Come Clean: How to Brush Your Pet's Teeth

Dog getting teeth brushed
Starting a brushing routine can help your dog or cat maintain sweeter, fresher breath — and a healthier mouth and teeth — for life.

Brushing your teeth is a simple and essential part of your daily healthcare routine. So why aren’t you offering your pets that same basic level of care? Implementing a daily routine is easier than you think. All it takes is a little practice, a lot of patience, and the desire to provide your four-legged friend with the best healthcare possible.

Start Small

Pets who already have poor dental health may be more resistant to brushing because of pain. So before starting a home care routine, schedule a veterinary exam to ensure your pet’s mouth is pain-free.

While exams and professional dental cleanings are necessary components of good oral health, daily brushing is the most effective way to slow tartar buildup and help keep dental disease at bay. Exploring your pet’s mouth on a regular basis will also help you identify any changes that might require veterinary care, including broken teeth or tender gums.

Like any other training goal, it’s best to gradually introduce the brushing process, preferably in a quiet, distraction-free environment. Ideally, you should begin this training during the puppy and kitten stages of life, so brushing becomes a comfortable, well-tolerated activity. But most dogs and cats of any age can learn to tolerate regular brushing.

Be sure to choose toothpaste formulated for pets. Human toothpaste, with its foaming agents and fluoride, must be spit out — and pets don’t do that very well! Veterinary enzymatic toothpastes work with your pet’s saliva to fight bacteria, and there are many flavors that will help make the process more palatable.

There are also many brush options on the market. Finger cots, pet toothbrushes, child-size toothbrushes, and plain gauze pads all work well. Just make sure the brush you choose has soft bristles that can’t damage the gum tissue.

Training for Dogs

When it’s time to get down to business, decide whether to approach your dog from the front, side, or back — either sitting down next to your pet or placing your small dog on your lap. Choose a time when your pet is calm and relaxed.

Start by offering a little toothpaste from your finger or the toothbrush. Your dog may love some flavors and refuse others, so have a few flavors on hand. Your veterinarian may even have samples.

Next, gently grasp the muzzle from above (over the bridge of the nose) with your non-dominant hand. Then slowly pass your free hand down the side of the face, along the cheeks, while starting to gently lift the lips. Using a gauze pad or finger toothbrush and a small amount of toothpaste, introduce your finger just inside the lips, and rub the outside surfaces of the teeth. Keep these sessions short — just a minute or two — and stop as soon as your pet becomes agitated. Repeat this step daily until your dog is comfortable with the movements, and praise her after a good session. Over time, try to progress to using a bristled toothbrush. Toothbrushes work best when the bristles are at a 45-degree angle to the tooth surface, with the bristle tips pointed toward the gums. Eventually you can work the toothbrush in a circular motion, brushing all of the inner and outer surfaces.

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