The 3 Best Cat Toothpastes

New Africa / Fotolia

While “brushing a cat’s teeth” sounds like a metaphor for an impossible task, the best cat toothpastes skip the mint for flavors like chicken and malt to make the important process easier. While cats are good at bathing themselves, they can’t manage their own dental health. Dental health in cats and dogs is also one of the most common problems veterinarians see. While some recommend brushing daily, even incorporating occasional brushing into your routine can help with plaque buildup.

Aside from flavor, cat toothpaste works much like our own: It removes buildup through physical brushing as well as with active ingredients. Unlike us, however, pets can’t ingest fluoride. Instead, most animal toothpastes will have an enzyme ingredient that breaks down bacteria naturally and is safe if swallowed.

Like with brushing and trimming nails, cleaning a cat's teeth is something that your cat may need to get used to. Pet supply manufacturer Hartz recommends using a cat toothbrush, and after giving your cat a chance to smell and lick the paste, gently massaging their teeth and gums for around 40 seconds. If you start early with a kitten, this also tends to be easier, but with patience and encouragement, older cats can learn as well.

However, many cat toothpastes don't require brushing at all and can be applied with a swab concentrating along the gumline, and the enzymes will work to break down and remove plaque. This list include two like that. Or, if you find total resistance, dental treats with enzymes can also help.

Whichever process you decide on, you will potentially be avoiding high dental bills ⁠— and lots of pain ⁠— for your feline down the road. Here are the top picks.

1. The Best Overall Cat Toothpaste

Petsmile is one of the few pet toothpastes to have been the accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). Even better, because of the active ingredients, Pet Smile doesn’t require scrubbing — a mouth swab will be enough to help break down and remove plaque. It comes with a reusable applicator swab for easy, regular use. The flavor is a pet-friendly "rotisserie chicken" to hopefully make teeth brushing something your cat could actually enjoy, and is safe for dogs as well. Other flavors include duck and beef.

What Reviewers Say: "After some regular brushes, it has visibly improved the gum (no more bleeding) and the stain/tartar. My kitties have gum disease... Definitely recommend."

2. The Best Budget Option

This enzymatic toothpaste helps remove debris and plaque from your cat's gums and teeth for a fraction of the top pick. The kit includes a toothbrush with a small head designed for cats, as well as a finger swab ideal for kittens. Like with our top pick, it has a pet-friendly flavor, this time malt, to make it easier to brush your cat's teeth. And while it's a great deal, it's also well-reviewed, with more than 500 reviews and a 4.3-star rating. However, unlike the top pick, it is recommended that you gently scrub your cat's teeth with this one.

What Reviewers Say: "I've been using this on my cat for years now. I don't even brush - I just gently squeeze out a few "dollops" at a time each night, and he licks it up (It apparently tastes good to him - he loves it)." [Now when] I go to the vet's office, she says, 'I can't believe how clean his teeth are!'"

3. The Best Natural Toothpaste

This gel with no artificial flavors uses a list of minimal, naturally-derived ingredients like aloe vera to clean gums. These natural ingredients break down buildup and can even be used to soothe wounds. No need to brush — this can just be applied to the gumline to help with bad breath without scrubbing. However, if you do want to apply with a brush, that will need to be purchased separately. It's also dye- and cruelty-free.

What Reviewers Say: "My cat came with a slew of medical issues when I adopted him... I had noticed his gums were bright red and inflamed after he started dropping his food while eating, and his breath was becoming very bad. So I started looking for a product that would help... I was thrilled that after two days his breath is completely fresh and that he hasn't thrown up at all since using it, which was a big concern since his stomach is so sensitive. His gums are almost completely pink again after week of 1-3 applications per day."

Also Great: A Treat For Easy Cleaning Without The Toothpaste

Another Veterinary Oral Health Council-approved product, Feline Greenies dental treats use the texture of the treat to break down buildup on cats’ gums. The treats also have vitamins and minerals to promote your cat’s overall health. It can be used to supplement a regular brushing routine, as well, especially if you’re not brushing every day. It's recommended that cats can have up to 28 treats per day depending on their size. In addition to chicken, you can choose from salmon, tuna, and catnip flavors. With a 4.7-star rating after more than 5,000 reviews, they're a favorite of customers as well as vets.

What Reviewers Say: "My kitty had a lot of plaque and irritated gums from eating wet food all the time. I started her on Greenies daily. At my kitties vet appointment, the Doctor was really impressed by how clean her teeth were and said she didn’t need her teeth cleaned! That was a relief."

Bustle may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently from Bustle's editorial and sales departments.