Natural cat dental care options for busy people
I’ll admit it: I have slacked in the feline dental care department and I’ve resisted the idea of having my cats routinely go under anesthesia for cleaning.
Yet every few months an expert like Dr. Marty Becker says something like this:
“[If cat’s teeth are] left untended, they quickly accumulate plaque buildup, which causes the gums to recede and bacteria to take up lodging in your cat’s mouth…Over time, they cause infections that enter the bloodstream…These bacteria can damage your cat’s heart, liver and kidneys, and compromise nearly every aspect of his health…sounds like it should be a rare occurrence, but it is incredibly common.”—Dr. Marty Becker
Clearly we can’t ignore our cat’s dental health, so we do have regular check ups. If our holistic vet insists anesthesia cleanings are important in certain circumstances, we’ll follow his advice.
In the mean time, what else can busy, natural cat lovers like you and I do?
What follows are the four natural tactics that I have the most confidence in. We are experimenting with all of these, though not all at once.
UPDATE: It appears that purebred cats, especially Siamese, Abyssinians, and Persians, are more prone to severe periodontitis, so if you have purebred, take extra care to get regular cleanings and brush if at all possible.
Ark Naturals Breath-Less Fizzy Plaque-Zapper (for small to medium pets)
This is a safe, natural enzyme powder that you put in your cat’s drinking water daily. It’s not a substitute for more complete dental care, but it may help.
If your cats don’t drink water very often, the manufacturer says they will still get some dental benefit if you mix the powder into their food. I highly suspect it’s less cleansing to the teeth when mixed in with food. However, enzymes have the side benefit of making your cats’ food more digestible.
Our cats were simultaneously fascinated by and scared of the fizzing noise it makes when you first put it in the water. Now I put the powder in before the water, which makes it mix naturally and fizz less. They got over the fizzing sound and I think Joel is even more attracted to this water than plain water.
I found this review from OnlyNaturalPet.com compelling:
“I decided to give Ark Naturals’ Plaque Zapper a shot after I could no longer afford a local brand’s dental chews and oral rinse several months ago. I chose not to tell my vet so that he could give me his unbiased opinion. I got the opinion at our dog’s annual exam yesterday: without any prompting from me, he remarked that our dog’s teeth were in excellent condition. He added that he was very impressed with how white her teeth looked. If I had beamed any brighter with pride, I would have melted the tiled floor.”–User Review
C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews for Cats, Poultry-Flavored
These chews work by combining natural antiseptic activity, enzymes, and abrasive action for plaque and tartar control.
Our cats go bonkers for these, which makes dental care downright fun! We call them “tooth treats.”
Ingredients: Freeze-Dried Fish, Poultry Digest, Dextrose, Antioxidants (containing Tocopherols, Ascorbic Acid, Natural Flavor, and Citric Acid), Glucose Oxidase (Aspergillus niger), Dried Whey Protein Concentrate.
C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Kit for Cats
This is the brushing kit that gets rave reviews on Amazon. The taste appeals to most cats and it includes a little brush that fits on your finger, making brushing easier.
The finger toothbrush is for introducing your cat to the tooth brushing experience. There is also a dual-ended toothbrush with a long handle and reverse angle heads, designed to conform to your cat’s mouth and teeth.
Check out this really easy-to-follow video from Cornell how to train your cat to be OK with a toothbrushing.
Primal Raw Chicken Necks
Our holistic vet recommended we give these to our cats once per week for dental health. I love this idea, but it’s a bit easier said than done. You need to thaw them out first, and it’s a messy business because the cats drag them all over the place. A bonus is that there is so much meat on there that the bone is at least half a meal in itself.
And you and your cat(s)?
How is the dental care going at your home?
Our cat is 16 years old and a Sphynx so allergic to many anesthesia’s. I was told gas is totally safe and now some say it’s not to use a reversable injection anesthesia as it can be reversed.. I kept smelling her teeth for a couple of years and the vet said they were fine as did a vet school 🙁 The vet just noticed thick tartar on her back molars. I hear a crunching noise ever now and then and hope/pray it’s not part of her tooth. We’ve fed ground raw meat for 10 years and was told teeth would not get dirty. Is there anything to get the tartar off? If I try to pop it off with a scraper cold it get in her blood stream? I’ve tried Petzlife and it did nothing. Also Plaque remover by Mad about organics. I read where some use 1/2 peroxide and 1/2 aloe and it gets off tartar. Is that safe? I’m worried sick as cleaning or not cleaning seems deadly. Thanks for any help!
