Supporting Oral Health: Dental Care for Cats

A tabby cat chewing on torn cardboard that it holds in its paws

Cats Need Some Dental Help to Keep Periodontal Disease at Bay

For the fearsome carnivore that is your cat, healthy teeth are incredibly important. But unless your cat is catching small game and consuming it whole–fur and some bone included–they’re not getting much useful dental care.

People who spend a lot of time with cats understand that cats don’t chew. As obligate carnivores, cats have evolved to have a collection of pointy teeth used for shredding their prey. When your cat eats small nuggets or other food forms, they basically swallows them whole with little chewing. So, cats who munch on kibble, canned and even raw food will need some dental help to keep periodontal disease at bay. While brushing remains the optimal way to keep your cat’s teeth healthy, dental additives and chews can also reduce the chance of periodontal disease.

Three Options to Help Work Towards Feline Dental Health

Brushing isn’t the only way to maintain excellent feline dental health. Even if your cat’s teeth never touch a toothbrush, you have three wide categories of dental health preventatives to explore.

Pick an item out of at least two of three categories to use daily to help your cat’s mouth stay healthy.


Mechanical dental care works by physically removing plaque from teeth before it turns into tartar. Toothbrushes and toothpastes are the most common means of mechanical dental care but dental chews also fit into this category.

This type of dental care can be tricky depending on your individual cat. Some cats will tolerate brushing, while other cats love to chew. But if your cat doesn’t fall into either of those categories, you might want to examine options outside this category.


Many toothpastes are formulated with enzymes. These enzymes either help break down food that bacteria eat or produce a hydrogen peroxide mixture (which is natural occurring in all mammals) that helps to create an environment in the mouth unsuitable for these bacteria. Without their food source and in an unfriendly environment, the bacteria that causes periodontal disease drops significantly. That reduces the amount of plaque, so your cat’s teeth won’t develop as much tartar.


Supplements for dental health attack plaque-causing bacteria throughout the body. Your cat drinks or eats the supplement as part of their overall diet, which makes it an easy dental care option.

When possible, look for supplements that are added into food and avoid dental health water additives unless your cat likes them. Many cats dislike water additives and may avoid drinking altogether.

One dental supplement that works for many cats is kelp. While there are a lot of dental supplements available, some cats don’t like the taste. Dried Icelandic sea kelp requires only a fraction of a teaspoon in your cat’s daily meal to work.

For cats with a history of dental problems, you’ll probably want to look for an option in all three categories. Luckily, many products span several categories. If you can’t brush your cat’s teeth, for example, you can pick a dental chew with enzymatic properties. Then, if you found a dental supplement your cat liked, you will have effortlessly covered all three categories in your everyday routine.

Feline Appropriate Chews

While felines don’t have the instinct to chew like dogs, some cats can be persuaded to chew on certain objects that will remove plaque from their teeth. The occasional cat will chew almost anything, but they are unusual. For cats that seldom chew, you should be prepared to try multiple types of chews until you find one that your cat seeks out. Here are some things to try:

Jerky: Many cats will chew on thick jerky treats marketed towards dogs. When choosing a piece of jerky for dental health, look for jerky that comes in large pieces that will require your cat to tear off pieces before consuming it. Small jerky treats won’t provide any benefit; your cat is likely to swallow them whole.

Raw, meaty bones: Bones with actual meat on them can entice cats to chew. To find a bone that your cat will love, look for small bones that your cat can reasonably chew that have a significant amount of meat on them. Some possible options include chicken wings, necks and small poultry bones from quail and Cornish hens. Small whole fish, such as sardines, are also great for teeth health. It’s also a good idea to look for bones marketed to pets. While the bones at your local grocery store may be of high quality, they’re also more likely to contain salmonella than bones in the raw pet food supply.

Fish skins: Most cats love fish, so fish skins might be a good option for the particularly discerning feline that won’t accept other types of chews.

Dried hearts: Some cats love the texture and taste of dried chicken and pork hearts. These chewy treats require some chewing to break down into smaller pieces, which makes them an excellent choice for plaque removal.

Freeze-dried or dried bully sticks: Unusual cats who chew may need more of a challenge. That’s where bully sticks come in. These protein-packed treats appeal to some cats, who really must work to remove bits of the stick.

After choosing the chew, try holding it for your cat. Your feline might not want to grasp with their paws initially, but if you’re willing to hold it, they might chew the chew. And if they’re a highly social cat, they might just gnaw on the chew to spend time with you.

Older cats might need something slightly easier to chew. A quick 20-minute soak in warm water will help soften many of these items and make them easier for your cat to gnaw.

Does Diet Help Create Better Feline Oral Health?

Crunchy kibble may seem like it should reduce plaque, but traditional dry foods don’t actually help improve your cat’s oral health. Your cat’s mouth isn’t made for chewing, and your cat often swallows things whole without much crunching involved. Raw food is good at reducing visible plaque, but even raw food doesn’t eliminate the need for an oral health plan.

Your cat needs regular dental healthcare to keep periodontal disease at bay. Whether you feed wet food, kibble, raw or something else, your cat will need regular toothbrushing, dental supplements or other products to keep their mouth healthy.

A cardboard cat carrier

When to See Your Veterinarian About Your Cat’s Dental Health

Your veterinarian should check your cat’s mouth health during their yearly physical but be on the lookout for signs of dental problems. Facial swelling, chewing only on one side of their mouth, or any sign of dental pain is worth talking to your veterinarian.

Visible tartar or loose teeth will likely require your veterinarian’s help, too. Only a veterinary professional will be able to remove yellow concrete-like tartar from your cat’s teeth.

Finally, if you’re always struggling with your cat’s not-so-fresh-breath, consider talking to your veterinarian. Persistent bad breath is likely to be a symptom of poor dental health that may need a thorough veterinary cleaning to resolve. Luckily, after the cleaning is complete, your cat is likely to have neutral breath if you continue to help them maintain their good dental health.