A Guide to Buying a Cat Toothbrush and Toothpaste

A Guide to Buying a Cat Toothbrush and Toothpaste

When you’re just starting to brush your cat’s teeth, choosing an appropriate toothpaste can seem like a daunting task! Many options are available and there are a lot of considerations when deciding on a product.


Why Should You Brush Your Cat’s Teeth?

The first step is to understand periodontal disease in animals (or gum disease) so that you subsequently know what you are treating and why we recommend tooth brushing. According to several studies, periodontal disease is the most common disease in veterinary patients. So many feline patients are affected by periodontal disease, partly because it forms so fast! Plaque starts building up immediately after an anesthetized cleaning, and if you’re not routinely brushing your cat’s teeth at home, this plaque will turn into calculus within 72 hours. 

The first symptom of periodontal disease, which is reversible if treated, is gingivitis. Gingivitis presents as redness at the gumline and is indicative of inflammation. If not addressed, this inflammation will progress to periodontitis, meaning inflammation of the tissues surrounding and supporting the tooth. Once periodontitis has developed, the tissues become diseased, frequently leading to lesions that necessitate periodontal treatments or even extraction. 


Extracting Painful Teeth

Although extraction is always something we want to avoid, sometimes it is the best option. If teeth are painful and have lost surrounding tissue attachment to a certain point, there are sometimes no available treatment options to save the teeth. It is best for the tooth not to be present in this case. 

Many people wonder how these guys will eat with less than the whole mouth of dentition—30 teeth for cats. However, it is crucial to keep in mind that if your furry friend needs extractions, they are already eating with a painful mouth. Likely they are not chewing with the parts of the mouth that are painful. 

After extraction of diseased teeth, the mouth is much more comfortable, and your cat will likely be more willing to eat! My cat was always a great eater but not a frequent thief of people food. I discovered two very painful teeth in his mouth, removed them, and ever since then, the little rascal has started stealing human food off the counters. He even stole an entire piece of pizza and got it to the next room before I was able to catch him! 

All this to say that pets will eat through excruciating pain, and we often don’t notice that they are having trouble eating at all. Removal of painful teeth can only help them.


Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth is the Gold Standard of At-Home Dental Care

The best way to prevent the necessity of extraction is to provide preventative both professional and at-home care to decrease the plaque and tartar buildup that leads to attachment loss. Periodontitis prevention can be achieved with various rinses, treats, and chews, but there is nothing nearly as effective as tooth brushing. 


What Cat Toothbrush & Toothpaste Should You Use? 

Choosing a toothbrush and toothpaste seems like it should be a relatively straightforward task, but there are several things to consider when making these decisions.


The Difference between Human and Pet Toothpastes


1. Fluoride

it may seem like the easiest option is to brush your pet’s teeth with the human toothpaste that you undoubtedly have sitting in your bathroom drawer. This is not a good idea for several reasons! First, one of the essential ingredients in human toothpaste is fluoride, which is very important in humans for preventing tooth decay by strengthening enamel. In human children, fluoride is vital for hardening the enamel of both the baby teeth and the permanent teeth before they erupt. Fluoride has been studied and proven to be very safe in humans. This is not the case in dogs and cats. Fluoride can cause many unwanted effects in our furry companions, including salivation and vomiting—sometimes even bloody vomit.


2. Xylitol

Xylitol is another common ingredient in human toothpaste that you wouldn’t want to pass on to your pets (particularly your dogs). Xylitol is an artificial sweetener most commonly found in chewing gum but can also be present in various foods, including peanut butter and some beverages. Anything that claims to be “sugar-free” may contain xylitol. Both cats and dogs, but dogs in particular, can have a severe reaction to a high enough dose of xylitol and initially become hypoglycemic. 

Hours to days after ingestion, these dogs can also develop a severe hepatopathy (liver disease), sometimes leading to liver failure and even death. Keep in mind that some veterinary-specific products will contain tiny amounts of xylitol tested to be safe. Anything your veterinarian gives you that might contain xylitol is likely fine; just make sure you’re not feeding your pet things containing xylitol from your backpack or pantry.


3. Whitening Agents

Whitening toothpaste will sometimes contain hydrogen peroxide, which is also not something you would want your pet to be ingesting. You may have even heard of people using hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting at home in an animal (this is not typically something recommended anymore as it can be easily overdosed and lead to gastrointestinal ulcerations or worse). 

Brushing your cat’s teeth with a peroxide-containing toothpaste may cause them to vomit, which is definitely not something we want our pets to associate with tooth brushing.


4. Flavoring

One last difference between human toothpaste and cat toothpaste is the flavor. Human toothpaste is typically mint-flavored or even fruit-flavored for children. Although it sounds lovely for our animals to have minty-fresh breath, they will typically be more receptive to a toothpaste flavored like something they might want to eat. Chicken, beef, or seafood flavors tend to go over the best (remember, our dogs and cats are carnivores in nature). Some excellent dog toothpaste brands come in mint flavors, though, so if you insist on your pet having minty-fresh breath, you can always try it and see if your dog or cat will accept.


What Should You Look for in a Cat Toothpaste?

All that being said, what are some things you might want to look for in a dog or cat toothpaste? One of the most important factors, of course, is that the toothpaste is safe to be swallowed as our feline patients can’t and won’t spit it out. 

Another important factor is for the toothpaste to be enzymatic. The enzymes present in the toothpaste work to remove bacteria in the mouth even after brushing. This enzymatic activity helps decrease the bacterial load in the dog or cat’s mouth and slows down plaque and tartar accumulation over time.


What Should You Look for in a Cat Toothbrush

There are also several varieties of toothbrushes from which to choose. First, you should look at the brush head. The bristles should be soft and should be able to reach all the way around the teeth to clean them thoroughly. You should also look at the size of the brush head. The head should be small enough to fit inside the mouth.

Some people prefer bristled brushes on a stick, similar to human toothbrushes. Silicon finger cots also exist with small, blunted bristles. Some people prefer these as they can feel more directly which teeth are being brushed and better understand how thorough a job they are doing. Others can’t imagine taking the risk of putting their entire finger/hand in their pet’s mouth.


Veterinary Dentist in Colorado Springs

Whichever toothbrush and toothpaste you end up choosing, know that you are doing a good thing for your pet by committing to brushing their teeth! You are performing the most critical task in improving their oral health and decreasing all of the secondary complications and comorbidities associated with advanced periodontal disease. If at any point you find that you are still not entirely sure if the toothbrush or toothpaste you have chosen for your cat is appropriate, please feel free to contact us here at Animal Dental Care, and we will be happy to help you out!


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (6/23/2023). Photo by Wren Meinberg on Unsplash