Wednesday 1 December 2021

Does dry cat food improve the oral health of domestic cats?

It's a recurring question: does dry cat food improve the oral health of our cat companions? I've just spent about an hour updating a page that I wrote on this subject about four years ago. It's always useful to go back and rethink matters afresh. I can provide my conclusions in this cross-post. 

Does dry cat food improve the oral health of cats?
Does dry cat food improve the oral health of cats? Image: MikeB

Genetics, not food, plays the biggest role in oral health

The type of cat food that you feed your cat has little impact on their oral health. If there is one food which possibly or probably improves the oral health of cats it is a well-made home-made raw cat food that is correctly stored to avoid bacterial cross contamination. 

This comes out in studies. It is, after all, the most natural cat food. Therefore, to me, it is no surprise that this food comes out on top in this discussion. Do wild cats have the same oral health problems as domestic cats? No, in my view because they feed on prey. Poor oral health is in the top 10 health issues for the domestic cat.

However, veterinarians advise against cat owners making their own raw cat food because they believe that the potential benefits might be nullified by the potential downsides through improper preparation leaving the food without certain nutrients and improper storage leading to potential cross contamination of bacteria.

RELATED: Three domestic cats infected with bovine tuberculosis through eating raw cat food

Having got that out of the way, the biggest factor as to whether a cat has good oral health i.e. healthy gums and strong and healthy teeth, is their genetic inheritance. It's just a matter of luck whether they are born with the genetics which help make their gums and teeth healthier throughout their lives. 

That's the belief of Dr. Jean Hofve DVM, a well-known American veterinarian who often writes articles on the Internet. She has seen the inside of the mouths of 13,000 cats. She said that many years ago so the number will be much higher by now! She's convinced that genetics plays the biggest role but she does support home-made raw cat food as being beneficial with caveats about preparation and storage as mentioned.

Big pellets

If there is one dry cat food which might go some way to meeting the claims of pet food manufacturers it is large-pelleted kibble such as Hills t/d. A study found that dry cat food 'biscuits', which are going to be larger than even over-sized pellets, did show some merit in improving oral health. Perhaps this is because cats have to chew on these extra large pellets which would include some abrasive action on their teeth.

Image and thoughts: MikeB years ago.

Can't be abrasive

The reason why pet food manufacturers claim that dry cat food can clean teeth is because of the abrasive quality of the food. However, if you watch a domestic cat eating dry cat food they immediately crunch it into pieces. This occurs as soon as the food hits the back of the mouth. Therefore it cannot have any abrasive action on the teeth. However, larger pellets are more likely to have a little bit of abrasive action. 

Resorptive lesions

Countering the benefits that might occur, dry cat food may, it is claimed, cause gum-line cavities i.e. resorptive lesions. Dry cat food is high in carbohydrates which is more likely to cause cavities and gum disease.


Become an expert of homemade raw cat food! And clean your cat's teeth (almost impossible unless kitten was trained to accept it).

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