Brushing the Upper premolarsIn Part 1 of Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: Why and How, we learned that brushing your cat’s teeth with a pet toothpaste such as the PetSmile or Virbac CET brands can help reduce the bacteria in your cat’s mouth and improve her dental health. But how do you convince your cat to let you brush her teeth?

The answer is to find something she likes (a Greenies dental treat? head rubs?) that you can use as a reward and break the tooth brushing into small steps that she can master while she becomes accustomed to the process.

brushing your cat’s teeth: Step by Step

To brush your cat’s teeth, your cat needs to

  1. sit still and have her head held
  2. accept the toothpaste
  3. allow you to apply some toothpaste onto to her upper cheek teeth with your finger
  4. allow you to gently brush her teeth


Step One

It is important to watch your cat’s body language and proceed at her pace. Break these steps up into smaller ones if you need to. For example, it will be helpful if your cat knows to sit on cue reliably before asking her to let you hold her head.

step two

In step two, we will offer her the toothpaste. Cat toothpaste is available in several flavors including chicken and seafood. Choose the flavor you think she’ll like best. Offer her the toothpaste on your finger and then on the toothbrush.

step three

Once she indicates which toothpaste she likes, move to step three: put some tooth paste on your finger and try gently rubbing her teeth.

step four

Go slowly with the toothbrush and use a very light touch. Remember, when you brush your own teeth, you can feel how hard you are pressing – you don’t have this feedback when brushing your cat’s teeth. The first few sessions will be short – try to end on a positive note, before she starts to struggle or wants to leave.

Make sure to reward her after each step. It may seem counter productive to give her a dental treat – after all, you just brushed her teeth! However, you have disturbed the biofilm with brushing and the saliva now contains the toothpaste with its antibacterial components.

It may take your cat several weeks to master all these steps.  Above all, go at your cat’s pace. Don’t move to the next step until she has mastered the step before.

To see how it’s done, check out the two-part video series, “Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: Why and How” in the video gallery at  Part 2 features video of cats having their teeth brushed.

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Cat with Human toothbrush
Human toothbrushes are not designed for cats’ smaller mouths.

Good dental care for people centers on regular dental cleanings once or twice a year. This is supplemented by home dental care – twice daily brushing and daily (or more) flossing. Our cats should have periodic professional cleanings done under anesthesia but what about home dental care? How about brushing your cat’s teeth?

Brushing your cat’s teeth

The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) has a list of accepted products for cats. On this list are several dental diets including the over-the-counter Hills Oral Care, a water additive, oral spray and oral gel made by HealthyMouth, in addition to Greenies treats. The list is a bit outdated with the most recent entries dated 2012. Nowhere are toothbrushes or toothpaste.

Having tried the diets, the water additive, and brushing teeth, I have found that hands-down brushing your cat’s teeth is the most effective. Tartar accumulates most frequently on the outside of the cat’s upper premolars and those are the teeth we can target.

The benefits? Brushing reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth more effectively than water additives and sprays. Cats are prone to developing tooth resorption which is similar in some ways to human cavities. However, where filling cavities works in human teeth, these feline resorptive lesions just get bigger and bigger once they start and filling them does not work – they need to be extracted.

While we don’t really know why tooth resorption occurs in cats, bacteria is thought to play a major role. (“Microbiome analysis of feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL) and feline oral health”, Thomas et al., J Med Microbiol. 2021; 70(4): 001353.)

For dogs, VOHC recommends the PetSmile brand of toothpaste, that works by dissolving the biofilm that forms on the teeth using hydrogen peroxide.  The PetSmile website indicates that this toothpaste can be used for cats also.

Virbac makes the CET brand of dog and cat toothpastes.  CET toothpaste contains lactoperoxidase and is designed to boost a naturally occurring anti-bacterial process in the cat’s saliva.  Watanabe and colleagues measured bacterial counts on dogs’ teeth and found that simply applying the toothpaste to the teeth reduced bacteria, although not as much as brushing with the toothpaste. (J Vet Med Sci. 2016 Jul; 78(7): 1205–1208. “Inhibitory effect for proliferation of oral bacteria in dogs by tooth brushing and application of toothpaste”)

So, consider brushing your cat’s teeth. To learn more, check out the two-part video series, “Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: Why and How” in the video gallery at  Start with Part 1 to find out which teeth you need to brush, what you need to do this, and a strategy to encourage your cat to accept the toothbrush.

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The big eyes and round heads of kittens may elicit a caregiving response in humans.

It is often said that cats are not fully domesticated. There is that streak of wildness in them – they can be aloof and take care of themselves. We don’t control the breeding or hunting habits of the cats that live in the shadows of our neighborhoods and cities.

To some, this offers an opportunity to study the process of domestication. Some of the easy to see hallmarks of domesticated animals are the changes in their faces and shapes of their heads. In selective breeding of foxes, rounder heads, white pigmentation, and droopy ears became apparent after 10 generations of allowing less aggressive animals to mate [“Changes in Cat Facial Morphology are Related to Interaction with Humans”, Hattoi et al, Animals 2022, 12, 3493].

 Domestic cats have short noses and rounder eyes

These changes in face and head make the animals look more juvenile. The noted ethologist, Konrad Lorenz, defined these traits (the round face and big eyes) as the “baby schema”. The “baby face” of human infants is said to stimulate the premotor cortex and activate the basic emotion of CARE in human adults.  Likewise, animals with round heads and big eyes are “cuter” and more appealing to humans.
A research group in Japan [Hattoi et al. see above] compared the facial structure of 1) feral mixed breed cats, 2) owned domestic mixed breed cats, and 3) owned domestic purebred cats with the facial structure of 4) the African Wildcat, the ancestor of our domestic cats. They hypothesized that cats that interact with people would show changes in their faces, and this could be a marker of the process of domestication.

