Good oral hygiene is just as important for cats as it is for humans. Plaque can build up on your cat's teeth and form tartar, which puts them at an increased risk of developing gum disease and losing teeth. Signs that your cat's dental health is suffering include bad breath, brownish tartar on their teeth, inflamed or bleeding gums and dropping food from their mouth, which indicates their mouth is sore. You should have your cat's teeth cleaned by your vet at least yearly to have plaque and tartar removed. Your vet will also be able to assess teeth and gum health and spot early warning signs of dental conditions.
In addition to annual professional cleans, you should brush your cat's teeth daily with a soft brush and toothpaste specifically formulated for cats. This is often easier said than done, particularly if your cat has not been exposed to teeth brushing early on, as many cats simply won't tolerate having their teeth cleaned every day.
If your cat doesn't like having their teeth brushed, try building up to it gradually. For example, you could place the brush in their mouth and remove it without brushing until they get used to the brush. Next, try a gentle, quick clean of their front teeth, and gradually work up to tackling their back teeth over a period of a few weeks as they get accustomed to the sensation of brushing.
There are other steps you can take to keep your cat's teeth and gums healthy. Here are three supplementary ways to discourage the build-up of plaque and tartar:
Try Dental Gel
With active enzymes that kill plaque-causing bacteria, dental gel for cats can be a good option when your cat just won't let you brush their teeth. It comes in palatable flavours, so even if your cat doesn't like one variety, they may like a different flavour or brand. You need to rub the gel onto their teeth, but you can do this with your finger, which some cats are happy to tolerate.
Choose Beneficial Treats
There's no shortage of cat treats available, but not all treats are beneficial for your cat. Opt for treats that are designed to scrape plaque off your cat's teeth as they chew them. Your cat will never know their treats are cleaning their teeth, so this is a good option for very fussy cats.
Provide Chew Toys
Chew toys aren't just for dogs, so pick up a few chew toys that are specifically made for a cat's small mouth and teeth. Chewing the slightly abrasive material will remove plaque and promote gum health by increasing saliva in your cat's mouth. Saliva is alkaline, so increasing saliva creates a hostile environment for bacteria that cause plaque to form, as the bacteria require an acidic environment to thrive.
If your cat is due for a cat teeth cleaning, or if you have any concerns about their oral health, schedule an appointment with your vet.