Brushing a cat's teeth daily helps to prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar — factors that lead to periodontal disease. Because not every cat will tolerate toothbrushing, less invasive products such as water additives and dental treats can help maintain overall dental health. We spoke to two veterinarians and tested a variety of products to find the best cat toothpaste, water additive, dental treats, and toothbrush. This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
Good oral care is essential to the overall health of a cat. Without it, bacteria multiplies in a cat's mouth to form tooth plaque. Over time, plaque develops into tartar and eventually periodontal disease, a condition that can be quite painful. That dental pain can seriously impact a cat's behavior, said Dr. Wailani Sung, veterinary behaviorist at the San Francisco SPCA Veterinary Hospital. "Some cats may be more irritable and may even escalate to aggressive behavior if they have continuous pain in their tooth. Some cats may hide more and be less affectionate," she said. Tooth pain can also cause a cat to eat or drink less, leading to dehydration or the potentially life-threatening condition hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver syndrome. The best defense against dental disease is preventing it from starting in the first place, said Dr. Andrea Moore, medical director at Pinnacle Animal Hospital in San Jose, California. She recommends daily toothbrushing with an enzymatic toothpaste. In addition, supplying your cat with daily access to a dental water additive and dental treats can help promote a healthy mouth. At your cat's annual exam, your vet can check their teeth for conditions like periodontitis or resorptive lesions, which may require a deeper dental cleaning. To compile our guide to the best at-home cat dental products, we considered the advice and recommendations of both Sung and Moore while testing 14 items in four categories: toothpaste and dental gel, water additive, dental treats, and toothbrushes. We also looked to the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), an organization that governs and certifies veterinary dental specialists, for products that have been voluntarily submitted for review and earned their seal of approval. Here are our top picks for the best dental products for cats:
Best toothpaste: Vetoquinol Vet Care Enzadent Enzymatic Toothpaste Best toothbrush: Virbac C.E.T. Pet Toothbrush Best water additive: Oratene Enzymatic Brushless Oral Care Water Additive Best dental treats: Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Dental Dry Cat Food
Prices and links are current as of 8/20/20. We selected new picks based on research and testing. We also added a slide with tips for brushing your cat's teeth.
The best toothpaste
Vetoquinol Care Enzadent Enzymatic Toothpaste is a tasty toothpaste that polishes and removes plaque, all at a great value. Daily toothbrushing with an enzymatic toothpaste or gel is a cat's best defense against periodontal disease. Infused with glucose oxidase, a bacteria-reducing enzyme made from the Penicillium fungi, these dental formulas break down the plaque and biofilm that build up every time a cat eats. While brushing a cat's teeth with a feline toothbrush is ideal, even those who won't tolerate bristles in their mouth can benefit from an enzymatic toothpaste just by smearing it on the teeth and gum line, according to Moore. "It works not as well as teeth brushing, but it works better than not doing it at all," she said. Some enzymatic toothpastes are, of course, better than others. Unfortunately, in a product test like this one, it's impossible to evaluate how well a toothpaste fends off plaque and prevents the buildup of tartar. Instead, I made my selection for best toothpaste or gel based on three criteria: 1) whether my two cats liked the flavor; 2) how easy it was to use on the finger and on the brush; and 3) the product's ingredients and their efficacy. Taking these factors into consideration, I've chosen Vetoquinol Care Enzadent Enzymatic Toothpaste as my top pick. Both my cats loved the poultry-flavored Enzadent, and because it was stickier and less runny than some of the other brands, it was easy to use on both finger and toothbrush. Unlike some of its competitors, Enzadent contains two additional enzymes beyond glucose oxidase: lysozyme, which helps break down the cell walls of bacteria, and lactoperoxidase, which acts as a natural antibacterial agent. It is also made with lactoferrin, an antioxidant that protects against bacterial infection. Unfortunately, the sweetener/moisture-retainer sorbitol, which can have laxative effects in large quantities, is also one of Enzadent's ingredients. While Vetoquinol is not VOHC-accepted, the company has been audited by the National Animal Supplement Council and is committed to the highest industry standards. The cheapest of the toothpastes I tested, Vetoquinol Enzadent is not only a great value, it's a feline favorite. Pros: Triple enzyme formula, tasty poultry flavor, stickier and less runny than other formulas, can be used on toothbrush or smeared on gums with finger, company has been audited by the National Animal Supplement Council, affordable Cons: Contains sorbitol, not VOHC-accepted The best toothbrush
