At-Home Guide to Brushing Your Pet's Teeth

Brushing cat teeth
Veterinarians recommend brushing your pet's teeth every day.

If you are not paying attention to your pet’s teeth every day, you are neglecting one of the most critical contributors to her overall well-being:  home dental care. Want to help extend that lifetime of purrs and wags? Then help promote oral health with daily brushing.

One of the best weapons in the fight against pet periodontal disease is actually a very simple tool: a toothbrush. Some pet owners giggle, groan or roll their eyes when their veterinarian tells them they should be brushing their pets' teeth. The idea of sticking a bristled brush into the mouth of a dog or cat does seem kind of comical — or like a huge hassle. And daily? Who has the time?

Well, suppose you didn't brush your own teeth for several years. Can you imagine how much plaque and tartar would build up on your teeth? Periodontal disease can lead to pain, tooth loss and bacteria in the mouth can spread to internal organs, which can spell trouble for your cat's or dog's health.

One way to help fend off dental disease is to brush your pet’s teeth on a regular basis. While there are a lot of tricks we can teach our pets, brushing their own teeth is not one of them, so that task falls to owners. Take heart, however, because although it may sound like a daunting task, brushing your pet’s teeth is not as hard as you might think.

First Things First

As a member of your family, your pet deserves to receive the same attention to her teeth as you give to your kids’ teeth. Ideally, then, you want to begin dental care when your pet is a youngster.

Starting with a clean slate is also important. If the plaque that builds up on your pet’s teeth is not removed within about 24 to 36 hours after eating, it can harden into tartar. When that happens, your pet needs professional attention to remove it. Before you begin brushing, ask your veterinarian to examine the condition of your pet’s teeth. If necessary, your veterinarian may recommend a professional dental cleaning.

Just as people do, pets should have regular professional cleanings. However, brushing your pet’s teeth at home can also help keep periodontal disease at bay.

Let the Brushing Begin

Veterinarians recommend brushing your pet’s teeth every day. All you need are a toothbrush and pet-friendly toothpaste. Look for a soft-bristled toothbrush with small-diameter nylon bristles. The toothbrush should also be sized appropriately to fit your pet’s mouth. Toothbrushes can be purchased at pet stores, but some of these can be large. For a pet with a smaller mouth, you might try a human pediatric toothbrush, a finger brush or a toothbrush developed specifically for cats, which also works well for small dogs.

It is important to use toothpaste made specifically for animals. Human toothpaste can contain xylitol, a sugar substitute that is toxic to dogs. Even if your toothpaste isn't sugar free, it can contain foaming agents that can cause stomach upset if swallowed. Plus, you’ll find that toothpaste for pets comes in flavors that appeal to animals, such as beef or chicken.

Teaching your pet to accept toothbrushing should be a gradual process. You may want to start by letting your pet lick the toothpaste off your finger and then graduate to sliding your finger with the toothpaste into your pet’s mouth. Next, substitute a toothbrush for your finger and repeat the same procedure. Each step can be performed on a different day. Make sure to praise your pet at each step, so she associates toothbrushing with a positive experience.

Don't Give Up

Brushing your pet’s teeth may seem like a challenge at first. However, after a few weeks of working with your pet, you will find that brushing her teeth becomes as routine as brushing your own. In the end, helping to protect your pet’s health is worth it.

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