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How Clean Is a Cat’s Mouth? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

Written by: Patricia Dickson

Last Updated on January 21, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Cat with mouth wide open

How Clean Is a Cat’s Mouth? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ


Dr. Maja Platisa Photo


Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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While your cat’s mouth is surprisingly clean, it’s still not a good idea to let your cat lick you.

A cat’s mouth contains various species of bacteria, with exact numbers depending on factors such as a recent meal and oral health. We know that a bacteria called Pasteurella multocida is present in the mouths of 70-90% of cats and has been found in 50-80% of cat bites in humans that required medical attention.1

Cats and people alike carry certain bacteria that cause them no signs of illness whatsoever but under specific circumstances, such as immunosuppressive therapy and cancer, may lead to various health concerns in their human parents. Zoonosis is a term used when describing the potential of an infectious agent or disease to be transmitted from animals to humans.

So, letting your cat lick your face may not be the best idea. The same applies for any cuts or open wounds that your cat may try to lick. Read on to find out more about cats’ mouths, and remember to speak to your doctor if you have any concerns or questions regarding your own health.


Should You Brush Your Cat’s Teeth?

cat brushing teeth
Image Credit: cynoclub, Shutterstock

Many pet parents aren’t sure whether they should brush their cat’s teeth or not. The fact is that even though your cat’s mouth might seem fairly clean, they can still have issues with their teeth. Brushing your cat’s teeth is recommended even on a daily basis, or a minimum of three times a week, in order to decrease plaque and prevent tartar accumulation. It’s important to note that you can’t use just any type of toothpaste on your cat’s teeth either.

Many human toothpastes may be harmful to your feline, particularly if any of the ingredients are swallowed. So instead, speak to your vet about which is the best kitty toothpaste to use. They can tell you how to brush your cat’s teeth, get them used to doing so regularly, examine and check their mouth for any teeth or gum problems, and give you suggestions on what the best cat toothpaste and equipment is to get the job done the right way.

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Are Cats’ Mouths Cleaner Than Humans?

One of the biggest myths out there is that cats’ mouths are cleaner than humans. While science still does not know exact numbers of bacterial species in a cat’s mouth, as these will be quite variable depending on the cat’s oral health, what they ate previously, or whether they had a drink, the type of bacteria is what really matters.

We do know that humans can have over 700 different bacterial species in their mouth, counting billions of individual bacteria, while cats may carry bacteria that are uncommon for humans and may cause serious illness through bites and licking of wounds.

While you can brush your cat’s teeth and should take them to the vet for dental checks and treatments, the fact remains that your cat licks themselves regularly, while some cats may also hunt, eat prey animals, or are fed a raw diet. So while you may be tempted to let your cat lick you on the face, it’s not a good idea considering where their tongue has been and the potential risks these bacteria may pose for your health.

The problem becomes more complex, as some bacteria isolated from a cat’s mouth can be resistant to many antibiotics, making it quite challenging to treat. This is becoming a growing concern when it comes to pets but also human health.

Are Cat Mouths Cleaner Than Dogs Mouths?

cats mouth being checked
Image Credit: PRESSLAB, Shutterstock

As the number of bacterial species in a cat’s mouth remains unknown, it’s impossible to make such a comparison, but dogs seem to have a similar number of bacterial species to humans (around 600). Either way, cats and dogs both do a whole lot of licking with much less oral hygiene (or very little in some cases), so it stands to reason that their mouths are quite different from our own. So, to be on the safe side, just avoid being licked by either animal.

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Final Thoughts

So, how clean is a cat’s mouth? It depends on many factors, but exact numbers of bacterial species remain under research. They have a lot of germs, like people and dogs, but the concern arises with some of them being resistant to various antibiotic treatments and posing a genuine health risk for humans. Does that mean you should feel free to let your cat lick your face, though? The answer to that question is no. This is even more important when it comes to children and immunocompromised individuals, who are at more risk of zoonotic disease.

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Featured Image Credit: Luis wilker Wilkernet, Pixabay

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