So your vet has been telling you to start brushing your dog or cat’s teeth. Or maybe you just read a fantastic article about it and are inspired. Sounds a little daunting – where to start?
For toothbrushes, we have options. Some people love those little finger brushes. I am not one of them. I prefer getting a kids toothbrush (make sure it’s SOFT bristles!) from the store. Personally, the handle gives me more control, and I’m not putting my finger in my pet’s mouth. If you have skinny fingers, then finger brushes might work for you. If you have thick fingers, or just like the physics of having a longer handle better, use a regular child’s toothbrush. I have some owners whose pets did not tolerate either, and they simply put toothpaste on a gauze square. Wipe wipe wipe. Same action. As long as it gets done, I don’t care how!
You do need to introduce the concept to your pet slowly. Choose your instrument of choice and pick a (pet specific, not human!) toothpaste flavor – they come in flavors like chicken, tuna, etc. Start by putting a tiny amount of toothpaste on the brush, let your pet lick it off, and you’re done. After doing this once a day for a few days, move to putting it on a tooth, maybe doing a brush or two, and stopping. Give treats afterwards to keep it fun! Gradually work up to brushing one side, then the other.
Most action happens on the outside part of the teeth, where the cheek or lips touch. Often you don’t even need to open your pet’s mouth! Simply put a small amount of pet specific toothpaste (I like CET – most vets carry it) and stick it under the cheek/lip.
Brush brush brush.
Mouth stays closed.
Seriously, take 5 seconds on that side. You may need to reapply a small amount of toothpaste, then go to the other side. Brush brush brush. Go to the canine teeth (the fang teeth) and the incisors (those little teeth in the front). Brush brush brush. Notice we have not needed to pry our pet’s mouth open! And we’ve spent about 30 seconds on this.
I’d suggest doing it the same time every day, to make it a habit for you both. What worked for me – I kept my dachshund’s toothbrush and toothpaste by my vitamins. I’d take my vitamin every night, and brush his teeth before bed. He got used to it, and some nights that I forgot both, I had a dog in the kitchen waiting for his teeth to be brushed while I’m in bed (talk about feeling like a horrible owner!).
Some pets will tolerate tooth brushing better than others. If your dog or cat really enjoys it, then move on to the “advanced” level and try getting the insides of the teeth, particularly the front teeth (incisors). You don’t need to pry their jaw open wide, just slide the toothbrush on in there for a couple brushes.
If you’ve tried, gone slowly, and your pet will not tolerate it, there are other options. Tooth brushing is the gold standard, but let’s face it, we don’t live in a perfect world. If your pet would not tolerate any handling of his mouth, he may be painful. Get him checked out by your vet. Remember, tooth brushing removes plaque that is invisible, not the yellow/brown tartar! If your dog or cat has very bad breath, loose teeth, bright red gums, or any green discharge, brushing those teeth is downright cruel. Don’t do it. Step away from the toothbrush.