The Virbac C.E.T. Pet Toothbrush is just the right size to clean the nooks and crannies of a cat's mouth. One of the challenges with brushing a cat's teeth is the size of their mouth. "Their lips are really tight, so it's hard to get a regular toothbrush that's square or rectangular back into their mouth," said Moore. Finger toothbrushes (a plastic cap with a ridged "brush" that slips over the finger) are also hard to use with cats. Instead, the best toothbrush for a cat is small with a rounded head and bristles, according to Moore. She recommends the Virbac C.E.T. Toothbrush. "It's angled so you can get to the back part of the cat's mouth," she explained. Out of the three toothbrushes I tested, I found that the Virbac C.E.T. was indeed the easiest toothbrush to use on my cats' teeth. While the Virbac brush had roughly the same size head as the others (approximately 0.5 inches by 0.25 inches), at 6.25 inches in length, it was the shortest of those I reviewed. That shorter handle made the toothbrush easier and less awkward to maneuver, while still keeping my fingers safely away from my cats' teeth. The dainty Virbac C.E.T. Toothbrush is made with soft nylon bristles and comes in assorted colors (though you can't select your color preference when purchasing). Pros: Easy to maneuver while brushing; small, angled head and soft bristles for reaching back teeth Cons: Can't select color preference when purchasing The best water additive
Zymox Oratene Water Additive cleans teeth with bacteria-inhibiting enzymes and has no apparent taste that may deter finicky cats. There's no question that daily brushing works best to promote a healthy feline mouth, but there's also no question that some cats will never be comfortable with toothbrushing. For these finicky felines, Sung said water additives combined with a targeted diet that reduces plaque and tartar is "second best." Like cat toothpaste, water additives that contain enzymes are better at reducing plaque and biofilm than those that do not. And, like cat toothpaste, flavor plays a big role. If your cat refuses to drink water mixed with dental concentrate, not only will their teeth and gums suffer, they may be putting themselves at risk for dehydration. Zymox's Oratene Enzymatic Water Additive is my top pick for best water additive because it hits both of these marks. The clear liquid formula contains a patented LP3 enzyme system that makes plaque water soluble and prevents it from binding to the tooth. It is also completely flavorless and colorless. There was no change in the way my cats approached their water bowl or the quantity they drank after weeks of adding two pumps per quart of fresh water as instructed. The additive is also made in the United States and does not contain chlorhexidine, xylitol, or alcohol — ingredients which may be harmful to pets. As with other categories in this guide, I can't speak from experience or expertise as to how well this product works in the long run to maintain dental health. I can, however, confirm that this water additive was an easy addition to my cats' daily care, and because it is recommended by many veterinarians and animal clinics (though, notably, the manufacturer has not submitted this product for VOHC review and approval), I plan to continue using it to reduce plaque and biofilm daily. It's important to note, however, that some cats can taste unflavored water additives and it may cause them to decrease their water intake. When adding a water additive to your cat's routine, monitor them closely to ensure that they're drinking enough throughout the day. Pros: Patented enzyme system reduces biofilm and prevents plaque from binding to teeth, flavorless and colorless, two pumps of concentrated formula produces a quart of treated water, made in the United States Cons: Not VOHC-accepted The best dental treats
VOHC-accepted Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Dental Dry Food's large, rounded kibble is just as tasty as a dental treat and has the ability to remove plaque. A good dental treat is an ideal co-conspirator in feline dental health. Like any treat, they're designed to taste great, and with cats, that's half the battle. When I interviewed Moore, I was surprised to find that she recommends the use of veterinary-quality dental kibble as treats. Both of my cats enjoy kibble, but I was skeptical that they would be as interested in dental kibble as they were in "official" dental treats. My cats, however, proved Moore right. They hoovered up the Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Dental Dry Food just as quickly