How on Earth do you brush a dog or cat’s teeth?!?

Our most recent discussion involved the importance of at-home dental care, including brushing your pet’s teeth regularly, at an interval established by your veterinarian. This home care plan also included providing appropriate dental treats and chews, as recommended by your vet. You may be saying to yourself, “I know how to get my pet to eat a treat, but how in the world to I brush their teeth?” Have no fear! These simple steps will help get your pet comfortable with the tooth brushing experience. It just takes a little time and TLC!

Remember, you can’t explain to your pet that brushing their teeth is good for their health. They simply see it as you attacking their mouth with a scary brush thingy. So take your time, and go just as slowly as your pet needs you to go. Every pet will be at a different starting point, so begin wherever you feel your pet will be most comfortable. Don’t move forward until your pet is absolutely ready. If at any point, you encounter resistance or frustration, stop and back up to the last step that worked until your pet gets becomes more accepting of the training. Then move forward again as tolerated. You only need to spend about 5 minutes per day with this step-wise training.

  1. Start by slowly using your fingers to manipulate the lips. Use rewards such as treats and praise while you do this.
  2. Place veterinary specific toothpaste on your finger and let your pet lick it off your finger. You could also try letting them lick it off the packaging, if they are wary of your gooey finger. This will be a natural treat, since the toothpaste is designed to taste good.
  3. Put the toothpaste on your finger and slowly place it onto your pet’s teeth and/or gums as tolerated. You don’t need to move your finger; just place it there for a couple of seconds. Eventually, you can use your finger to simulate a brushing pattern.
  4. Put the toothpaste on the tooth brush and let your pet lick it off the brush.
  5. Put the toothpaste on the toothbrush and place it onto your pet’s teeth and/or gums as tolerated, just as you did with your fingers.
  6. When your pet is ready, try using a brushing pattern, and stop when your pet stops tolerating it. This may only be 5-10 seconds, but that’s okay.
  7. Don’t push it, slowly increase the amount of time you spend brushing your pet’s teeth until you can reach all the teeth in the mouth.
  8. Sit back, and pat yourself on the back. Pat your pet on the back too, by giving them lots of love and maybe a couple of treats! With a little time and patience, most people can get to a point where they can brush their pet’s teeth consistently.

Some helpful tips:

Focus on the outsides of the teeth and on the chewing surfaces – this is where brushing is the most important in pets. If you can reach the insides of the teeth and your pet will let you do this, then great. If not, it’s not the end of the world. You don’t need to brush their cheeks, tongue or palate, so don’t get too carried away or they will start becoming more resistant.

When you add the dental treats and chews on top of brushing, it targets the chewing surfaces of the teeth, so you don’t need to spend as much time here during brushing if your pet won’t tolerate it.

Your veterinarian can direct you to the best pastes and brushes for your pet’s oral health. If at any point you are struggling to get your pet to tolerate any of this, contact your vet. They would love to help you be successful in becoming an integral member of your pet’s oral health care team.

Next time, we will talk about the reasons we put pets under general anesthesia when we clean their teeth at the vet’s office.

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