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How to Brush Your Kitten's Teeth

Brushing your cat's teeth? What a ridiculous idea! Cats don't need their teeth brushed...or do they? According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 70% of cats show some signs of oral disease by age 3, and 85% of all adult cats have periodontal disease.

Poor dental health affects your kitten's overall health by compromising the ability to eat and by sapping her body's resistance to other diseases because her immune system is constantly mobilized against the infection in her mouth. The most important thing you can do to keep your kitten's mouth healthy is to brush her teeth regularly.

Do not use toothpastes or other dental products designed for people. Ingredients like fluoride can be toxic to cats, who don't know they're supposed to spit the toothpaste out when they're done. There are a number of pastes designed specifically for cats, and you can find these at most pet stores.

Your kitten will initially resist having her teeth brushed, but it should go well if you take a step-by-step approach:

  1. Start by rubbing her muzzle over the teeth, which she'll accept easily because it mimics the cheek rubbing I talked about last week.

  2. Next, raise her lip and massage her gums with your finger (please make sure your hands are clean when you do this; your cat doesn't want to taste your cigarette or the garlic you just chopped). When this becomes routine, wrap a piece of gauze around your finger and gently rub your kitten's teeth and gums.

  3. The next step is to introduce a toothbrush. You can use a toothbrush designed for human babies, or you can buy a fingertip brush or a toothbrush designed specifically for cats. Get her used to the idea of toothpaste by using the water from a can of tuna before using the actual toothpaste. When it's time to start using the toothpaste, offer a tiny bit on the tip of your finger.

  4. The most important place to brush is at the gum line. This is where calculus builds up and causes inflammation. Brush in a back-and-forth motion. You don't need to brush the insides of your cat's teeth; her tongue will take care of that. If her mouth is still healthy, you only need to brush her teeth two or three times a week. But cats that already have signs of dental disease need to have their teeth brushed every day.

In this video, veterinarian Dr. Susan Waugh of Windsor Veterinary & Dental Services demonstrates how to properly brush your cat's teeth.

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