as the other dental treats we tested. The size and texture of Royal Canin's dental food lend to its effectiveness. "It's kind of a big kibble and so when they bite it, the kibble breaks open like a squeegee. It squeegees their teeth and [removes] the food particles and it actually really works," said Moore. Royal Canin is VOHC-accepted to prevent the formation of plaque, unlike the VOHC-accepted dental treats we tested which target tartar alone. The kibble also contains sodium tripolyphosphate, which works to bind salivary calcium and prevent the buildup of tartar. While the Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Dental Dry Food requires a veterinary prescription to purchase and the smallest size available is 7.7 pounds, it is more cost-effective than buying the same amount of Feline Greenies or Purina DentaLife treats, both of which we tested for this guide. Whether you have a cat that will tolerate toothbrushing or not, adding a small handful of Royal Canin Dental Dry Food as treats to their daily diet is one way to help to maintain a healthy mouth that they'll truly enjoy. Pros: VOHC-accepted and veterinarian approved, cats loved the flavor as much as other dental treats, large round kibble squeegee teeth clean to prevent plaque buildup, sodium tripolyphosphate prevents buildup of tartar, more cost-effective than other dental treats, can be fed as daily diet instead of as treats Cons: Must get veterinary prescription to purchase, smallest size bag is 7.7 pounds What else we considered
Toothpastes and gels Zymox Oratene Brushless Enzymatic Oral Care Dental Gel ($14): My cats liked the flavor of this dental gel and its enzymes help prevent the buildup of bacteria and remove plaque. The company also advertises that their formula is extra-gentle, protecting mouth tissue against dryness — though I was unable to confirm this in my own testing. Its higher cost and smaller size (2.5 ounces vs. 3.1 ounces) than our top pick, Vetoquinol Enzadent, kept it out of the winning spot. Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Toothpaste ($9): The poultry-flavored Virbac C.E.T. toothpaste was a hit with my cats and the cost is equivalent to our top pick. However, Virbac's toothpaste contains only two types of enzymes compared to Enzadent's three. Petsmile Professional Pet Toothpaste ($25): My cats both liked the London broil flavor, but I found it to be more watery, and therefore more messy, than the other brands we tested. Neither cat would go near Petsmile's rotisserie chicken flavor. This was also the most expensive toothpaste we tested by far, more than three times the cost of our top selection. This toothpaste is suitable for both cats and dogs, and it is VOHC-accepted for use with dogs but not cats. Oxyfresh Pet Toothpaste ($11): I love that this toothpaste is cruelty-free, but with no scent or flavor, my cats showed zero interest in it. Toothbrushes Petsmile Professional Pet Toothbrush ($14): The angle of this dual-sided toothbrush was helpful in brushing hard-to-reach back teeth and I like the grippy material on the handle. However, at 8.5 inches in length, the Petsmile was awkward to hold and hard to maneuver. It also costs nearly three times that of the other toothbrushes we tested. Vetoquinol Enzadent Dual-Ended Toothbrush ($4): Like the Petsmile toothbrush, the Vetoquinol Enzadent is dual-ended and long, approximately 8.5 inches. Unlike the Petsmile, it is not angled to more easily reach the back teeth, making it just as awkward to use but less effective overall. Water additives Oxyfresh Water Additive ($16): My cats drank up this cruelty-free, tasteless, odorless concentrate without noticing anything amiss in their water bowl. During the weeks that I added Oxyfresh to the water, I swear my cats' breath did seem to smell marginally better. However, Oxyfresh does not contain enzymes. Its primary ingredient, which the brand calls "oxygene," is made from sodium chlorite, a chemical water disinfectant, which the FDA approved in 2004 as a nontoxic antimicrobial agent for drinking water. Zesty Paws Breath Freshening Water (out of stock online): This water additive contains digestion-supporting ingredients like aloe vera, bromelain, and papain, but my cats were turned off by its strong spearmint scent and flavor. Dental treats Feline Greenies Dental Treats (from $4): I've religiously fed my cats every flavor of the VOHC-accepted Feline Greenies for years and they absolutely love them. However, Feline Greenies only work to control tartar — mineralized plaque left on the teeth over time — instead of removing plaque as it forms. Purina DentaLife Daily Oral Care Cat Treats ($13): My cats loved the taste of the chicken-flavored DentaLife treats and their ingredient list is remarkably similar to that of Feline Greenies. Like Greenies, too, DentaLife are VOHC-accepted to remove tartar — but not to remove plaque, the buildup of which forms the tartar in the first place. Given the choice, I'd prefer my cats' dental treats work to prevent the symptoms that lead to dental disease as opposed to treating symptoms once they appear. Cat dental toys It's worth noting that neither of the vets I spoke to for this guide recommended dental toys for cats and the VOHC does not include the category in their accepted dental products. Cats typically don't chew on their toys and generally use only their canine teeth when hunting and playing. It's unlikely these toys would impact common problem areas in the back of a cat's mouth. For these reasons, we have not included this category. Our testing methodology
