When I took Ivy the Wonder Cat to the veterinarian for the very first time, at one year old, she was just a feline teenager and the absolute picture of health. The only thing that was mentioned as a potential issue down the road was her teeth, as tartar was already starting to build up.
Given the back story offered to me by the Ottawa Humane Society, of a life on the cold, wintry streets of Ottawa, fending for herself, eating from garbage cans in a tough neighbourhood, I should not have been surprised that Ivy’s teeth weren’t worthy of a finalist’s spot on America’s Next Top Model.
My vet recommended I put out a bowl of tartar control dry food, something she might eat more consistently than the occasional tartar control cat treat that I might give her. The second alternative was to brush her teeth.
At the time, I was already on the nerve-racking journey of finding the right time and mood where she would allow me to gently trim her nails. Some days, the right mood just wasn’t there, as scratch marks added up like a tote board on a telethon. Getting a toothbrush anywhere near her mouth seemed like an impossible dream.
As I lugged the bag of tartar control food back to my car, I couldn’t help asking myself why it didn’t come in a sample size and where was I going to keep it? Given that Miss Ivy was already revealing signs of a picky palate (though after eating garbage for several months, you’d think that anything from a can or a bag would be a step up) there was a chance that she may not like it.
The first time I put the tartar control food down, I was crushed as she sniffed it, meowed at it, wiped the floor in a stroking motion with her right paw (I still haven’t deciphered that one yet, as she still does it, but in different contexts) and walked away. But I knew I needed to be patient. I left the food out.
A few days later upon returning home from work, as I was serving up her favourite feline version of canned paella, I noticed that the tartar control food was disappearing. Relief! Initially, my parental instincts suggested I should get her to smile to show me her pearly whites to see what kind of difference it was making, but I realized that might be a lot to ask.
Just the same, she continued eating the dry food in waves. Some weeks the bowl would be empty while others, she’d barely touch it. It must have taken six or seven months to finish the bag, but she did, so I bought another one to keep up with our tartar control routine.
Over the next couple of years, Ivy was becoming more comfortable with my gentle attempts to trim her nails, as my intuition improved for finding the right time and technique. As that was happening, I started wondering if she might be comfortable with me approaching her with a toothbrush.
Last December, on a snowy night when there was seemingly nothing on TV, I started watching YouTube videos on how to brush a cat’s teeth. If someone had told me 30 years ago I’d be doing this, I’m not sure what part I would believe the least: watching videos on a “tablet” from the comfort of my couch or watching video clips from complete strangers about brushing a cat’s teeth.
I watched clip after clip of happy people brushing happy cats’ teeth, in complete peace and harmony. They made it look so easy. All I had were visions of a trip to Emergency, and explaining all the scratch marks on my arms.
Then a funny sound came from the Christmas tree… it sounded like a rubbing noise. I got up from my pillow and blanket fort on the couch to see Ivy rubbing the inside of her mouth, back and forth, on the branches of my artificial tree. It was like she was brushing her teeth on the branches!
I could have sworn I heard the angels singing, but it may have been the Hallmark Christmas movie playing on TV. Maybe getting Ivy to use a toothbrush wouldn’t be the struggle I thought it would be. Food for thought.
One day, on my way home from work, I stopped by the pet store and picked up a soft toothbrush and toothpaste made especially for pets.
Just to try it out, I gave the brush a rinse, and then presented it to Ivy to see what she would do. She sniffed it a few times, she looked at it from different angles, she rubbed the outside of her cheek on it to get a feel for it… and then she opened her mouth and started performing the same routine she did on the Christmas tree. She was brushing her teeth herself!
The next day I presented the toothbrush again, and she went a little longer, letting the bristles do their thing. I guess she likes the texture.
Unfortunately, she is not a fan of the toothpaste yet, but that’s OK… one challenge at a time. Maybe it’s just Ivy, but so far, she seems to like brushing without it, so who am I to argue. I just need to keep the brush clean and germ-free.
As we are still in the introductory phase, every couple of days, I present her the toothbrush at playtime, and she seems to engage with it willingly, opening her mouth and rubbing her teeth against it. It may not be the most perfect technique, but she’s using it. I’ll take it. Baby steps…
I’m delighted that she still plays along (most times) when the toothbrush is in front of her. I am hoping that with time, she’ll continue enjoying the toothbrush for the texture, which will allow me to develop skills as a feline dental hygienist.
Who knows, if this keeps up, maybe someday she will be the happy cat in the happy YouTube videos, demonstrating techniques for good dental hygiene!
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2 responses to “How I Got My Cat to Use a Toothbrush”
Oh, too funny. Do you think you’ll be reintroducing toothpaste to your cat anytime soon?
Thanks for the great question!
Oh yes, with different toothpaste brands and flavours on the market, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before we find the one that keeps her coming back for more… until she changes her mind!