Brushing your teeth twice daily likely has been part of your routine since you were a child, and for good reason. If you didn’t brush your teeth, gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss would quickly occur because of the buildup of plaque, tartar, and bacteria in your mouth. Pets are also prone to dental disease, with 80% of them experiencing signs by age 3. As the disease progresses, bad breath, pain, and bacteria that spread through the bloodstream to their kidneys or heart can significantly decrease your pet’s quality of life. 

Toothbrushing is one of the best ways to keep your pet’s mouth healthy, but it also can be tricky to master. The team at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital has compiled this list of tips to help make toothbrushing for your pet a successful endeavor. 

#1: Use the right pet toothbrushing supplies

For any new adventure, you need the right gear. For toothbrushing, you’ll need a pet-specific toothpaste approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) because human toothpaste is not safe for pets to swallow. You’ll also need a toothbrush, which can be a pet-specific design or a soft-bristled child or adult human brush. If you have a toothbrush stash from your own visits to the dentist, now is the time to put them to good use.

#2: Start toothbrushing with your pet early in life, if possible

Pets are more likely to accept toothbrushing as a normal part of daily life if it is introduced at a young age. Introduce the toothpaste and touch around the mouth as soon as possible, but don’t start toothbrushing until your pet is done teething—typically around 7 to 8 months old—to avoid causing any pain while teeth are still erupting. If you have adopted an older pet, don’t despair. With patience, most pets can be trained to accept toothbrushing at any age.

#3: Make toothbrushing a fun experience for your pet

Your pet should be trained to accept toothbrushing, not forced, and training should be fun. Slowly introduce the process one step at a time, and reward your pet with treats along the way. Start by touching their face and muzzle, progress to lift their lips, touch their teeth with your fingers, then with the brush, then add the toothpaste and start brushing. Try to hold the brush at a 45-degree angle and focus on the large chewing teeth in the back, the large pointed canine teeth, and crowded areas that build up tartar faster. 

Let your pet guide the pace—if they show any signs of stress, such as lip-licking, panting, yawning, or attempting to leave, stop and go back to the last step, or try again later. The process could take a few hours, or several weeks, depending on your pet’s temperament. If you need guidance on training strategies, consult our veterinary team or a professional trainer. 

#4: Make toothbrushing part of your pet’s daily routine

Toothbrushing is most effective when done regularly. Twice daily is ideal, but once daily or a few times per week will still be beneficial. Establishing new habits can be tough, so try to pair toothbrushing with another easy-to-remember task each day. For example, always brush your pet’s teeth right after dinner or after your nighttime walk. Pets are creatures of habit, so you might find that once you make toothbrushing part of your day, your pet will remind you when you forget!

#5: Don’t rely solely on toothbrushing for your pet’s oral care

Most people visit the dentist twice a year, despite regularly brushing their own teeth at home. Professional care is still necessary to remove calcified buildup, take X-rays to check for hidden problems below the gumline, screen for oral cancers, and treat any problems that have popped up. For pets, this means an oral exam during each veterinary visit, and more in-depth evaluations and professional cleanings under anesthesia. Your veterinarian can recommend a professional care schedule appropriate for your pet.

If you are struggling with toothbrushing, other oral care strategies may help you keep your pet’s mouth healthy between professional cleanings. VOHC-recommended products, including diets, treats, water additives, gels, chews, and sprays, can help keep their teeth cleaner and reduce bacteria in their mouth for better overall health.

Your pet’s dental health is an important factor in their overall wellness, and our team at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital wants to help you establish and maintain an oral care routine. Call us to schedule an appointment for a dental consultation, professional dental cleaning and treatment, or to discuss any questions you may have about toothbrushing and oral home care.