Homepage At-Home Pet Care How to Brush Your Pet's Teeth

February 24, 2022

Dog gives a toothbrush the side-eye.

How to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth

Good dental hygiene is as important for your pet as it is for you. Although you may think your pet won’t stand for their teeth being brushed, you’d be surprised how easy it is to get them used to it.

An estimated 80% of dogs over the age of three have some kind of oral disease. Just as with humans, brushing the teeth of your cat or dog is the most effective means of controlling plaque and periodontal disease.

If you can, start young. The earlier you start, the easier it will be for you in the future. I recommend that all pets have their mouths handled from a very young age to get them accustomed to the sensation and to build a bond of trust. You can start brushing their teeth when they are young, but it’s really not necessary for cats or dogs until they are five months old.

When following the steps below, remember to go slowly. Never force the process on your pet or they will come to resent it and will resist in the future.

  1. Dog getting his teeth brushedFlip that lip! Get your pet used to you putting your hands and fingers on their muzzle. Talk to them while you do so, to make them feel comfortable. For cats, rub their muzzle and lip area. Do this for 4 to 5 days.
  2. Go a little further. Place your fingers inside your pet’s mouth and rub along the gums and teeth. Your pet can keep his or her mouth closed. Do this for another 4 to 5 days. Note: If your cat is hissing or your dog growling, do not attempt to put your fingers in their mouth. You may need to go back to step one.
  3. Apply the paste. Now that your pet is used to the feel of your fingers, apply some pet toothpaste to your finger and massage the gums and teeth. Do this for 2 to 3 days. Do not use human toothpaste due to its foaming action and because it may contain ingredients that are not safe for pets.
  4. Brush up. You can use a toothbrush made especially for cats or dogs, or you might be able to use one made for a small child. Add a little pet toothpaste and start on the front teeth, using circular motions. Do this for 2 to 3 days.
  5. Work backwards. Using the same circular motion, slowly work your way to the back teeth. Do this for 30 to 60 seconds each day. Your pet does not need to open his or her mouth to get to the inside of the teeth, as most periodontal disease occurs on the outside. However, some small-breed dogs do tend to get very bad periodontal disease on the inside surface of the upper canines. Check with your vet if your dog is a breed with this tendency.
  6. Treat them. Reward your pet by giving them a treat, T/D biscuits or C.E.T. Chews, so that they look forward to future brushing sessions. You can also link this behavior to something positive so they come to look forward to it. Take your dog for a walk after brushing, or pull out the laser toy for your cat.

If daily tooth brushing isn’t realistic for your pet, try for three times a week, which has been shown to reduce plaque by 90%; once a week provides a 75% reduction. Brushing also provides the added benefit of potentially catching problems early on. If you see a brown/tan buildup on the teeth or blood on the toothbrush, it could be a sign of periodontal disease. Other signs to look for are broken or loose teeth, swellings, and growths. If your pet suddenly stops letting you brush their teeth, it could be a sign of oral pain. If any of these situations occur, contact your vet.

But just like humans, regular dentist visits are important for cats and dogs. If it’s been more than six months for young pets or a year for older pets, it’s time to book their dental appointment.

If after you try, your pet just won’t let you brush their teeth, you can try to minimize oral disease through their diet. There are numerous tartar-control and other dental-based foods that can help.

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