Black and white cat next to food bowl

Get into the habit of cleaning your cat's teeth as early as possible.

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What food is best to keep a cat's teeth healthy?

By Dr. Helen Donald BA BVetMed MBA MSc MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Looking after your cat's teeth is as important as your own and to do this you'll have to feed them the right food – as well as get a toothbrush out.

Dental problems in cats are surprisingly common and many owners don’t realise until it is too late that there is plenty they can do to help avoid problems

What is the best cat food for dental health?

Many vets recommend dry food for dental health, but there is little evidence that it is any better than wet food. Similarly, a raw food diet probably doesn’t make a great deal of difference. The argument in favour of dry foods is that they scrape off plaque residues as your cat chews, but most cats swallow their food without chewing.

Does dental cat food work?

There is some evidence that specialist dental diets do work to keep teeth clean. The biscuit pieces in them are larger than normal, forcing your cat to chew them, and some owners feel that they make a real difference to their cat's teeth. Dental food does not help prevent resorptive lesions, a nasty and painful problem that is commonly seen in older cats and which always requires tooth removal by a vet.

How can I help my cat’s dental health?

Most cats do not like having their faces touched and definitely are not keen on you opening their mouth. If possible, get your kitten used to having its mouth touched from an early age. That way it will be easier for you to clean your cat’s teeth and for a vet to examine them closely when you take them in for a check-up.

How do you get plaque off a cat's teeth?

Plaque is an invisible coating of saliva, food particles and bacteria that forms on the surface of teeth after eating. If it isn’t removed regularly, it hardens into tartar, a thick yellow-brown crust on the teeth that ultimately leads to gum disease and a chance your cat may develop painful tooth abscesses. Tartar can only be removed by a vet, but you can clean plaque from your cat’s teeth at home, so it’s a good idea to get into the habit as early as possible.

How can I clean my cat’s teeth naturally?

Any dentist will tell you that brushing is the best way to keep teeth free from plaque and cats’ teeth are no different to ours. Little and often is best and it is a great idea to make some kind of teeth cleaning part of your cat’s daily routine. A special cat toothbrush with a small head is ideal but, if your cat finds it too large, a cotton bud or microfibre finger-glove rolled over the teeth and gums work just as well. Never use human toothpaste. Cats don’t like the minty flavours and foaminess, and specialist cat toothpastes do a great job.

Gently rub the brush over the outer surface of your cat’s teeth in circular motions paying particular attention to the molars at the back. Even if your cat tolerates brushing, it is unlikely to be keen on you brushing the inside surfaces of its teeth, but don’t worry too much as these are usually less affected by plaque build-up.

How can I keep my cat's teeth clean without brushing?

Sadly most cats are not keen on having their teeth brushed, but there are lots of products on sale that can help to do the job from mouth washes that you add to your cat’s drinking water, gels that you apply directly to their teeth, and treats that are claimed to clean your cat’s teeth in much the same way as dental food. Ask a vet for advice on the best products to try.

How often should my cat have a dental cleaning?

Dental cleaning can only be performed effectively under general anaesthesia. It is therefore not something that you should do too often. With proper preventative care, there may be no need for your cat to have its teeth cleaned at all. Speak to a vet and they will always assess your cat’s teeth during a check-up and will tell you if dental cleaning is needed.

When should I see a vet?

Cats are very good at hiding their pain and you may not realise immediately if your cat has problems with their teeth. It’s a good idea to get them checked regularly by a vet and you should always take your cat to a vet immediately, if you notice them becoming reluctant to eat, particularly if they approache their food with interest and then refuse to touch it. Other signs to look out for are dribbling, red or bleeding gums and bad breath.

What should I ask a vet about cat dental health and food?

Ask a vet to give you an estimate for treating your cat’s teeth, as costs can soon add up if a general anaesthetic, mouth x-rays and teeth extractions are required. Prevention is definitely better than cure. You can also ask the vet to show you how to examine your cat’s teeth and how to keep them clean. In addition, ask for advice on the best food and other products you can use to keep your cat’s teeth clean and healthy.

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