Celia Haddon - Cat Expert

Understanding animals through their behaviour


c. Celia Haddon


This article was written with the help of Evelyn Barbour Hill of the British Veterinary Dental Association.

A cat can’t tell you when it has tooth pain. But if a cat is going towards food, looking as if it is hungry, then taking only a bite or two and retreating, this may be tooth pain. Dribbling, refusal to eat hard food, bad breath, head shaking, red inflamed gums, pawing at the mouth, blood in the mouth and teeth chattering are all other symptoms. Occasionally a cat in severe tooth pain will sometimes also pull its own fur out. Tooth pain may also stop a cat grooming itself properly. Cats with painful teeth may become aggressive to their owners (Lund 2012)

Tooth or mouth problems can be a symptom of or a cause of serious underlying disease, so it is essential that you take your cat to the vet. A cat which doesn’t eat for 48 hours must always see a vet fast. The underlying disease will need to be treated, in order to cure the mouth or teeth problems. It is also worth remembering that mouth cancer is relatively common in cats (Milella 2012).

Other causes of tooth or mouth pain include skin irritation because the cat has eaten something like a household cleaning product, foreign bodies stuck in the mouth, broken teeth, abscesses, gum infection etc. All these need proper inspection, diagnosis and treatment by a vet. In difficult cases get an expert – see British Veterinary Dental Association


Older cats will often not tolerate having their teeth brushed. Very nervous cats may bite. So proceed with caution!

Young cats and kittens, however can learn. Get some veterinary toothpaste from your vet or pet shop, and put it on your finger. “Sit with the cat between your knees facing away from you,” says Evelyn Barbour-Hill of the British Veterinary Dental Association. “Then push your finger under her lips from the front to the back of her cheek. Maybe she will only allow one side to be done at first, but don’t attempt force or make a struggle. Even this much cleaning helps.

“When a cat is used to the finger, you can try a toothbrush, a soft cat one. Daily brushing is valuable, even if it is a bit haphazard. You don’t have to brush up and down, sweep sideways.”

The disconcerting thing about brushing a cat’s teeth is that you have to push the brush in so far back. Get your vet or the veterinary nurse to demonstrate because it is difficult to make yourself do this. If you can do this, it will help (Logan 2006). More help here.


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Wet tinned food provides nothing crunchy to clean teeth. Some cats may be more prone to plaque than others. Even feral cats, on a diet of wildlife, can have bad teeth (Clarke & Cameron, 1998)

A complete dried food is the nearest best thing for teeth (Gawor et al.,2006), though if your cat has any other medical problems check with your vet first. Make sure water is always available. There are prescription diets with extra large kibble and anti-plaque ingredient, available from vets, for cats prone to dental disease. These are helpful in preventing plaque (Clarke et al., 2010). Buying a bag of one of these and feeding a few biscuits every day should help prevent plaque too.

There are a few chews or dental treats for cats including CET. chews for cats (only sold outside Europe). These are freeze-dried fish or meat, treated with an “antibacterial enzyme system”. There is also Vet Aquadent Anti Plaque Solution which can be added to your cat’s water containing xylitol (Clarke, 2006). Zinc ascorbate gel put on the teeth with brush or finger, can help (Clarke 2001). Look for Maxiguard or Pet Dent brands. Other possibilities are Logic oral hygeine gel put on the teeth, Liquid Oral Care and Virbac Fish Flavour Toothpaste which can be bought in a tooth care pack with toothbrush.

There’s a good webinar here.


Clarke D. E. & Cameron A.,  (1998), ‘Relationship between diet, dental calculus and periodontal disease in domestic and feral cats in Australia’, Aust Vet Journal, 76, 690-693

Clarke, D. E. (2001), ‘Clinical and Microbiological Effects of Zinc Ascorbate Gel in Cats,’ Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, 18, 177-183.

Clarke, D. E. (2006), ‘Drinking Water Additive Decreases Plaque and Calculus Accumulation in Cats,’ Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, 23, 79-82

Clarke D. E.,, Servet E, Hendriks W. H., Thomas, D. G., Weidgraff, K. & Biourge, V. C., (2010) ‘Effect of kibble size, shape and additives on plaque in cats’. J Vet Dent, 27, 84-89.

Gawor, J.P., Reiter,A. M., Jodkowsky, K, Kursky, G., Wojtaki, M.P. & Kurek, A.,(2001), ‘Influence of Diet on Oral Health in Cats and Dogs’, Journal of Nutrition, 136, 2021S–2023S

Logan, E. I. (2006), ‘Dietary Influences on Periodontal Health in Dogs and Cats,’ Vet Clin Small Anim, 36 (2006) 1385–1401

Lund, E., (2012), ‘Epidemiology of periodontal disease in older cats’, Veterinary Focus, 22, 23-24

Milella, L, (2012), ‘Dental disease in cats,’ FAB Conference 2012, 16-17

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