Cleaning cats teeth

Updated November 29, 2020

Cleaning a cat’s teeth? ARGGH. Before you throw your hands up in horror, here’s a secret: it’s easier than dogs! You just need to know how. Here we will tell you what you can do for dental care in cats.

Firstly, some bad news. Everyone asks: do normal cat biscuits clean their teeth? Although they certainly do some impressive crunching, we see no difference between cats on soft food versus cats on regular hard biscuits.

What helps keep cats’ teeth clean?

So here are what we see working for cats in our clinic. Please, please don’t try these before seeing a vet. If your pet may have sore teeth these are going to be painful and may lead to malnutrition.

For advice on how to tell if your cat has bad teeth and what needs to be done first, please follow this link.

Raw Bones

I can feel the disbelief over this one. Dogs will chew a bone just for sheer fun but surely cats aren’t so silly? Well, that is true, but a cat can be convinced to chew a bone if they think there’s something in it for them.

cat chewing bone
Yuki loves kangaroo bones!

Simply, bones need to be encased in a tasty body to make them appealing to cats. Like a mouse or bird for example. Of course, it’s neither practical or hygienic to feed mice to cats so the next best alternative is chicken necks. These disgusting items are sold in most chicken shops; you just need to ask. The video shows Grendel demolishing his daily chicken neck.

Starting kittens is usually easy. However, starting an adult cat on such a radically different food is hard. Click here for advice on how to get a cat to eat chicken necks.

Like many ‘real world’ solutions, chicken neck feeding to cats is not risk-free and requires weighing up the pros and cons together with your personal preferences.

Tooth Brushing

It’s not easy to clean a cat’s teeth. I have to admit I don’t know any who accept it, but I’m all for trying if the right cat comes along. Read more about toothbrushing here. Luckily, dietary means work well, so let’s move on.

Dental Diets

The joy of dental diets in cats is that they can work extremely well. Dog dental biscuits help dogs, but cat dental biscuits can completely prevent periodontal disease in many cats. The reason is probably the fewer, simpler teeth in a cat’s mouth.

cat tooth diets

The other joy is that if you’re prepared to give them a good try, cats really like dental biscuits. Don’t expect a cat to like any new food straight away but if you mix new and old foods together most cats will end up preferring the new food.

We are aware of four good cat dental diets. Three of these: Hills Vet Essentials, Hills Oral Care, and Royal Canin Dental Support should be fed as close as possible to 100% of the diet. The picture at the start shows the mouth of a cat who gets 50% Oral Care: no gingivitis, but still too much tartar.

Hills t/d is an excellent veterinary prescription dental diet which is the only one we recommend if the owner wishes to also give other foods.

What else can we do?

For more information, including what makes a good dental care plan, visit our companion article on dog dental care.

Remember that we’re always available for advice. Our aim is to get involved before any gum recession or tooth damage occurs. Sometimes we can make suggestions for you to do at home and other times we will recommend an ultrasonic scale and polish.

Cat dental disease often causes severe and hidden pain. For older cats who often have other problems it can be the thing that stops them eating right when it matters the most that they do.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

15 Replies to “Cleaning cats teeth”

  1. Hi Andrew, have been using Raw Freeze-dried chicken necks (Fresh is Best brand) here in US – California for six years. Just reconstitute small amounts under warm water before feeding. Even just a 4 or 5 gram section of raw bone daily is helping and not too much protein I hope (cat is on Hills Early K/D diet)

    Thank you for the easy to read and understand article!


  2. Hi Andrew, I’ve been brushing my Korats teeth for about three years since they were kittens. I’ve made it part of the daily routine so we do it everyday, and both my cats are very tolerant and use to it. Sadly, at their dental clean last week the vet thinks they might have a genetic pre-disposition to gum disease and a few teeth had to be removed. The vet suggested giving them dental kibble, which I’ll probably use as treats since I prefer wet food.