Liz, Are there any blog entries here about cats with stomatitis? I just adopted a one-year-old kitty about eight weeks ago, and today took her to the vet to find out why she has such bad breath. (I tried switching her to a grain-free wet diet with probiotics to no avail.) Turns out she has gingivitis, which is odd for a cat her age, which in turn means she’s most likely in the early stages of stomatitis, which I’m told is an autoimmune condition whereby the body attacks the teeth as foreign invaders. If you know of any other pet owners out there who have a cat with this condition (or if you have a blog entry about it), please let me know. Thank you! –Mary Ann
P.S. (Oh, and by the way, as a tip to those switching their cats to better foods, Dolly will eat ANYTHING with Fortiflora sprinkled on it! Not sure it’s the best probiotic out there, but it’s great as a cat seasoning!)
I use a product called DentaSure and works quite well. The color went from brown to light yellow after only one week. This product doesn’t contain alcohol unlike other popular brands. Alcohol can be toxic so you want to make sure whatever brand of spray/gel you choose doesn’t contain alcohol in it.
Thanks so much for your comment, Asha. I’m looking for something my cats will tolerate. I don’t know whether to try brushing or a rinse. Does your cat allow you to brush or apply this to his (or her) gums?
I use gel form with gauze and it works well but if your cat doesn’t like it there is a spray too. You can gently spray it and it works as well as gel.
Sadly, my 2-year old kitty, Suki, had to have most of her teeth extracted this past week (doc said it was genetic). All i can say is cats must have annual exams and dental check-ups, even if all seems fine. If i had done this, we may have spared her the loss of most of her teeth. In the past, my cats have always been healthy and hearty, so i wasn’t aware of the need for this level of surveillance.
Now i am looking into what cats tolerate better – a rinse or tooth brushing. Suki only has 7 teeth left, but i want her to keep them; and i want to spare her brother the ordeal she’s gone thru. Any suggestions?
I would recommend Oratene Maintenance Gel (formerly Biotene Veterinary Maintenance Gel). Oratene is a gel you can put on the gums or brush with, if your cat allows it. It doesn’t contain sodium benzoate, which is a possibly harmful ingredient. Many online pet supply companies sell Oratene, if your vet doesn’t carry it.
Age 2 is very young for such extensive dental problems. I’m not sure there was anything that you could have done differently.
Thanks so much for your comment, Kitkat. I’m looking for something my cats will tolerate. Does your cat allow you to brush or apply this to his (or her) gums?
I use a CET cat toothbrush, and brush the Oratene on her teeth. I’ve also used one of those rubber finger brushes, but the CET brush is more precise. I didn’t start brushing until my cat was 6 years old. If I’d known then that she would tolerate it, I would have started when she was younger. I think it depends on the cat. This cat doesn’t bite or scratch when I brush her teeth. My previous two cats would have taken my arm off.
Wysong’s Dentatreat might be an add-on treatment for your cats, in addition to toothpaste/spray. It’s a powdered cheese supplement that you shake on your cat’s food that’s supposed to keep plaque from building up. You can also add water to a bit of the supplement and use it as a toothpaste.
I really can’t recommend Proden Plaqueoff (a seaweed food additive) because it is high in iodine and iodine may play a role in feline hyperthyroidism. Some with cats with stomatitis, which I assume Suki has, have used Plaqueoff to help with the inflammation. I would only use it if nothing else works.
Thank you so much for sharing the link to the video tutorial. I’ve been searching the internet for videos on how to brush a cat’s teeth and this is the best ever! THANK YOU SO MUCH! I am amazed at how passionate you are about sharing what you know about cats. May God bless you more! I’m your fan! 🙂
I started gently trying to brush my 2 cats teeth with a blue tooth brush that goes on your finger that I dipped in water. I then put cat toothpaste on it and its not easy but I try my best. My guys are worth it and I only want the best for them. I’ve purchased Oxyfresh products before in the past and they carry an animal product that I may try.
