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How To Brush Your Dog’s Teeth At Home

Four out of five dogs have dental disease by the time they are three years old. Dental disease starts as reversible inflammation of the gums as bacteria start to multiply under the gumline. You might notice some redness and/or swelling at the gumline along with a little bleeding when brushing, eating or chewing on toys. Left untreated, it doesn’t take long for bacteria to invade the underlying tissues that hold the teeth in place. The inflammatory process that results erodes the bone, an irreversible condition that leads to pain, infection, tooth loss and markedly bad breath. Additionally, advanced dental disease can lead to heart, liver and/or kidney disease from bacteria migrate to those organs through the bloodstream.

Genetics play a big role with small dogs at a much higher risk for developing painful, stinky mouths. Regular dental care is the best way to prevent dental disease from taking hold including professional cleanings and tooth brushing at home. Professional cleanings remove tartar, the thick, brown or yellow hard, caked-on film covering teeth at and under the gumline, while brushing at home removes plaque—a clear, fuzzy layer of bacteria—before it hardens into tartar, which is much more difficult to remove. We recommend brushing at least three times weekly to remove plaque and prevent any current level of disease from progressing.

How to Brush Your Dogs Teeth

Pearls to get started:

· Make sessions short, no more than a few minutes.

· End on a good note, don’t keep pushing to get that last tooth if your dog has had enough. There’s always tomorrow.

· Aim for daily brushing.

· Most dogs need desensitizing to all steps of the routine before they will sit quietly to have their teeth brushed, so break it up and celebrate small wins with frequent breaks, lots of praise and treats. Use whatever is rewarding to your dog, maybe even a short play session!


There are many options, so you’ll want to experiment to find what works best for your dog.

· The first position to try for smaller dogs is first you sit comfortably on a chair (or the couch) and have your dog sit in your lap with their face away from you and their back against your chest. Use your non-dominant hand to hold their collar, chest or neck while your dominant hand brushes the teeth.

· Another position you can try that probably works better for larger dogs is to squat next to your dog on one side of their body. You can also try holding their collar with your non-dominant hand to keep them still. Then move to the other side of their body when it is time to brush the other side of the mouth.

· If either position doesn’t work for you, try brushing your dog’s teeth with a helper.

The tools and technique:

1. First, you’ll need to purchase toothpaste safe for pets. Human toothpaste is toxic to dogs so make sure to find something designed specifically for your furry friend. You might need to experiment with different brands or flavors to find one that your dog loves. Squirt some on a small plate or paper towel so that you’ll have an easy time reapplying to your toothbrush.

2. Next, you’ll need a toothbrush. The size will depend on the size of your dog’s mouth since you need one long enough to get to the back of the last molar. Make sure the bristles are soft; you don’t need firm bristles to remove plaque and firmer ones will irritate the gums. Toothbrushes designed for human babies work well. Or you can buy one designed for dogs at your local pet store. For small dogs, or brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds, finger toothbrushes can be easier to use. It fits over your finger so you can better control where the bristles are applied.

3. You’ll want to hold the brush at a 45-degree angle to the gumline and move it in small circles over all 42 teeth. Concentrate on the sides of the mouth under the cheeks.


· Don’t scold your dog for not cooperating; remember this is unusual for them and they may need some time to learn this new skill. Be patient and consider maybe you rushed the introduction. You can always go back to something more basic such as just holding the toothbrush inside the mouth without moving it, or next to the mouth. Once they relax, take it away. They will learn when they are calm, they get what they want (for you to stop). Eventually with calm repetition it should become more familiar and acceptable, especially when paired with some of their favorite things such as treats, praise or playtime.

· Your dog will likely be more cooperative after a meal, a long walk or other exercise to relax them.

· Some suggestions for breaking up the task:

o Offer a small amount of pet-safe toothpaste on your finger for your dog to lick off.

o Offer a small amount of pet-safe toothpaste on the toothbrush for your dog to lick off.

o Put the toothbrush without toothpaste on it in their mouth and say “good dog” following immediately with something rewarding to your dog.

o Put the toothbrush with toothpaste on it in their mouth and brush one tooth; then remove and reward.

**NOTE** If your dog won’t tolerate any previously mentioned tasks, we recommend a veterinary examination to rule out significant oral disease that can make toothbrushing painful. They may require a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment (COHAT) under anesthesia to ensure their mouth is comfortable before you can start preventative care at home.

Cat-owners: You can train your cat to accept tooth brushing too! Much of the same recommendations for dogs apply to cats. A baby toothbrush will probably be easiest. Just remember: Go slow! Scratches and bites are no fun.

Happy Brushing!

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