Should You Pet Your Cat With a Toothbrush? Experts Debunk Viral Posts

"If you get a wet toothbrush and pet a cat with it, it supposedly reminds them" of their mother grooming them when they were a kitten.

This claim has been doing the rounds online and recently went viral thanks to videos posted on Reddit and TikTok. In both cases, the footage shows a cat being massaged on their head and face with a toothbrush—and apparently becoming "emotional," almost as though the brush had brought back childhood memories.

So, is there any truth in the notion that the bristles evoke remembrances that will calm your cat? Should you be rushing to the supermarket to buy a spare toothbrush for your pet?

What's the Medical Evidence?

Zazie Todd, a cat behavior expert and author of Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy, said it was an interesting idea, but she didn't "know of any evidence for that."

She told Newsweek: "Cats are used to us petting them with our hands and some cats may feel stressed and react badly if we change what we do."

Dr Christian Broadhurst, a senior veterinarian at the Clay Humane non-profit clinic in Orange Park, Florida, also said there was no medical evidence to support the idea, but added that most cats like being brushed anyway.

"I could see very young kittens responding well to that, because that's where they would be most in need of their mother's care. If you had an abandoned kitten that you're trying to raise, that would probably be very soothing and very comforting for them.

"Whether they think it's actually their mother, we don't know. There's no evidence of that," he told Newsweek.

When to Pet or Brush Your Cat

Any alterations in your cats' routine can affect their mood and increase anxiety levels. They also love to have their space and be in control of the situation, so check they're OK with being petted before you do it.

"We should always give cats a choice of whether or not to be petted," Todd said, explaining that the best way to "ask for their permission" is to get down to their level and put a hand or finger out and see if they approach it and rub against it.

"If they do, then it's likely they will enjoy a few pets, but if they don't then it's their choice."

The way a cat reacts to human attention in general depends on their personality and the context. There are no set rules and what they liked a few minutes earlier might not feel appropriate later.

For this reason, Todd recommends not petting them for too long. "Keep petting sessions short. You can do a consent test by taking a pause and see what the cat does. If they want more petting, they will make it pretty obvious."

Where to Pet or Brush Your Cat

Many cats like being petted near the head and face, "where the scent glands are," according to Todd. This can vary too, however. "Since every cat is an individual, it's important to pay attention to their body language to see what their personal preferences are."

Broadhurst said many cats also like being brushed on the shoulders and mid back. He advised against brushing close to the base of the tail or on their abdomens.

"Keep it to the head, shoulders and the first half of the back. You can maybe pet with your hand the rest of the way down but don't use bristles. Further down it can be very irritating to the sensitive skin on the base of their back."

Which Kind of Brush Is Best?

Some cats do seem to like being stroked with a wet toothbrush, judging from the number of social media clips that show people trying the "hack" on their pet.

However, most cats prefer a very fine wire bristle brush, according to Broadhurst. "If you brush them gently with that, it really does get out a lot of the undercoat and they really do seem to enjoy it. So, that tends to be my preference—as well as some thick bristle brushes and plastic bristle brushes."

Whether or not brushing hurts your cat depends more on your technique, he added.

"You'll be able to read your cat. If you're brushing your cat and it starts trying to get away from you, you're probably brushing too hard, or your cat doesn't like being brushed. If your cat comes over and you're brushing and falls over on her side so you can brush her side better, that's a good sign that she's enjoying it and you're doing it right."

With all the whiskers and sensory organs located on their faces, you might not want to use the wire bristles there. "That might be somewhere you'd want to use a softer brush, maybe more like a hairbrush style."

Cat with toothbrush
A cat having its teeth brushed. Your cat will quickly let you know if it is not enjoying being petted or brushed. Getty Images