Cat on vet table being held by Blue Cross vet

Cat dental care

Teeth are important and, just like people, your cat will benefit from regular dental care. 

Teeth that are bad and heavily coated in plaque (containing bacteria) are a potential source of infection of other parts of the body. It can also make it painful to eat, spoiling your pet's appetite.

Signs of plaque build up

Your cat might have a build up of plaque if:

  • there is an unpleasant smell from their mouth
  • they have red and inflamed gums 
  • their teeth have a grey-brown coating which looks like kettle scale

How to brush your cat's teeth

Before starting, look inside your pet's mouth. Check for any signs of plaque build up. If they have plaque or red gums, brushing could be painful to them. So it's best to speak with your vet. They will be able to discuss treatment options with you. 

If your cat's teeth are evenly white or off-white with no odour and light pink gums then you can start brushing! Wait until your cat is in a relaxed mood before your first attempt and keep sessions short.  

You will need:

  • A special brush from the vet or pet shop
  • Cat toothpaste, available at your local pet shop  toothpaste designed for humans cannot be used. It contains high levels of fluoride, is too frothy, and can cause stomach irritation.

Get them used to the taste

Put a little toothpaste on your cat's nose or lips and let them lick it off. Repeat this daily for three to four days.

Don't progress too fast – your cat needs to feel comfortable with each stage of the procedure before you move on.

Find the right position

Get your cat into a good position to brush their teeth. Be as calm and relaxed as possible. 

  1. Place your cat on a surface at a suitable height so that you can stand or sit comfortably behind them
  2. Face them away from you, and use your body to stop them backing away
  3. Lean forward over your cat and position your forearms so that they are pressing on their sides. This is to restrict wriggling.
  4. Pop the hand you won't be using to brush their teeth, on to their chest to hold them in place (if your cat is struggling, you may be holding too tight)

Begin moving their lips

From this position, use your dominant hand to practice moving their upper and lower lips.

Reward them

At the end of each session, give an extra tasty treat, such as a small piece of prawn or their favourite treat. If they start to struggle or move away at any time, give them a break and try again later.

Brush their teeth with a cotton bud

Finally, you can start to brush their teeth. You do not need to open their mouth. 

  1. Put a little toothpaste on a cotton bud
  2. Pass it between and under their lips to the teeth
  3. Then start to brush with a circular motion. It's usually best to start with the back teeth.
  4. Do this for just a few seconds, and then let your cat go
  5. Give them a treat

Gradually increase the time period until you are brushing all of their teeth. Pay special attention to the area where the tooth meets the gum, as this is where plaque tends to build up. 

Introduce a toothbrush

Once your cat is comfortable with the above, you can move on to using a toothbrush. Don't rush this stage.

You'll need to build up the time brushing their teeth slowly until you can brush daily for about a minute on each side of their mouth. Be sure to brush gently with a small pet toothbrush so that you don't irritate you cat's gums. 


Start the habit of brushing while your kitten is young. Although you can train an older cat to accept their teeth being brushed, it will take more patience and training. 

Other ways to take care of your cat's teeth

Some cats just won't tolerate or cope with teeth brushing, especially if they are worried about handling or didn't get used to it as a kitten. 

If you or your cat aren't comfortable then there are other things you can try that might help.

Gels, powders and mouthwash for cats

These reduce plaque build up to some extent and are useful for cats who will not accept toothbrushing. There are lots of different types on the market. Speak to your vet to find out which ones will work best for your cat.

Special diet

A special diet is another possibility. It is often said that dried foods and biscuits are good for teeth and gums. But few have been studied to see if they really reduce plaque long-term. 

One or two of these foods, on which studies have been conducted, are available through your vet. Some have a higher fibre content which acts like a brush on their teeth as they are chewed. Others create an antibacterial coating on the teeth which slows the build up of plaque. Ask your vet for more advice.

Dental chews

Dental chews may be helpful. Choose something tough and chewy and large enough that your cat definitely has to chew it. 

Avoid chews that are too hard, as there is a risk of damage to their teeth.

If you're not sure on which chew is best, speak with your vet who should be able to recommend one. And be sure to cut down on your cat's other food if you're giving them a chew.

What can happen if you don't look after your cat's teeth?

Dirty teeth can lead to infections at the gum line as well as:

  • gums receding
  • teeth loosening
  • bad breath
  • tooth loss

In some cases it may be necessary for your vet to carry out a procedure that will surgically clean your cat's teeth. Plaque in animals is hardened by saliva, forming a concrete-like coating. Brushing can't remove this, and it can lead to the build up of more plaque and dental disease.

Dental disease

Dental disease is very painful for them and many cats will keep eating through the pain. If your cat has dental disease, they will usually need an anaesthetic so your vet can check inside their mouth, extract any problem teeth and remove the plaque.

Sadly, even if you take the best care of your cat's teeth they can still get dental problems, so it's important to check their teeth and gums regularly to pick up any issues.

— Page last updated 28/07/2022