    When I mentioned raw food like chicken necks she was very skeptical and worried that bones would be too likely to damage their teeth. I tried raw thawed chicken wings when they were kittens and while they had fun throwing it around they never really ate or chewed them. Despite all that, I’d like to try again. I’ve found your blog to be really helpful, that you for all the information.

  3. My 5 year old cat has just had his teeth cleaned. What can I give him now to keep them clean. he is on Royal Canin Urinary S/O Thanking you

    1. Hi Wendy. Cats on restricted diets are always a challenge. My own cat is fed a raw chicken neck a day, but this is impractical for many people and unthinkable for others! Brushing their teeth, possibly even Morceau, and the only conventional alternative is having them regularly cleaned under anaesthetic.

  4. My newly adopted @ 9 month old shelter kitty has stomatitis. The vet recommended Hills Science Diet TD. I introduced it to her less than a week ago. The kibbles are so big that she can barely crack them so she seems to be swallowing it in big pieces. I’m concerned about her digestion. What are your thoughts?

    1. Hi Stephanie. The purpose of the T/D is in fact that they have to chew them – the biscuits are supposed to be too large to swallow whole. If that is occurring, then the biscuit will have no benefit and you are better changing to a different strategy. As you have probably read, I believe that raw bone can be the most effective strategy as long as you are comfortable with the inherent risks.

  5. I had my cat on Hills t/d to try to control bad gingivitis he had as a kitten but then he got a urinary blockage so I stopped all dry food. I give him chunks of kangaroo meat to chew and also chicken drumsticks, because he wouldn’t touch chicken wings. He also has some Hills C/D wet, but not much. But now, he’s having some digestive issues so I think I need to change his diet again. It’s very tricky!

  6. My cat has diabetes. What is the best tooth biscuit (or best way to keep his teeth clean) in this instance?


    1. Hi Fiona. It’s perfectly reasonable to continue using dental biscuits as long as a diabetic cat is well controlled. I would only move away from an effective remedy like this if you are having trouble with management. In my cat’s case, he’s very partial to raw chicken necks, which of course are the better option but very hard if a cat is not used to eating them.

  7. Good day,
    My cat’s breath is smelly. Her teeth are healthy to the eye. I did notice that the gum is slightly redder than the rest of the gum where gum and tooth meet.
    Kind regards

    1. Hi Lorana. Most likely, your cat has plaque on the teeth that is not yet mineralised and therefore not yet visible. Improving dental hygiene should still help in the ways outlined above. Good luck.

  8. My 4 month old kitten has had quite bad breath over the last week and a half or so. Is there something I can do to help or with her teething will it go away on it own? She is still eating as normal and there has been no sign of gum bleeding, just the bad breath. Will giving her a chicken neck to chew on help? Her normal diet is the Royal Canin kitten second age. Thank you

    1. Hi Devin. Bad breath at this age may just be associated with teething but it can also be a sign of prior exposure to cat flu viruses. Please get a vet checkup if you haven’t already done so before offering anything difficult to chew.

  9. I have a question regarding the dry food’s mentioned above. It says that Hills TD is the only one you recommend if you want to also give other foods. Do you mean wet food or combining different types of dry food. My vet just told me that my 15 month old cats are starting to get plaque build up. They will not eat chicken necks so I am looking for alternatives. They currently get dry food (Royal Canin Indoor) in the morning and wet food at night. I was going to get them the Royal Canin dental until I read that this one should be given 100% – I was going to mix their dry food.


    1. Hi Christine. What I say in the article is no more than my own clinical experience. When the Royal Canin or regular Hills dental diets are used at less than 100%, tartar accumulation and gingivitis still seem to progress. In contrast, when using Hills prescription diet t/d it often seems possible to mix in other wet or dry diets at up to 50% of the total and still achieve consistently healthy teeth and gums. However there are certainly some cats that will require even t/d at 100% to maintain oral hygiene, and others for which none of these diets will be sufficient alone.

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