Did you know that a staggering 73% of cat owners never brush their feline’s teeth? That’s likely because cats are historically uncooperative during at-home teeth cleaning sessions (i.e., claws retracted, endless hissing, and fresh bite wounds). Now, your kitty’s showing signs of excess plaque buildup or smelly breath — so how do you keep a cat’s teeth clean without brushing?
To keep a cat’s teeth clean without brushing, give your cat raw meaty bones (duck or turkey) to chew on to remove plaque or add breath-freshening dental care water additives to your kitty’s water bowl.
The good news is that you don’t have to risk an all-out brawl with your feisty cat to keep her safe from gingivitis or tooth loss. To learn about how to keep the teeth of your cat clean without a rubber toothbrush or gel, read on!
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Do Cats Really Need Teeth Cleaning?
Nearly 9 in 10 cats will have periodontal disease once they reach their senior years (six years old). Another 7 in 10 felines will suffer from a dental disease before they celebrate their third birthday.
Dental ailments are all too common in cats, and a kitty’s mouth can only do so much to prevent the excess buildup of plaque, tartar, and bacteria naturally. Your cat may not need a professional dental cleaning at the vet, but dental care of some kind is necessary.
Let’s talk about why.
How Much Does a Teeth Cleaning Cost in Cats?
If you’re not doing anything to keep your kitty’s teeth sparkling clean all year, your back-up plan (and last resort) should always be your vet’s annual professional cleaning. A feline dental cleaning is typically in the ballpark of $200 and includes:
- Deep tartar removal
- Teeth extraction (if necessary)
- X-rays (to check for any bone abnormalities)
Most vets will recommend a professional cleaning if your kitty is showing early signs of gingivitis. Removing that gross tartar and plaque along the gum lines can temporarily delay your cat’s progression toward the more serious periodontal disease.
The easiest and most efficient way to save money at the vet is by brushing your kitty’s teeth on your own at home. The video below explains how to make this process less stressful for your cat (and for you):
The Risks of Not Cleaning a Cat’s Teeth
Brushing the teeth of your cat can help convert those yellow shards into pearly whites and freshen her once-pungent breath. Yet, what’s even more concerning is what happens if you let your kitty go au naturel in the dental department.
If you don’t brush the teeth of your cat, here are the possible consequences:
- Gingivitis: When plaque begins to build up on the outer surface of teeth and along the gum lines, it attracts harmful bacteria along with it. This dangerous bacteria slowly works its way down to the teeth’ base, causing a slight infection that can ultimately lead to painful, red, swollen gums. Fortunately, early-stage gingivitis is reversible with a regular oral health routine.
- Periodontitis: When gingivitis continues to go untreated, the plaque on the teeth hardens and turns into tartar. This rougher surface attracts even more oral bacteria that can wreak havoc on the soft tissue in the gums and teeth. Periodontitis regularly leads to eventual tooth loss, a consequence that can ultimately make eating kibble more painful or complicated.
- Halitosis: By the time your cat begins showing signs of chronic bad breath (halitosis), her oral region has already fallen victim to periodontal disease. However, occasional bad breath can also stem from leftover food particles trapped between teeth or even stray hairs caught in the corners of the mouth — regular brushing or oral care can loosen both without issue.
How Can I Clean My Cat’s Teeth Naturally?
The most concerning part of dental diseases in felines is that you might not know your cat has one until it’s too late to reverse (such as when your cat loses her appetite or struggles to keep food in her mouth during dinner). Many cats are rightfully reluctant to sit through a casual tooth cleaning session on the sofa.
Any of the following lifestyle changes can help to fend off future dental issues in a way that your kitty will enjoy and doesn’t cause unnecessary stress:
Allow the Chewing of Cat-Safe Bones
Both dogs and cats love to chew on bones because of their meaty flavors and the gentle massaging sensations on their teeth and gums, but did you know that raw turkey and duck bones can also serve as a makeshift toothbrush?
These spongy, soft bones will rub against your cat’s rear teeth as she attempts to capture as much flavor and meat bits as possible. The more your cat gnaws on that turkey tail or chicken neck, the more it’ll wear away at the set-in tartar and plaque on your kitty’s teeth.
However, make sure that you’re not giving your cat cooked bones. Non-raw bones tend to be more brittle and splinter more easily, which can scrape in your cat’s mouth or GI system.
Switch to Dental Care Food
If your cat is already showing early signs of gingivitis or generally has terrible breath, you might want to make a dramatic change to your cat’s diet. Many big-name pet food manufacturers have kibbles specifically for dental care. These foods are nutrient-dense, but they also have larger kibble — requiring more chewing and contact with plaque-laden teeth — and natural breath-freshening ingredients.
Don’t forget to slowly transition from your cat’s current food to this new dental food. Start with a 25:75 ratio (new:old) and gradually add more new food over the next 7-10 days.
Use Dental Care Water Additives
It’s hard to keep the teeth of your cat clean and healthy if she won’t let you touch her teeth, let alone get near her mouth in general. Fortunately, water additives are a healthy alternative — and your cat won’t even notice that you’re cleaning her teeth multiple times a day.
All you have to do is pour a capful of this enzyme-filled additive into your cat’s usual water bowl. This odorless and flavorless liquid will build a thin film around your cat’s pearly whites that keep future plaque from sticking as effectively. After a few drinking sessions, the germs and bacteria that cause your kitty’s gross fishy breath will be almost unnoticeable.
Some of these products even help with teeth whitening and the rebuilding of enamel.
Play With Dental Care Toys
A regular tooth cleaning session is anything but fun for your cat. If you’re investing in dental care toys for your cat, you may be able to scrape off a little plaque and freshen your kitty’s breath inconspicuously during her daily play sessions.
You’ll notice a few trends in many of these dental toys: rubber rings and netted constructions. When your cat chews on either of these, it’ll rub against your cat’s teeth and gums — just like that small rubber finger toothbrush — to slowly wear away at the tartar and plaque.
Make sure that the dental toys are soft and chewable and not hard and plastic. Cats who have strong jaws and gnaw relentlessly might accidentally crack off a plastic shard, which can lead to an intestinal blockage if your kitty swallows it.
Bones, water additives, dental toys, and dental food are all decent alternatives to toothbrushing in cats. However, none of these options will match the benefits of brushing your cat’s teeth three times a week or even paying the extra $200/year for professional teeth cleaning by your vet.
Teaching your cat to enjoy (or at least tolerate) at-home teeth cleaning sessions should always come first. Get your cat accustomed to you touching her mouth, using a gel toothbrush that smells and tastes meaty, and brushing with a gentle toothbrush for a soothing tooth massage.
- VCA Hospitals: Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth
- Cornell Feline Health Center: Feline Dental Disease
- Cornell Feline Health Center: Bad Breath: Sign of Illness?
- PetMD: Everything You Need to Know About Cat Dental Cleanings
- PetMD: Intestinal Obstruction in Cats
- Ipsos: Most (95%) Pet Owners Brush Their Own Teeth Daily, But Few Brush Their Dog’s (8%) or Cat’s (4%) Teeth on a Daily Basis
- Wellness Pet Food: Our Guide to Switching Your Cat’s Food
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.