How to Brush Your Pet's TeethEven though we feel like every month should be "dental month", February is a great time to remind everyone about the importance of oral care for their pets. The toothbrush has been one of the most important inventions for human health as the bacteria that comes from dental disease does not stay contained in the mouth, but rather travels to other parts of the body causing overall health to decline. Pets are no different in this aspect. In addition to the systemic effects on the liver, kidneys and heart, oral disease also causes pain, bone and tooth loss and an overall decrease in quality of life. Dental disease is the most common condition we see in adult dogs and cats and it is entirely preventable!
So what can you do?
Just like us, brushing is best. It takes 24-48 hours for plaque to harden onto the tooth surface, making it then difficult, if not impossible, to brush away. At that point, a professional dental cleaning will be required to eliminate the tartar. Therefore brushing at least once per day will provide maximum benefit for your pet. Not all pets are amiable to brushing, but most can be if you introduce the idea slowly and make it a positive experience.
First you need to find a pet-safe toothpaste in a flavor that your pet will enjoy. Even though we may want our pet to have minty fresh breath, most will not appreciate a mint flavor. As strange as it sounds it is better to opt for poultry, beef, seafood or something similar. We want them to think of this as a treat, so start slowly by allowing your pet to lick the yummy flavored toothpaste from your finger once or twice daily for a week or more. Once they are enjoying the first step, if you feel comfortable, you can move on to quickly swiping your toothpaste-loaded finger along the outsides of their teeth, just under the lip, then allow them to lick the remainder off your finger. A little invasion of space, but always ends with something good.
After a week or more of that, you can start to consider moving on to a finger brush or toothbrush. Either option is fine; just choose which works best for you and your pet. If you use a toothbrush, buy a pet-specific one or even a child's soft bristle brush; either will do. Once your pet is comfortable with the previous steps, you can begin actual brushing. It is most important to focus your brushing on the part of the tooth just next to the gumline where bacteria like to hide. You DO NOT need to brush the insides of the teeth. Most pets do not tolerate this well and it is not worth the fight. On the off-chance your pet doesn't mind; go for it.
At this point you do what you can. You do not need to set a timer for 2 minutes and use a circular motion on each part of each tooth. If they will allow that, awesome, but that probably isn't the reality. If your pet is an adult and already has some dental disease present, remember that their mouth will likely be sore. Be gentle at first and work your way up to more substantial brushing later. Some people find it helpful to hold their pet's mouth shut when they brush, others leave it open. Try to swipe the brush over each tooth if possible and always finish on a positive note by allowing your pet to lick the remaining toothpaste off of the brush.
Get into a routine. When you brush your teeth at night, brush everyone else's too. Don't feel like it isn't worth it if your pet doesn't allow a thorough brushing. Anything is better than nothing and the more you do it, the more your pet will likely allow over time as long as the experience stays positive. We as pet parents brush our own teeth twice daily, every day, and we still have to visit the dentist for professional cleanings. The same will likely be true for our pets, but anything you can do at home will help minimize these visits and limit the dental work that may need to be done.
Take time this February to help improve your pet's quality of life by giving brushing a try… your pet will thank you for it!