavities, just like it does on our teeth. Brushing your cat's teeth every day can help reduce plaque and prevent gum disease. Although your cat may not appreciate dental care at first, they'll learn that toothbrushes and other dental hygiene products aren't dangerous.
Cavities and gum disease can be painful, and cats with oral health issues may not be able to eat or groom themselves properly. Bacterial infections in the mouth can also contribute to other illnesses, such as heart and respiratory diseases. Ideally, you should start brushing your cat's teeth when they're kittens. That advice isn't handy if your cat is already an adult or if you adopted an adult cat. Don't worry if your cat is older. You can still brush kitty's teeth, although it may take time for them to get used to the process.
A cat's face and mouth are very tiny. Human-sized toothbrushes won't work, so you'll need to buy toothbrushes specially made for cats. Some are designed to fit over a fingertip to make brushing easier. Other options include soft toothbrushes designed for babies, sponge toothbrushes, or even gauze wrapped around your finger. If all else fails, you can try using a cotton swab.
Toothpaste made for people is usually not suitable for cats. Most brands contain too much sodium and ingredients that can cause digestive problems and other illnesses for your pet. Baking soda and peroxide may upset your cat's stomach. It's best to use toothpaste made for cats. You can get pet toothpaste from your veterinarian. It's also sold at some supermarkets and pharmacies.
If you're brushing your kitty's teeth for the first time, wait until your cat is calm and relaxed. Pet her and give her treats, then stroke the cat around her face and mouth. Your cat needs to be comfortable with you manipulating her mouth. Try putting chicken broth or a liquid or bisque cat treat on your fingers. Reward your cat with a treat each time she lets you touch her mouth. You may need to repeat this process several times before your cat is ready for brushing.
Try to establish a toothbrushing routine. Pick a comfortable location, such as a spacious chair or couch. Put a towel down to catch drips and protect the furniture. Your cat can sit on your lap or sit beside you. Hold your cat with its backside against your body. This position stops the kitty from squirming away, and it's less aggressive than approaching from the front. Pet your cat frequently before you start and keep petting him as much as possible while brushing.
Practice holding the cat and a brushing technique a few times before the real thing. You'll probably want to brush with your dominant hand, so use the other hand to hold kitty. Spread your fingers and place the palm of your hand over the cat's head. Position your thumb and index finger around her cheekbone under the eyes, but don't touch the eyes or obstruct the cat's view. Tilt your cat's head up slightly and lift the upper lip with your thumb. Use your thumb or index finger on your dominant hand to pull the lower lip down so you can see one side of kitty's mouth clearly.
When you're ready to start brushing, slide the toothbrush into kitty's mouth along one side of her teeth. The back teeth are the hardest to reach, so brush back to front with small, circular motions. Brush near the gum line as well. Finish one side, then repeat the process on the other side of your cat's mouth. Start by brushing for 10 seconds on each side and gradually increase brushing time to 30 or 45 seconds per side.
Although it's best to prepare your cat slowly and let him get used to brushing, this may not work for all cats. Ask another person to hold your kitty's front feet if necessary. You can also try wrapping the cat in a towel or blanket. However, be very careful with a resistant feline. Don't try to force anything into your cat's mouth. This could injure your cat, and you could get bitten or scratched as well. If the cat is too resistant, ask your veterinarian for help.
Ideally, you should brush a cat's teeth every day. If daily brushing isn't an option, try to brush at least three times per week. Most kitties need routine professional dental cleanings every six months. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice a broken tooth or other dental problem. Signs of a tooth or gum infection include foul-smelling breath, discharge around the gum line, discolored teeth, and difficulty eating. A cat with a sore tooth may paw at his mouth as well.
Ask your veterinarian about other options if your cat is resistant to brushing. Some cats will tolerate an antiseptic rinse or gel that inhibits bacterial growth in the mouth. Your cat may benefit from a dental diet, including foods specially designed to control plaque and tartar formation. Dental chews for cats can be very helpful too, even if you also brush your cat's teeth.
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