Teaching Cats to Accept Dental Care
The gold standard for maintaining oral health is regular brushing with an appropriate toothbrush and pet toothpaste.
Most cats can be trained as easily as dogs, but few people try. Starting when the animal is young helps to establish a habit, both for the owner and the pet, but an older animal can also be trained to accept having its mouth handled. The keys to success are patience, repetition, and reward.
It's important to be patient as it may take up to month to get a pet to accept care. Keep the training sessions positive. Initially, contact time should be quite short, while being able to clean the whole mouth as the ultimate goal. Try to have the same person do the training and always reward the pet afterwards. Rewards can be petting or brushing, quality time with the owner, or an extra- special treat that is saved just for a training session.
Pick a toothpaste product that is appropriately flavored. Cats do not like cinnamon, mint,citrus, or sodium bicarbonate. Avoid products that have a high concentration of alcohols and other ingredients that might sting sensitive gums. Avoid products that have fluoride or foaming agents in them (i.e., human toothpaste) as accidental swallowing may cause nausea.
Start by taking a treat the cat already likes and placing a small amount of pet toothpaste on the treat. This creates a positive association with the toothpaste. Once the pet is readily eating the treat/toothpaste combination start offering the toothpaste alone, on your finger, as a treat. You are not trying to do any brushing at this point.
The next step is to offer the toothpaste to the cat on a cat-appropriate toothbrush. A brush with the bristles concentrated in a small area, with minimal thickness to the head is best. Pick a quiet time and location so the pet is amenable to staying still, either on a table or in your lap, without excessive holding. Cats will fight restraint and a training session can quickly escalate into a frightening, negative experience.
For a right-handed person, hold the toothbrush in a pencil-grip in that hand. With your left hand placed over the cat's head, use your left thumb to lift the right lip near the canine tooth(or the fang). Steady your right hand by placing your ring and/or pinky finger on the cat's chin, and gently wipe the dentifrice off onto the maxillary canine tooth. Let the cat go, praise him, pet him, etc.. If this side was easily received repeat the process for the left side. If the pet was disturbed by the handling, STOP. Keep the experience positive. Give the cat time to "digest" what you just did, realize it was not injurious, and that some of the "new treat" was placed in his mouth.
Once the cat is accepting the feel of the tooth brush on its canine teeth, and having the dentifrice placed into its mouth, gradually start to slide your thumb back so that you are also exposing the cheek teeth and do a few brush strokes on the cheek teeth. It is not critical that the direction of brushing be "up and down" as we are taught for ourselves.
Gradually increase the amount of brushing done on each side, and always reward the cat afterwards. Remember, even if you cannot do a lot of brushing, many of the pet toothpastes now available will have some benefit through enzymatic action once in the mouth, so some benefit will be derived even from this small measure of success.
In animals that absolutely will not tolerate a toothbrush, an alternative is to use a soft cloth or gauze with the toothpaste. There is also a commercially available gauze that has antibacterial agents in it.
Depending on the animal's personality, competition sometimes makes receiving home care appear more desirable.
For an animal that just will not accept handling consider using additional therapies such as a dental diet, a dental treat, or products that can go in the drinking water.
Ideally brushing should occur daily, as plaque starts to mineralize into calculus within 36 hours. Brushing every second day, or three times a week, is acceptable. Be happy with ANY amount of homecare that can be done--even if the teeth aren't spotless at least the oral cavity is being examined frequently so that, should dental or oral problems arise, it will be quickly detected and professional help sought.
Training takes a lot of time and patience but your cat should live a longer healthier life if they do not have dental disease.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to call us.
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