Has your vet told you your cat’s teeth need cleaning? If so, you have plenty of company. Over 80% of adult cats have some form of periodontal disease and vets have become more aggressive in urging owners to take better care of their cats’ teeth. This isn’t just to save you the expense of a cleaning. Good dental care is also a major factor in your cat’s overall health, because bacteria from a cat’s mouth can spread through its bloodstream and cause problems in its heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. While daily brushing is the optimum way to care for your cat’s teeth, not everyone can do it (and not every cat will tolerate it!) So here are some additional ways to improve your cat’s dental health.
Purchase a dental-care water additive for your cat's drinking water. These products are formulated to help dissolve plaque and discourage bacterial growth in cats' mouths. Most are odorless and tasteless and your cat shouldn't realize there is anything special in the water, but if he/she seems to dislike the first product you buy, try another. Some such products are available from vets, but you can probably find one more economically from the sources listed under "Resources." If you have multiple cats and use a communal bowl, you’ll need to adjust the quantity; follow manufacturer recommendations.
If you feed only canned food, try to purrsuade your cat to eat a good-quality dry food. A recent study found that cats fed dry food (as opposed to canned food) had significantly lower levels of dental deposits and periodontal disease. If you feed a mixture of canned and dry, or if your cat is already having some dental problems, you may want to switch to a dental care formula. Hills, Royal Canin, and Friskies all make dry foods designed for this purpose, and most large pet shops carry them. Other, prescription-only dental formulas should be available from your veterinarian.
Find a tooth cleaning routine that is comfortable for you and your cat and stick with it.While the number one way to improve your cat’s dental health is to brush its teeth, there are other cleaning methods that can be useful. While not as beneficial as brushing, they are certainly better than no cleaning at all. (And because they are more gentle than brushing, you may find that you are able to clean your cat’s teeth more often.) Cats who won’t tolerate a toothbrush will often accept a cleansing with a dental wipe, pad, or sponge. If your cat’s mouth is extremely sensitive, or if it has already had its teeth cleaned by a vet, you can try a cleaning rinse or gel. Several such cleaning products are available from the resources listed at the end of this article. While most vets recommend daily cleaning; if you are following steps 1 and 2, you may be able to get by with brushing or cleaning two or three times a week. Whatever method you use, it’s best to do it in the same place each time, and to reward your cat with a special treat before and after the cleaning.
Choose treats carefully! Semi-moist treats are a bad idea for cats with dental problems. You should switch to a hard, crunchy treat, ideally one that has an abrasive texture to help remove tartar. Many different brands are available and your vet may have some prescription-formula chews that are more effective than treats found in groceries or pet shops.
Consider a dietary supplement that may help promote healthy teeth and gums. These are relatively new so I cannot personally attest to how effective they might be, but they certainly won't do your cat any harm. See "Resources" for help finding them.