The team mapped facial dimensions to find a measure of the “baby schema” they could use. Since the size of the cat’s eye is dependent on brightness, the researchers chose the nose length and the angle of the eyes to compare the faces of the 4 categories of cats.

Measurement of Nose length in catsThe nose length (B) was reported relative to facial size, the distance between the inside corners of the eyes (A). Eye angles measured the slant of the eyes, from the inside corner to the outside corner.


Analysis of 3295 photos revealed:

  •  Domestic cats have short noses  and rounder eyes.
  • African wildcats and feral mixed breed cats have longer noses and slanted eyes when compared with domestic cats.
  • The study also found that people preferred cats with shorter noses – they were “cuter” than cats with longer noses.
  Nose Length(B/A) Angle of Eyes
African Wildcats 1.34 25.61
Mixed Breed Feral Cats 1.32 25.10
Owned Mixed Breed Cats 1.23 25.31
Owned Purebred Cats 1.14 22.77

Humans prefer cats with shorter noses and eyes that are not so slanted.  These features may elicit caregiving behavior in humans.  Domestic cats have short noses and rounder eyes; this suggests that domestication or interaction with humans has changed the facial structure of domestic cats.

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a cat chewing on plasticHave you had or do you have a cat who would eat anything – hair ties, ribbons, plastic – in addition to food? Have you experienced the anxiety waiting for your cat to pass whatever object you think he ate? It is not unheard of for cats to eat, chew or suck on non-food items. This behavior is called pica.  How do you manage the cat with pica?

The Bristol Cat Study (Animals 2021, 11(4), 1101; followed a group of cats for a little over 3 years.  To participate in the study, the owners had to own a kitten or kittens, 8-16 weeks old at the time of registration.

These owners were asked whether or not their cats chewed (with or without ingesting) one or more of the following items: 1) woolen fabrics 2) other fabrics 3) plastics 4) other materials. These questions were repeated at 2-4 months, 6.5-7 months, 12.5-13 months, and finally at 18.5-19 months.  About 25% of 2203 cats were reported to exhibit some pica behavior.


  • plastics were the most commonly targeted material
  • pica was most commonly reported at 6.5-7 months of age
  • about half of the cats reported to have pica at 6 months did not show pica at 18-19 months of age
  • cats who moved to a new house when they were around year old were more likely to have pica


Managing the cat with pica

Pica can result in GI injury, poisoning, or electric shock. The goal of managing pica is to prevent injury to the cat.

Step one: Identify the material being targeted

Yarn? Thread? Hair Ties?

  • yarn can wrap around the tongue
  • thread may have a sharp needle attached
  • hair ties


  • Household chemicals: cleaners, antifreeze, insecticides, plant sprays
  • House Plants: can be toxic – lilies in particular can cause kidney damage even in small amounts


  • Filmy plastics and things like “fabric softener sheets”
  • Chewing/biting electrical cords
  • Kneading and sucking on blankets
  • Chewing or sucking on toys

Step two: Keep targeted items out of reach of the cat with pica

  • keep blankets and other fabrics in closets your cat can’t get into
  • put hair ties and elastics away
  • replace toys your cat may be eating with ones that he can’t eat
  • supervise play times and access to toys
  • cover electrical cords with plastic covers that cats can’t bite through
  • unplug unused appliances
  • discard or hang houseplants
  • store household chemicals in a secure closet

Step three: Provide the cat with pica an alternative behavior

We would like to provide Kitty with an outlet for her oral activities and provide something safe for her to interact with.

Cat using food puzzleKeeping kitty busy

Try “free feeding” your cat with pica if possible. If “free-feeding” is not an option, frequent small meals will work. Food puzzles offer a natural cat behavior (foraging) as well as a snack. For some ideas, visit

Licking – a soothing behavior for cats

Slow-feeding mats are textured silicone mats that you spread canned food on. The cat licks the food off much like a wild cat may lick meat off a bone. Licking appears to be calming and soothing to cats. Some cats may like licking toys or balls made from compressed catnip.


There are silicone toys that can be filled with catnip or silver vine (see the PetZone Boredom Buster dental chew toy). There is also a gum stimulator on the Catit Wellness Center that is designed to be chewed and sucked on. If you try these, be sure to monitor the wear on them and be around to supervise your kitty with these.

Cat Grass

Cats are attracted to grass and like to chew on it. There is the grass sold at pet stores and seeds you can plant. Some varieties of ornamental grasses are non-toxic to cats. Make sure to check the ASPCA site to make sure that the plants you choose are safe.

Step four: reducing stress in the cat with pica

Stress can stimulate an increase in pica behaviors, especially as cats grow out of the kitten stage. Identify and reduce stress whenever possible.

Social stress: 

  • How does the cat with pica get along with other pets in the household?
  • Do neighborhood cats come to the windows?
  • Are interactions with humans

Environmental stress:

Managing the cat with pica can be challenging.  Although the Bristol Cat Study indicated that half the cats who had been reported with pica at 6 months were no longer chewing/ingesting things at 18 months, it is wise to monitor your cat for such behavior, even if it seems to have gone away. Providing cats with safe opportunities to lick and chew is key to having a happy and healthy cat.

Your veterinary team is an important resource if you suspect your cat has pica. GI distress, oral pain and neurological issues can sometimes exacerbate pica and are best treated.

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