Everything You Need To Know About Brushing Your Dog's Teeth

And your cat's too!

Dog Getting Teeth Brushed
Photo: Getty/Photoboyko

As a pet parent, you want to do everything you can to keep your dog or cat healthy, which includes focusing on their oral hygiene. But for many people, brushing a pet's teeth can feel intimidating or maybe even unnecessary. Here are some must-know tips for caring for your pet's pearly whites, while keeping everyone involved safe and happy.

Why Brushing Your Pet's Teeth Matters

Dr. Corrie Connolly, DVM, of Ranchside Veterinary Clinic in China Grove, North Carolina, explains that good oral hygiene has a significant impact on your pet's quality of life, and can even contribute to how long they'll live.

"Proper dental care really does make a big difference. You can get serious infections or other problems that come from dental disease. If your pet starts losing teeth, they're just not going to age as well," Dr. Connolly says.

Ideally, pet parents should brush their four-legged friends' teeth daily, though you'll need to find a schedule that's realistic for both of you.

Those with small dogs should be especially mindful, she cautions, as chihuahuas, Yorkies, and other smaller breeds tend to be more predisposed to dental issues. Dental disease is slightly more common in dogs than cats, but all pet owners should focus on good oral hygiene.

How To Get Started

If you're new to at-home brushing, Dr. Connolly advises starting early. This helps familiarize your pet with the process, and can minimize fear and anxiety. Kittens don't get their adult teeth until they're six months old, so when you're brushing a kitten's teeth, it's more for behavioral reasons than anything else anyway.

"First, get your pet used to having you pick up their lips and get into their mouth. Don't even incorporate a toothbrush, just use your finger or a soft towel to touch their teeth," Dr. Connolly says.

If they seem to tolerate this, you can begin rubbing pet-friendly toothpaste (they often come in flavors that animals love, like chicken) onto their gums. If your dog or cat is hesitant about a flavor they're not used to, mix the toothpaste in with peanut butter or put a drop on the tip of their nose for them to lick off. Avoid using human toothpaste, as the fluoride is dangerous for pets.

Once they're comfortable with this, you can use a finger brush to gently clean the tartar off your pet's teeth. Dr. Connolly notes that dogs tend to be slightly more tolerant of brushing, but any pet can become used to it if you start early and are consistent.

What To Do When At-Home Brushing Is a No-Go

If your pet just isn't tolerating at-home brushing, don't push it.

"You don't want to make your pet's quality of life poor, and you don't want to damage their relationship with you," Dr. Connolly says.

Instead, you can purchase treats or water supplements that help care for their teeth. If you're looking for guidance on specific products, she suggests checking out the Veterinary Oral Health Council's website for suggestions.

Regardless of how successful you are with at-home brushing, Dr. Connolly also recommends having your pet's teeth examined by your veterinarian once a year.

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