Testing items for the best cat dental products had some major limitations. Good dental care is a long-term project that depends on multiple factors, including a cat's diet, the frequency of toothbrushing, and the quality of any particular paste, gel, additive, or treat. "I'm not really sure how you can potentially tell [whether a dental product works] in the short term," said Moore. It's true, there is no way to tell if dental products work well in this style of review where I've tested them over a period of weeks or months instead of years. So instead of relying on the efficacy of a product to dictate my selections, I've instead looked at the factors I could evaluate: 1) whether my cats appeared to enjoy or at least tolerate the product, 2) how easy the product was to use from a human perspective, and 3) the product's ingredients and their known efficacy. Altogether, I tested 14 items for this guide to the best cat dental care products. The vast majority were provided to Insider Reviews as editorial samples from their manufacturers. The Virbac C.E.T. Toothpaste I obtained as a free sample from my veterinarian and I self-purchased the Feline Greenies. To come up with my top selections, I attempted to test each product for a period of two to four weeks on my two cats, Osito and Phoebe. Products they rejected outright due to taste did not undergo further testing. In addition to speaking to two veterinarians about cat dental care — Dr. Sung and Dr. Moore — I also took into consideration whether each product had received a seal of acceptance by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), an organization that governs and certifies veterinary dental specialists. What we are looking forward to testing We were not able to acquire all of the cat dental products on our review list prior to the publication of this guide. We will update our selections when we've had the opportunity to test the following items, most of which are VOHC-accepted: Cat::Essential HealthyMouth Gel and Applicator: The only dental gel currently VOHC-accepted for plaque removal. Sentry Petrodex Veterinary Strength Malt Toothpaste: This malt-flavored toothpaste contains a hydrogen-peroxide-producing enzymatic formula to help reduce the buildup of tartar and plaque. Pet::Essential HealthyMouth PreDent Anti-Plaque Water Additive: Pet::Essential makes the only VOHC-accepted water additives for cats. This plaque-fighting formula contains a variety of human-grade vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and B2 and antioxidant blueberry. Hill's Prescription Diet T/D Food: This veterinary-prescribed dental care kibble fed as treats fights both plaque and tartar and comes recommended by Moore. How to brush a cat's teeth
Introducing a cat to toothbrushing takes time and patience, particularly if the cat is an adult versus a more malleable and tolerant kitten. Begin by placing "a small amount of either the flavored toothpaste or canned food onto a small pet toothbrush [and] allow the cat to sniff and lick the food off of it," said Sung. Some cats may prefer that you use your finger to start, instead of a brush. Pick a time of day when your cat is relaxed and position them so that their back is to you. Your cat will feel more comfortable if they are not restrained. After a few days, begin to introduce lifting your cat's lips to better expose their teeth. Gently push back their top lip with your fingers, then release and reward them with a treat. Repeat this until your cat is comfortable with you opening their mouth. Next, return to the toothpaste and toothbrush (or your finger). Squeeze out some paste, open your cat's mouth, and attempt to move your finger or brush a tiny bit along the front teeth and gums between licks. If your cat attempts to escape, you've likely pushed them too far too fast. If your cat accepts the touch of the brush or your finger, Sung said that in subsequent sessions you can gradually try to move further along toward the cheek teeth where most of the dental plaque and tartar builds up. Keep your dental sessions to a quick 10 seconds to start, slowly building up their length over time until you are able to brush or smear all of the teeth with toothpaste. Check out our other guides to the best products for cats
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