Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dry food and cat dental care: Don't rely on the scrubbing power of cat kibble!

Jasper the cat eating his dry food

About 2 years ago, I wrote up a few notes about ongoing dental problems in a few of my cats. In it, I went through a little laundry list of things I felt I'd done right, in terms of keeping my cats protected from dental disease. And hidden in that laundry list was an error a clever reader pointed out to me in the comments.

I mentioned that, by feeding the cats a few kibble-based meals, I was helping to scrub tartar off of their pearlies. That's something that's been touted for years. I've had more than one veterinarian say something like this to me at one point or another.

But here's the thing. It's not a statement that's backed up by science.

And I think I should have known better.

As this very clever medical blogger points out, when cats vomit after a meal, they bring up solid chunks. These cats don't chew most of their food. If they did, they'd bring up a fluid-filled mess. Instead, they use their teeth like little shovels to stuff that food down their throats, so they bring up solid kibble chunks.

I won't go so far as to say that cats don't chew ANY of their food. If I listen closely to Maggie, Lucy and Eamon as they eat, I can hear them crushing at least a few morsels between their teeth. But clearly, if I'm relying on food to pull of all of their tooth problems, I'm relying on an inexpert tool at best. (Want more proof? Read this.)

Beorn the cat eating dry cat food

So am I planning to eliminate dry cat food from my household? I'm not. Even though kibble may not clean teeth, it is the only food that some of my picky cats will eat.

Consider Troy, the toothless wonder. I spent a great deal of frustrating time (for him and for me) attempting to convert him to wet food of any sort. I started that work as soon as I brought him home, kicked it into high gear after his dental and then gave up a few weeks later. He absolutely will not eat food that does not crunch. Even softening his hard food forces him into anorexia. He likes to feel the crunch of food between his teeth.

Same goes for Lucy. If I provide her with wet food, she will either bury it or walk away from it. Dry food she eats happily, but she will not eat wet food.

So I keep it on hand for my pickies, and I provide it for a few meals for everyone else. And I do what I can to keep their teeth clean. Those cats that allow handling get a daily tooth brushing, and everyone gets fresh water and regular veterinary care. But I'll need to drop the idea that the kibble helps their teeth. It just doesn't.

Thanks to the reader for pointing this out to me! I love comments.


  1. Pity as kibble would have been easy. My cat Nala didn't like kibble - she LOVED freshly bar-b-q chicken, or then next wet chicken food. But she smashed her jaw when she was young and I think it hurt her whole life (she live to 17.5, passed last year) X susie

    1. Oh, that's a long life! Sorry for your loss.