Written by Nicole Gunkel, RVT
You may have heard how beneficial it is to brush your pet’s teeth at home. You might think, really? That’s too difficult or that’s crazy! I want to tell you that for many pets, it really isn’t that hard to accomplish. Brushing your pet’s teeth is the MOST beneficial thing you can do at home to minimize and even help prevent dental and gingival disease. According to the American Dental Association, 80% of people brush twice daily. Imagine what would happen to your own teeth if you didn’t brush twice daily, floss daily and have your teeth cleaned every 6 months! Now think about your dog and/or cat not having anything done to protect their dental health! I’m going to give you some tips to make brushing your pet’s teeth at home an easier and less stressful process. It can even be fun!
1) First, remember that tooth brushing must be done a minimum of 5 days a week, and is ideally done everyday. Tartar builds up fast and as soon as it begins to calcify into calculus (48 hours), no toothbrush will be able to remove it.
2) Begin by letting your dog or cat lick the toothpaste. Make sure to use toothpaste made especially for pets. Human toothpastes have detergents in them that make them foam, like hydrogen peroxide. These agents are not meant to be swallowed and could cause your pet to vomit if ingested.
3) It’s best to start when your pet is young (but not necessary) and take baby steps. You may want a helper to keep your pet from wiggling away at first. I started out by sitting on the floor and had my puppy lay on her back between my legs, head closest to my body. This allowed me to hold my squirmy puppy by squeezing my legs. That left both of my hands free to manipulate the toothbrush and hold her mouth. I have now progressed to letting my dog sit in front of me. You can also have your dog sit in a corner where they can’t back away.
4) The best toothbrush is a child size brush with soft bristles. This is also inexpensive. I wouldn’t recommend the finger brushes, because it makes it just too easy to be accidentally bitten. Ouch!
5) When starting, brush with the toothpaste for no more than 30 seconds. Over time you can increase the duration. You could even start out using a little peanut butter or beef broth for dogs or tuna water for cats to help make the experience more pleasant, as long as you eventually phase over to using toothpaste.
6) With one hand hold the mouth closed. Insert the brush beneath the lips and along the teeth, and hold the brush at a 45-degree angle. Brush in a circular motion. The goal is to gently massage the gums and move tartar away from the gum line. Work the brush along the upper and lower teeth on both sides. Due to the location of the salivary glands, most tartar builds up on the outside of the teeth, so only the outside surfaces need to be brushed. Your pet will move toothpaste around to the inside of the teeth when licking after you are done brushing.
7) Every time after brushing teeth, reward your pet with a treat or something they will think is special! I like to brush my dog’s teeth before dinnertime, so her dinner is her reward.
8) Make it a habit! I already mentioned that tooth brushing needs to be done 5-7 times per week to be of any benefit. I keep my dog’s toothbrush and toothpaste inside her food container, so every time I feed her those items stare me in the face and remind me of what I should do before feeding dinner.
Even with the utmost patience, not all dogs or cats will allow tooth brushing. For those pets, it is best to stick with other methods of at home prevention and keep up with dental cleanings as your veterinarian recommends. My dog is currently almost 3 ½ years old and her teeth are sparkling clean and look way better than her buddies the same age. If you have any questions about tooth brushing or dental health, please call or come in. We can give you a tooth brushing demonstration!