According to the people of TikTok, cats love being gently brushed by the damp bristles of a toothbrush because it reminds them of getting groomed by their mother’s tongue and instantly makes them feel soothed and relaxed.
“That’s a new one to me!” says Dr. Jacklyn Ellis, MRes PhD CAAB, Director of Behaviour at Toronto Humane Society. “In all the videos I saw, the cats were being pet in places where they have scent glands, and these are typically their favourite places to be pet. The enjoyment may be more related to the location of the petting rather than the instrument used to pet them.”
The wet bristles from the toothbrush can have some similarities to a cat’s tongue, but it is unlikely that the cat believes that their mother is grooming them. “I cannot say for sure,” says Dr. Ellis. “It is unlikely that they are literally thinking ‘hey, this feels like my mom’s tongue’ but it is possible that they may have a conditioned positive association.”
While it’s cute to imagine a toothbrush sending your cat right back to their days of kittenhood, that’s probably not the reality – but that doesn’t mean that cats don’t enjoy it. We had to try it for ourselves.
Skyler, a deaf but extremely friendly cat, loved the wet toothbrush. She accepted brushings all over her face and rolled over for some belly rubs too. Jazzy, a shier cat, also enjoyed the wet toothbrush gently gliding on the top of her forehead and the side of her cheeks. Gyoza, an outgoing and friendly cat, did not care for the wet toothbrush. He was curious about it, and later decided that it was a better toy than something to pet him with.
So, do cats enjoy being pet by a wet toothbrush? It depends on your cat. Based on what we saw, the cats who already enjoy being brushed and pet around their face are the ones that liked being brushed by the wet toothbrush. But does the wet toothbrush soothe and relax cats? Again, the cats that already become soothed and relaxed by gentle brushings and pets are the ones that were soothed and relaxed by the wet toothbrush.
There’s no harm in trying this technique to see if your cat enjoys it. “If people want to try this, they can go ahead,” says Dr. Ellis. “[It would be] best to stick to the places where they have scent glands. As with [trying] anything [new], always continue to monitor your cat’s body language and if they seem to have a negative reaction, stop.”
If you have a cat and try brushing them with a damp toothbrush, tag us on TikTok or Instagram and let us know how it goes!
If you think your cat needs support or comforting, we advise on using proven methods such as providing them with lots of hiding and perching opportunities and establishing a regular routine. For more advice, book a feline behaviour consultation with a certified trainer.
Your pet has entered the senior stage in…
Leptospirosis is a serious bacterial infection that can…
Diva is a beautiful 5-year-old Shepherd who came…
Your pet’s sensitivity to the cold depends on…