If interested the link is above. I bought Tropiclean teeth gel and will try it tonight. Fingers crossed.
How is the Tropiclean?
I looked at Oxyfresh, but the oral hygiene solution has sodium benzoate. Some of their other products (the gel) have carageenan in them.
Oh wow, thanks so much for this information. I will not be ordering it after all. Only want the best for my boys.
Other than chicken necks, are there any other raw meats you would suggest? My fiance’ and I actually don’t eat meat, so our Henry is the prime carnivore in the house! I don’t really know what to buy honestly. But I would like it to be organic, etc. like if we were eating it I suppose.
Enzyme products may not be the ONLY thing you want to do to help your cat’s dental health, but they do work! They will help reduce the bacteria in your cat’s mouth by breaking down cell walls. Definitely a good option for those who can’t wrestle with their cat to brush on a regular basis!
I love this -thanks for this post- I am excited to try Ark’s. I try to brush and use the system you show here, on Sylvester, our orange tabby)once a week, but I just know, even though he has become much more patient with me, that it’s not putting as much of a dent in fighting gum disease as combined products. As a senior cat with hyperthyroidism, he is not able to go under anesthesia for a teeth cleaning until he get the green light from our vet. In the meantime, using these solutions feels like a great alternative. *One more suggestion for those looking for short-term help and worried their kitty might be in some pain- our vet suggested infant teething gel. I use it on Sly a lot and he purrs after, I believe it really makes him feel comfortable!
Has anyone tried Fragaria Vesca?
I would like to know if it’s safe to use.
Thank you very much for posting all these useful tips when it comes to feline dental care. I’m so lazy when it comes to maintaining this side of the boat. But thank you for posting this. Very helpful 😀
The products look promising. Dogs remove a lot of their plaque buildup with chew toys, but cats are less prone to use chew toys, and their teeth are more fragile.
Is there any concern about cats swallowing the bones in the chicken necks? Dr. Lisa Pierson recommends chicken gizzards and small chunks of raw meat for dental health: http://www.catinfo.org/#Dental_Disease. I’m also purchasing the toothbrush and we’ll see how far we get!
As long as the chicken bones are uncooked, they are fine, The cooked bones have the danger of splintering.
Julie, I forgot to mention that—I like that idea but haven’t tested it: chunks of raw meat helping to keep teeth clean. I’m thinking this is how cats & other carnivores managed to do ok for thousands of years without a toothbrush!
The Primal necks are too big to swallow whole, but the cats can crunch and swallow some of the bone if they want to. Hasn’t been a problem. Much like real prey I imagine.
My cats are odd and like to drink out of the dog bowl which is why I use the Ark Naturals Plaque Zapper 🙂 It’s good for both the oddball cats and the pups 🙂
Thank you for this article and the different suggestions! I will look into them.
Yes, the threat of dental disease and its side effects are a real thorn in my side. I am not in favor of having my cats anesthetized in order to have their teeth cleaned. It is also an impossible ordeal to brush their teeth. But the good news is that at my older cat’s 4 yr. wellness check up, our vet remarked at how clean his teeth are. I think this may be because their diets are grain-free and they are on a raw meat diet. I also have begun sprinkling their food with the Wysong DentaTreat–a cheese enzyme that is supposed to destroy plaque.
Betty, that’s good news about the dental bill of health! Yes, our vet says it really seems to relate to genetics—2 different cats can have the same dental care (or lack of it) and one will have trouble and the other will be in great shape. Purebreds in particular are vulnerable. It makes sense to me that a raw diet would help keep teeth clean—the enzymes are preserved in the food.
Vets who have had proper feline dental care training (not many have) recommend a dental cleaning every year. Too bad the dental training is “extra” for vets. It’s not required.
Eventually and unfortunately, cats end up having to have their teeth pulled if the teeth aren’t cleaned often enough. “Often enough” varies from cat to cat but typically it’s every year, every two years, or every three years.
I once adopted an older cat who upon teeth inspection had to have over half her teeth pulled. Apparently, the previous cat parent never had her teeth cleaned.
