Rotten, tartar-encrusted teeth and stinky breath are not okay.
So why do 50-85% of cats over the age of four suffer from some form of periodontal disease?
Maybe it’s because poor dental health has been the status quo for cats for too long. Perhaps we’re lying to ourselves and think cats don’t need dental care like humans do. But do you know what the strangest thing about the periodontal disease pandemic is? It’s a very preventable disease. You can make a change by actively taking steps to improve and maintain your cat’s dental health.
Regularly brushing your cat’s teeth is the best way to prevent periodontal disease, but not everyone can make brushing happen every day.
Brushing cannot be replaced, but some alternatives do exist to help your cat’s teeth stay healthy. Maybe you’ve heard of cat dental treats. Treats that clean teeth sound too good to be true—and unfortunately, in most cases, they are.
Many dental treats have a so-called “unique shape” that, according to the marketing, forces your cat to chew and crunch its abrasive surfaces. The theory is that these crunchy treats will scrape off plaque, but the fact is, that most cats have no problem gulping down these treats without chewing them at all. Other than the rare enzymatic and scientifically-formulated dental treats, most don’t contain any dental health-promoting ingredients.
To add injury to insult, they’re usually filled with wheat, rice, and corn. All unnecessary ingredients for a carnivore can leave carbohydrate residue on their teeth. If you’re worried about facilitating bacteria growth, carbohydrates are not your friend.
There’s an alternative to packaged dental treats. Let’s talk about my favorite all-natural dental treat:
Raw Chicken Wings
While they can swallow most dental treats whole, it is near-impossible for a cat to consume a raw chicken wing without a significant amount of chewing and gnawing—that means maximum dental contact.
In addition to the physical cleaning process, the raw chicken itself might contain some dental benefits. According to Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, the enzymatic properties of fresh meat can help your cat’s teeth. Exposure to these enzymes may help break down plaque and tartar.
Have you ever given your cat a piece of raw meat? You’ll never forget the image of your cat’s teeth slicing and ripping through raw meat and effortlessly crunching bones. It reminds me of the sometimes-forgotten fact that our kitties are essentially housebound wildcats.
Take a look at this video of Wessie enjoying a raw chicken wing:
Tips for Cat Dental Health
Crunching through and gnawing on a wing doesn’t just scrape off plaque and tartar.
It’s a great mental challenge for cats used to eating “easy food”. Cats who exclusively consume a modern diet of soft canned food or kibble rarely get the chance to exert their jaw muscles or challenge their minds by working on a single task for an extended period of time. Like a treat-dispensing toy, the chicken wing will only pay off after a bit of work.
The importance of mental exercise is often underestimated. Believe me, there is a huge difference between an under-stimulated cat and one who regularly engages in active play and is allowed to embrace their natural instincts. Eating a raw chicken wing is just one way to strengthen your cat’s mind—and our cats are always invigorated by it!
How Do I Work Raw Chicken Wings Into My Cat’s Diet?
Try offering your cat a chicken wing once a week.
Raw chicken wings aren’t a daily treat. If your cat eats wings too often, it can throw off their nutritional balance or calorie consumption.
A raw chicken wing can contain up to around 100 calories, which is half of the recommended 200 calories per day for the average cat. When feeding your cat a chicken wing as a treat, make sure you adjust the rest of their meals accordingly.
Raw chicken wings are not a complete meal, and should never be used as the foundation of a raw diet.
Compared to the other parts of a chicken, wings contain a lot of bone matter. Each one is 46% bone. Feeding guides recommend feeding approximately 7% bone of raw meat —clearly, wings are not the foundation of a well-balanced raw meal. If you do feed raw, make sure you adjust the calcium content of your cat’s food to reflect this addition. If your cat’s poop is dry, white, and crumbly, you know you’re feeding them too much bone!
If Your Cat is Reluctant to Try Raw Chicken Wings, Here’s How to Get Them Started:
While some cats take to eating raw food instantly and seem to transform into their wild ancestors before your eyes, others take more time. To the cat who was raised on kibble or canned food, a raw chicken wing set on a dish before them may just seem like a weird joke.
If your cat is struggling to get started on the chicken wing or doesn’t recognize it as food at all, try cutting the meat into bite-sized pieces. These pieces should be easy for your cat to manage and you can mix them into your cat’s current food to encourage them to try the wing. Cats usually prefer room temperature meals, so don’t offer the wing straight out of the refrigerator.
Is Your Cat Gnawing Too Much?
Let’s break that wing down.
If your cat knows the wing is a snack but seems to be gnawing endlessly without getting anywhere, try offering just the wing tip. Most cats have little difficulty with these small and easy-to-chew bones. I usually put the entire chicken wing in a plastic baggie and give it a few solid whacks with a mallet before offering it to my cat. This breaks down the larger bones and makes chewing the wing more manageable.
You can also remove the skin from the chicken wing before giving it to your cat—skin is chewy, stretchy, and can be hard to get down. If you’re worried about your cat’s weight, removing the skin is a good way to cut back on the calories and fat content of the chicken wing.
Pro Tip: you want your cat to have to work to eat the wing! Vigorous gnawing is what makes those teeth shine.
Many people feed their cats chicken wings on a regular basis without any problems, but there are risks associated with feeding raw meat. Here are some safe feeding guidelines:
Never cook chicken bones before feeding them to your cat. Raw bones are flexible and easy for your cat to handle. Cooking makes them prone to splintering and shattering. Splintered bones are very dangerous and can cause damage inside of your cat’s body.
Supervise your cat when they’re eating raw chicken wings.
Cats are excellent bone-crunchers and usually have little difficulty eating entire chicken wings. However, bones can be a choking hazard. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your cat while they’re eating a wing.
Always Implement Safe Food-Handling Practices
One of the biggest arguments against feeding cats raw meat is that it’s risky to handle. The bacteria in the meat will take over your work surfaces, and you and your family could get sick. However, raw meat prepared for your cat is no different from raw meat prepared for you—if you prep meat at home for your own consumption, you should be able to prepare raw meat for your cat safely.
- Thoroughly wash your hands after handling raw meat
- Wash any cutting surfaces and utensils thoroughly with soap and hot water after they’ve touched raw meat
- Don’t use the same cutting boards or utensils for meat and raw vegetables
- Put down a non-porous mat under your cat’s dish for easy cleanup
- If your cat doesn’t eat the entire wing in one setting, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to two days
- Keep the wing covered, and throw it out if you notice any unpleasant odors or color change in the chicken
If Your Cat is Immunocompromised, Don’t Feed Raw
Cats are carnivores made to eat raw meat. They have very short, highly-acidic digestive tracts which can usually handle bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella.
This doesn’t mean that cats are impenetrable tanks and can’t be affected by the bacteria common to raw meat. Some cats, such as those suffering from FIV, have weaker immune systems than other cats. Feeding raw to these cats is walking a fine line, and we don’t recommend attempting a raw diet or feeding raw chicken wings to immunocompromised cats.
How do you stay on top of your cat’s dental health? Let us know in the comments!