Brushing your pet’s teeth

The beginning of the year seems like a good time to try something new. And what better than a new routine that keeps your pet healthy.

I don’t know about you but when I was a kid, my dogs never had dental exams under sedation and my parents never brushed their teeth.

As a result, I didn’t worry too much about my dog’s teeth in my early days as an adult pet owner.

But veterinary medicine has come a long way in the last 40 years, and we know a lot more now about the importance of good oral hygiene for our pets.

Dental disease can cause health problems that could potentially shorten your pet’s life, like damage to the heart, lungs and kidneys. And maybe you didn’t know this, but it can in humans too.

And how about the pain…if you’ve ever had a toothache or inflamed gums, you know what that feels like. Not to mention the expense of oral surgery!!!

Nobody wants their best friend to suffer or have a foreshortened life. So how come dental disease is the most common disease in cats and dogs? Some veterinarians estimate that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have oral disease by the time they’re 3 years old.

I think the reason is that most people don’t understand the importance of taking care of their pet’s teeth. And if they do, they think maintaining an oral health routine will be too difficult, especially brushing their pet’s teeth.

But prevention is the only way to avoid the unnecessary pain and suffering of dental disease, and it’s really not that difficult.

Ideally, you start young. Dogs and cats get their adult teeth between 6 and 9 months of age, but you can start getting them used to brushing when they are a puppy or kitten.

What if I’ve never taken care of my adult pet’s teeth?

Fortunately, it’s never too late to start a good dental health care regiment for your dog or cat.

If you haven’t had your pet’s teeth checked in a while, start the year off with an oral exam at the vet.

During the exam, your vet may recommend a thorough cleaning under sedation. When your pet is sedated, the vet can remove the tartar, not only on the teeth, but under the gum line too. If a tooth needs to come out, they’ll do it while your pet is sedated.

Once you’re pet’s teeth have been professionally cleaned, it’s time for you to maintain those pearly whites by brushing them.

How do I brush my pet’s teeth?

Regular tooth brushing is really important. Ideally, you brush every day. But realistically, 3 to 4 times a week is good too.

If you haven’t been brushing your pet’s teeth, don’t feel bad. Nearly two-thirds of pet owners don’t, according to the American Animal Hospital Association.

But now’s the time for you to start and it’s not only easy, it can really be fun for you and your pet. It’s bonding time.

Like anything new that you try to teach your pet, it’s going to take some time and a lot of patience.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Dip your finger into chicken, beef or tuna flavored water (whichever you think your pet would like) and call your pet over for a “treat”. Let them lick your finger and then rub your soaked finger gently over their gums and teeth. You may only be able to do this for a few seconds. Talk to them with a very upbeat voice and praise continually. Do this a few times and your pet will start to look forward to it.
  • Once they’re used to having your finger in their mouth, wrap your finger with gauze soaked in that flavored water you’ve been using. Rub their teeth in a circular motion. Repeat this for a few days until your pet is comfortable. Always be upbeat and praise, praise, praise.
  • When they’re comfortable with the gauze, start using a finger brush with bristles. Let them lick something tasty off the bristles so they get the feel of the bristles in their mouth. Brush over some of their teeth with the finger brush.
  • When they’re used to the finger brush, add a pet toothpaste, and only a pet toothpaste–never human toothpaste. There are some ingredients in the human stuff that can be dangerous to a pet.  Pet toothpaste is flavored so they’ll like it. You can put some on your finger for them to lick first. Then put it on the finger brush. Don’t forget to continually praise as you’re brushing, and speak with a happy voice.  Start with the canines, the big teeth in front. They’ll be easiest to get to. You may only be able to do a few teeth at first. Each session, increase the number of teeth until you’re getting your finger all the way in the back. You only need to brush the cheek side of the teeth.
  • Once you’ve had a number of sessions with the finger brush, try to progress to a pet toothbrush. It will do a more thorough job than the finger brush. But if your pet can’t get used to it, stick with the finger brush.

When teaching your dog or cat to get their teeth brushed, the most important things to remember are:

Be patient.

Do a little bit at a time…keep sessions short.

Praise continually.

Be upbeat.

Don’t overly restrain your pet to keep them still. If they like what you have for them they’ll come to you. And they’ll stay longer and longer the more comfortable they get with the process.


My lab, Honey, is afraid of everything. If I even walk near the cabinet where I keep the ear cleaner, she beelines it to her crate. When I started brushing her teeth, she would run away as soon as I walked toward her with the finger brush. But now, she’ll actually stand next to me and wait for me to get the toothpaste on the toothbrush at brushing time.

Before my greyhound passed, he would come over to me in the evening when he was ready to go to sleep for the night and stare at me until I brushed his teeth.

But it took time to get my dogs to this point. You can do it too.

Do you brush your pet’s teeth? What worked for you? Tell us in the comment section above.



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