By Eric Stenson
Cats face many of the same dental challenges faced by humans—plaque and tartar buildup, periodontal issues and bad breath. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center at the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, about 85 percent of cats above the age of six will wind up suffering from periodontal disease.
Often, extraction is the final result of these types of maladies. It’s costly to cat owners and potentially devastating to felines, who need to be placed under anesthesia to undergo the surgical procedure.
So, what can be done? The Cornell Feline Health Center website points out a lot of issues in the diet of today’s housecat—namely, soft foods have replaced the flesh and bones of birds, rodents and other prey, the chewing of which kept cats’ teeth clean and strong.
Fortunately, there are products to help counteract these issues. One of the best preventative steps the Cornell Feline Health Center suggests is daily tooth brushing for cats. Virbac Corp. of Fort Worth, Texas, for example, manufactures toothbrushes for animals, as well as a full line of toothpastes in pet-friendly flavors, such as poultry, seafood, beef and malt.
Virbac’s toothpastes are intended for veterinary use, but there are also several pastes that retailers can market directly to cat owners. Frank Frattini, CEO of the Hungry Puppy, an independent retailer in Farmingdale, New Jersey, carries products from Nylabone, which makes a molasses-flavored cat toothpaste, and TropiClean, including brushes, pads, pastes and liquids.
Frattini admits it’s not easy to get a cat to allow an owner to brush its pearly whites. He suggests starting when they’re kittens, when they’re most likely to accept using brushes, pastes and gels.
“The trick with those is getting them used to them when they’re young,” he said. “Cats are pretty independent to begin with. As they get older, it’s much more difficult.”
He also indicates that food choices can be an important point in feline oral health. His store carries a number of teeth-cleaning treats, including Feline Greenies and Oral Care by Hills Science Diet cat food.
“It’s a bigger kibble,” he explained. “When they bite into it, it helps clean their teeth as they chew it.”
At-Home Dental Care
Kathy Hillestad, a staff veterinarian for Drs. Foster and Smith, a Petco company in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, acknowledges that brushing a cat’s teeth presents a challenge. While the best way to ensure sound dental hygiene for felines is for a vet to do the cleaning under anesthesia, Drs. Foster and Smith provides a line of products that make follow-up care at home a bit easier.Finger toothbrushes offer a good alternative to brushes used for dogs, which are too long and too hard to use with cats. Drs. Foster and Smith’s feline toothbrushes are only about 15/8 inches long, fit on a fingertip and are extremely soft. The company also makes Advanced Tartar Control Toothpaste, which is gentle on gums, non-foaming and uses an enzymatic action to help clean teeth. The chicken flavor is popular with cats.
Hillestad agrees that it is easier to get cats used to brushing when they are young, but maintains that adult cats can become accustomed to a dental care regimen over time. Cat owners who might be skittish over the idea of sticking a brush into Tabby’s mouth are advised to start slow.
She suggests getting the cat used to licking something tasty off your finger, like chicken broth or canned cat food, then over time gently beginning to insert your finger into the cat’s mouth along the side of the teeth, using a wiping motion. It takes patience—don’t be discouraged if the cat only lets you wipe a few teeth at a time. Keep it short, then come back later.
Eventually, you can progress to using the brush. For cats that really can’t tolerate the brush, Drs. Foster and Smith also makes Dental Clens Pads. These contain a chlorhexidine solution that helps kill bacteria that can lead to the formation of plaque. They are soft, disposable and easily wrap around a finger. Hillestad suggests them as a good alternative to a brush. The solution is also available in a squirt bottle or spray.
Drs. Foster and Smith also makes a line of teeth-cleaning, breath-freshening Daily Dental Treats for cats in tuna, chicken and salmon flavors.
Let the Cat Work
For pet owners with cats who don’t take well to brushing or even having their teeth wiped, there is an alternative. Let the cat do the work for you!
TropiClean of Wentzville, Missouri, produces Fresh Breath Oral Care Water Additive for Cats and Fresh Breath Clean Teeth Gel for Cats. The water additive is tasteless and odorless. Just add a capful to a cat’s water dish each time it’s filled.
“It’s made with natural ingredients such as green tea leaf extract that naturally defends against bad breath,” said James Brandly, marketing coordinator for TropiClean. “It’s easy to use—no brushing required.”
The Fresh Breath Clean Teeth Gel for Cats is also made with natural ingredients that fight plaque and tartar and freshen breath, and it’s similarly easy to use.
“We found that cats are very independent and would rather groom and care for themselves,” Brandly said. “That’s why we introduced our gel that lets them brush their own teeth with one simple dab to their mouth. After application, you’ll notice your cat licking her lips repeatedly; this is normal and helps the gel coat the teeth and gums.”