Putting them under anesthetic is always a concern, but it’s okay and it’s worth it to get their teeth cleaned. Teeth cleaning is very important. Brushing is very important too. Not many cat parents do either.
Good that you are looking into enzymes and crunchy things but…
I am certain that the enzymes and chewable products don’t work at all. They don’t work for cats any more than they would work for us. Do pretzels clean our teeth just because they are crunchy?
I had to mention that for the sake of all cats and I think Ingrid mentioned that as well.
@Ingrid – thanx for the video link.
=^-^= Hairless Cat Girl =^-^=
I give my cat the CET Chews in the evening and a piece of chicken neck at each meal.
Most of the time he eats the chicken neck piece, but sometimes not.
Brushing his teeth is a major battle, even if he is wrapped in a “cat burrito,” so I had to let that go, unfortunately. He is a cat who rules his own body, thank you very much!
Hey Pam, cats will be cats! I like the idea of including a chicken neck piece regularly. I find it really hard to cut them though, and I also worry that I might make them so small they could cause choking. I’m thinking raw chunks of meat, as Julie mentioned, might be a good alternative for me.
Wow – this is just what I needed! Also I’ve heard teething/dental toys work great, too. I just bought the Petstages mint dental toy, but Noodles will only chase it – if it’s not in motion, he’ll pay no attention. Of course, it’s a brand new toy that crinkles, not jingles, and has mint instead of catnip. So, this toy is currently undergoing surgery and will have a small jingle bell added to one crinkly “leaf” and some catnip to the other. Wish everyone luck with their soon-to-be kitty’s pearly whites! 🙂 Those chicken necks sound pretty cool, too.
Makayla, that sounds like a fun toy for Noodles and will be more fun with catnip, for sure.
I would like to hear opinions on the best kind of toothbrush.
Available options are 1. finger brush, 2. CET cat toothbrush, 3. human proxabrush, 4. regular flat-bristle style toothbrushes.
I’ve tried microfibre cloth and it seems too soft, plus I don’t know how much toothpaste ends up in the cloth and not on my cat’s teeth.
I don’t think my cat would go for the chews or chicken necks — I have enough trouble getting her to eat her canned food.
As for toothpaste-
I’ve used Petzlife (cat hates the taste, and it’s a battle to apply it, leaving my cat uncooperative for any other toothbrushing). I’ve also tried CET toothpaste and Sentry Petrodex Ultra Advanced Veterinary Cleaning Paste. The Sentry Petrodex paste is wax-like and contains almond oil, sodium bicarbonate and beeswax. It’s difficult to apply, but it’s worked slightly better than Petzlife and CET. I haven’t found any product that works as well as claimed by the manufacturer. They claim that their products will remove tartar, but I haven’t found that to be the case. Professional scaling is probably my only option at this point, over $400 last time I checked.
The Cornell instructions use the CET toothbrush in their example, and it does seem to be the one people rave about most.
I think brushing your cat’s teeth is the only thing that really works. These water additives all sound nice in theory, but they really don’t do much. It’s not as hard as people think to train a cat to accept having her teeth brushed. The Cornell Feline Health Center has an excellent video that walks you through a 4-week training program.
I used this program for Allegra and Ruby, and I brush their teeth every night and follow the brushing with a CET dental treat. They actually remind me when I forget!
Oops, I meant to leave the link to the video:
Thanks for the great tips. I’m lazy about tooth cleaning as well. The tooth brushing goes ok but it’s not done often enough to be of much benefit.
Here are some tips to help with the raw chicken necks –
-make sure they’re not just right out of the fridge. Put them in a little baggie and put into some warm water for a few minutes
-have a separate blanket or towel for this purpose and lay it down on the kitchen floor — the cats stay on the blanket to eat the chicken necks.
– our raw food pet store sells chicken neck PIECES so are easier for first timers and younger cats to eat
– to encourage your cat to eat it (some look at it and give you a look like “what is this?!) — slice it a bit to get a meat piece so they can grab onto it to get going, and sprinkle a few bonito flakes on it to (or drizzle with the juice from a can of tuna)
Yes, it is a lot of work, but worth it for the kitty’s health 🙂
These are good tips–thanks for sharing that Cathy