In The List of Ideal Pet Parents, Mikel Delgado, A Professional cat behavior consultantIt might rank highly. Ph.D. The animal cognition expert spends half an hour each evening playing with her three cats Turbie, Ruby, Cilantro, and Professor Scribbles. I trained them to take the pills in gelatin capsules, just in case they eventually needed medication. She even asked to create an inspected backyard Katio So the girls can go out safely. Delgado would do anything for her cats – well, just about anything. “Guilty as the charges,” Delgado told me. “I don’t brush my cat’s teeth.”
To be fair, most cat owners don’t – probably because they are well aware that it’s strange, if not downright terrifying, to stick someone’s toes inside a decorated cat’s mouth. Reliable stats are rare, but unofficial surveys She reports that less than 5 percent of owners give their cats a teeth scrubber — an estimate backed up by the vets she spoke with. “I always get so shocked if someone says they brush their cats’ teeth,” says Anson Tsugawa, MD, a veterinary dentist in California. When Steve Valica, a North Carolina veterinarian, suggested this practice to his clients, many told me “Look at me like I’ve totally lost it.” (This is where I break out as one of my pets: My cats, Calvin and Hobbs, brush their teeth three times a week.)
There is certainly an element of absurdity in all of this. Lions, after all, don’t give up the savannah for Oral-Bs. But our pets do not share the diets and lifestyles of their wild counterparts, and their teeth are quite vulnerable to a buildup of bacteria that can eventually invade the gums to cause painful, long-term disease. Studies indicate that Most domestic cats greater than four end up development a type of gum pain; Several experts have told me that rates of periodontal disease in domestic cats can exceed 80 percent. Left untreated, these diseases may cost a cat one or more teeth, or even spread their effects throughout the body, compromise Members Such as the kidneys, liver and heart.
To stave off kitty gum disease, veterinary advice and professionals in general We recommend For the owners to clean their cat silo daily, ideally for at least a minute, to hit each tooth. “This is the gold standard,” says Santiago Peralta, M.D., a veterinary dentist at Cornell University. Jane Peroni, a veterinary dental coach in Florida, tells me that even an interval of two or three days can leave enough time for the tartar to solidify. But brushing cats’ teeth too trulyAnd the trulyAnd the truly Difficult. Most cats are not keen on pushing things into their mouths, especially not rough sticks covered in sludge. (Dogs don’t always like to brush either, but at least they are used to getting their owners involved in their mouths.) My old cat, Luna, was so desperate to escape the brush that she yelled at me, then all peed on the floor.
A niche industry arose to ease the plight of hygiene-minded humans: poultry-flavored toothpastes, cat-sized toothbrushes, and silicone finger scrubbers. Sometimes gear helps; When he bought Chen-Sun Lee, a writer based in New Orleans Barley toothpaste for her cat, Tuesday, he went crazy for things. Every morning, he comes jogging so he can lick the brush. Chrissy Lyons, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute, told me that one of her cats, Kokchi, is so crazy about his toothpaste that she and her partner have to “chain him or lock him up in another room” while they brush their other cat’s teeth, Noma.
But delicious toothpaste isn’t tempting enough for everyone. Valeika, who praises the virtues of feline oral health, admitted that even his cat, Boocat, doesn’t reap the benefits of his brushing expertise. He “tried hard for two weeks” when he adopted her seven years ago. But Boocat was so feisty that he couldn’t stand such a thing. “It can be a real horror,” Valika told me. “We once saw her chasing a bear outside our yard.”
Perhaps Boocat will recognize just how bizarre the entire dental cleaning ritual is. Even most Americans People Their teeth are not brushed regularly Until the time of World War II. Veterinary dentistry, which borrowed principles from its human counterpart, “is a Relatively new specialtyPeralta told me. “Thirty years ago, no one would even think about the teeth of dogs or cats.” And it wasn’t long ago that people across the country were letting their pets sleep outside, eating only leftovers, and running wild in the streets. Now the pets are overly pampered, and their accessories are gooped. Experts tell me they’ve seen all kinds of snake oil scams that claim to functionally replace cat toothbrushes—sprays, gels, toys, water additives, even calls to scrub cats’ teeth with coconut oil. Many of these products end up cosmetically whitening teeth, temporarily freshening oneself, or achieving nothing at all. Tsugawa told me that if there was a super simple, once-a-month magic bullet for dental hygiene, “we’d do it for our teeth.”
There are probably many cats that are not brushed that can be slowly taught to accept the process and possibly enjoy it. Mary Berg, president of Beyond the Crown Veterinary Education, told me that one of her colleagues had trained her pet to enjoy the process so much that “she could say ‘Brusha brusha brusha’ and the cat would come running.” But getting to this point may require weeks or months of conditioning. Berg recommends eating it day in and day out, dabbling the cats first in the toothpaste, then touching one or two teeth, and continuing until you are comfortable with the full set—always “with lots of praise and a reward afterward,” he said. And that’s all before “presenting that scary plastic thing.”
This is a huge request for many owners, especially those who have gone the cat route due to the critter’s rep for being low-maintenance. Delgado tells me that the consequences of skipping a toothbrush are also subtle because they don’t directly affect humans. Miss the manicure, and the sofa may pay the price. But cats’ teeth are not often glimpsed.
In the meantime, the potential downsides of brushing can be starkly obvious. On the cat forums and Twitter, the cat phobia joke They lose their fingers. But what many people Really afraid of sacrifice he is love their cat. Peroni said that a broken trust can spoil the relationship between the owner and the pet; People simply cannot communicate to capricious animals that this apparent torture is for their own good. Some cats never learn to handle. Even among veterinary experts, dental cleaning rituals are rare. Peralta and his wife only tried to remove “at least once a week” with their cat, Kit Kat; Berg and Peron don’t brush cats’ teeth at all. (Tsugawa does not currently own a cat, but he did not own a cat when he owned a cat.)
I’m not a pro, but I feel a bit torn too. I didn’t take the time to teach Calvin and Hobbes to look at brushing teeth as a remedy, and they can get very angry during the ritual itself. Valika, a North Carolina vet, told me that seeing Pukat’s terrifying reactions was the main thing that made him quit his toothbrush. “She would hate it if we were always doing this to her,” he said. “She really wouldn’t be our pet anymore.”
Cat health experts know they are losing this battle. “A lot of us don’t talk about brushing our teeth anymore, because nobody does,” Berg said. Luckily , There are a few well-researched alternatives to brushing teeth. Berg and Delgado use a special food that can reduce plaque, and Peyronie’s cat, Noriko, even goes into Greenies dental treatments – both options that many pets may be more receptive to. Scientifically, nothing beats a bona fide tooth brushing. But realistically, this young art may already be outdated. Delgado told me that the best interventions would be the ones that people actually use. “If someone in my profession is not brushing their pet’s teeth, I can’t blame anyone else,” Berg said.