Dental disease is a common malady, affecting around 70 percent of pets by age 3. Sticky plaque and bacteria accumulate on the teeth, quickly harden into tartar, and build up over time, eating away at the bone and tissue anchoring the teeth. Gum disease and tooth loss is painful, causes bad breath, and affects quality of life. Severe dental infections can also spread to internal organs and impact your pet’s overall health. 

Toothbrushing is the best weapon in our dental disease arsenal, but pet owners are often too intimidated to learn how to brush their pet’s teeth. Here, Wales Animal Clinic breaks down four steps to make toothbrushing part of your pet’s daily routine. 

Step 1: Prepare pet-safe supplies

Gather the following supplies for toothbrushing training:

  • Toothpaste — You must use a product made specifically for pets, as these are formulated with plaque-dissolving enzymes that are safe for pets to ingest. Choose a flavor, such as poultry or peanut butter, that your pet will like. Check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) website for recommendations on safe, effective products.
  • Toothbrush — You can use a toothbrush made for pets, or one for humans, based on your pet’s size and temperament. For larger dogs, an adult human toothbrush works best. For smaller dogs, try a baby or child’s brush. For cats, start with a finger brush. Ensure you choose a toothbrush with soft, flexible bristles, so your pet has a comfortable experience. 
  • Toothbrush alternatives — Consider gauze squares or dental wipes for pets who are sensitive to being approached with objects, or who are having a hard time adjusting to the brush. 
  • Treats — Arm yourself with your pet’s favorite treats, so you form positive associations with toothbrushing during the training process. If your cat is picky about food, they may enjoy a catnip or special toy reward instead.

Step 2: Handle your pet around their mouth

Many pets do not like their mouth being handled, so go slowly until they learn that you will not hurt them.

  • Begin on the outside — Start by touching the outside of your pet’s mouth, and then providing a treat or other reward. Do this a few times until they no longer move away, and their body language shows they are relaxed. Keep in mind that each pet is an individual, and some may need more sessions than others to complete the process. If you see your pet yawning, panting, or attempting to leave, these signs indicate your pet is stressed, and you should end the session and try again the next day. Move to the next step only when your pet is comfortable.
  • Lift the lips — Next, lift one of your pet’s lips, release, offer a treat, and then lift the other side. Repeat until your pet is comfortable. 
  • Give treats — Finally, place a small amount of a lickable treat, such as peanut butter, on your finger. Lift your pet’s lip, run your finger along the gumline, and then provide an additional treat. Repeat on both sides until your pet is comfortable. 

Step 3: Brush your pet’s teeth

Once your pet has accepted the handling so far, you are ready to introduce actual toothbrushing.

  • Give your pet a taste — Place a bit of your pet’s toothpaste on a gauze square wrapped around your finger, or on the toothbrush, and let your pet lick off the paste. Reward them each time they taste the toothpaste.
  • Divide the mouth into sections — Mentally divide the mouth into four sections—upper right, lower right, upper left, and lower left. Focusing on one section at a time, place some toothpaste on the brush, and sweep along the gumline in your chosen section. Pay special attention to the large chewing teeth in the back, the pointy canine teeth, and any crowded areas. When you finish each section, give your pet a break and lots of treats before moving to the next section.
  • Visit our veterinarian — Painful or bleeding gums are dental disease signs that our Wales Animal Clinic veterinarian needs to evaluate and treat. Until they can treat the problem, use dental wipes rather than a brush as a gentler alternative. 

Step 4: Establish a dental health routine for your pet

A regular routine is essential for successful toothbrushing and warding off dental disease in pets.

  • Brush twice a day — Twice-daily toothbrushing is recommended for all pets. If this seems unattainable, don’t worry, because some brushing is better than no brushing.
  • Stick to a routine — Make toothbrushing part of your pet’s daily routine, like yours. Pair their toothbrushing with mealtimes, or with your own toothbrushing routine.
  • Try alternatives, if needed — Visit the VOHC website for other recommended oral health products. Brushing is the gold standard of oral care, but other products, such as chews, gels, water additives, treats, and diets, are also effective.

All pets, regardless of their at-home toothbrushing regimen, will require periodic professional dental assessment and treatment under anesthesia. Most humans brush regularly, but still require cleanings twice per year, and your pet’s teeth are no different. Veterinary dental assessments are required based on your pet’s individual genetics, breed, and age.

To learn more about your pet’s specific dental health needs, and whether they need a professional cleaning and treatment, call us to schedule a dental health consultation with our Wales Animal Clinic team.