Brushing your teeth is something you probably do without even thinking, right?
It has most likely been a part of your wake-up and bedtime routines since you were a kid. Just as we do our best to keep our teeth healthy into old age, we should give the same consideration to our hairy companions. Without a little help from us, your dog or cat can suffer from plaque build-up, gum disease, cavities, and bad breath, just like we can. Also, bacteria from a diseased mouth can travel from your pet’s mouth, and travel to their organs, causing disease in the liver, heart,and other vital organs, shortening their lives.
Since they can’t brush their own teeth, we have to give them a helping hand. If you’ve never brushed your pet’s teeth, it might sound like a formidable task, but if you’re patient and take it slowly, it’s certainly do-able and your pet would thank you if he or she could.
Whether you have a canine or feline friend at home, the procedure will be the same. You’ll want to gather all your needed tools: gauze or washcloth, a finger toothbrush or one with a handle that is made especially for pets, pet toothpaste, treats, and plenty of patience! There are even sponges or pads for sale that are made especially for pet dental care.
The first thing you want to do is get them used to you touching their mouth and teeth. You can start out by making it part of a petting session. When you’re stroking their head or under their chin, touch their muzzle. Make it pleasurable for them and take it slow and easy.
When they get used to being touched around their mouth and lips, you can try gently putting your finger on their teeth, again stroking and keeping it a fun exercise. You might try dipping your finger into something tasty, like tuna water for kitties or beef stock for doggies. Gently move your finger over the teeth and gum line in a circular
motion. Do this for short sessions and stop before the pet starts to protest or tries to get away. You don’t want them to
associate this exercise with anything negative.
Praise your pet and give them a low fat treat after you’re done with a session.
When they are used to your finger, you can graduate to using something like a piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. Again, your goal is to move the gauze over the teeth and gum line in a circular motion to clean them. You don’t have to get all the teeth in one session, and concentrate on the outside of the teeth, especially the larger canine teeth, and the premolars and the molars in the back. That’s where most of the tartar buildup will occur.
For the next step you’ll want to use some toothpaste. DO NOT use human toothpaste on your pet. Use ONLY toothpaste specially formulated for animals. Human toothpaste contains ingredients that are not meant to be ingested. Since Fido or Fluffy can’t spit like we do, they will eat the toothpaste. Go to your pet supply store or your vet to get flavored toothpaste for your pet.
Now it’s time to introduce the toothbrush. There are many types of pet toothbrushes out there for sale, so be sure to check them out to see which one will be the best for your pet. Obviously, a little toothbrush meant to fit over your
finger would be fine for cats, but might be too small for a larger breed dog. And it’s probably best not to use a human child’s toothbrush instead of a pet toothbrush because pet toothbrushes are ergonomically designed to brush your pet’s teeth.
Again, with lots of patience and praise for cooperating, gently use the toothbrush soaked in warm water with a dab of toothpaste to clean the teeth. Try to get up to the gum line at about a 45 degree angle and move the brush around
in a circular or oval motion. Brush your pet’s teeth, up into the gum line, and in between teeth. Try to get about four teeth at a time and brush about 10 times per section.
This is something you have to work up to, so try a section per brushing session at first, not all their teeth. Keep tabs on how your pet is reacting and remember to stop before they start to squirm and protest. You want to keep this as positive an experience as possible.
Working your way up from your finger with gauze to a toothbrush may take several weeks. If your pet can tolerate it, it’s best to brush your pet’s teeth every day. If you can’t do it that often, try for at least once a week.
When you’re brushing your pet’s teeth, be sure to check things out and note anything unusual, like foul breath, discolored or chipped teeth, inflamed or red gums. A trip to the vet may be in order if you find anything unusual.
As with any exercise with cats or dogs, practice patience, give lots of positive reinforcement and praise, and always have an upbeat yet calm attitude. Your pet knows you and your moods, so stay positive and happy!