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  • Writer's pictureCuyamaca Animal Hospital

Cuyamaca Animal Hospital’s Guide to Brushing Your Pets’ Teeth at Home

If there’s anything that cats, dogs, and pet parents can all agree on, it’s that toothbrushing your pets is a pain. I mean, similarly, what human do you know that genuinely loves visiting the dentist? But the fact of the matter for both humans and animals is that the longer dental health goes ignored, the more intensive (and expensive) that next dental visit can be. 

Cuyamaca Animal Hospital's guide to brushing your pets' teeth at home | San Diego Veterinarians

We’re not here to judge, lecture, or make you feel guilty about your pets’ dental health. However, we like to encourage our clients to look at the matter of dental hygiene practically so that you can make informed decisions that will prevent more serious issues in the future. Why put off toothbrushing and expose your pets to serious health risks when you can nip it in the bud by making toothbrushing a part of your regular routine? 

We know brushing your pets’ teeth isn’t easy—trust us! But with some patience and know-how, toothbrushing doesn’t have to be as excruciating or annoying as it seems.

Disclaimer: Only use veterinary toothpaste, as human toothpaste contains agents that are irritant and/or toxic when swallowed.

How to Start a Tooth Brushing Routine

If your pet has never had a toothbrush in his or her mouth, they will likely be very resistant to your first attempt to brush their teeth. But there are ways to get your pets used to the idea of having their teeth brushed.

Start by waiting until your cat or dog is resting, cuddling, or otherwise relaxed, and very gently try to rub their gums with your finger. You will want to keep trying this for a few days, depending on how amenable your pet is to this gesture. If your pet has let you rub his or her gums for a few days, you may want to allow them to lick a small amount of their veterinary toothpaste from your finger as a treat. 

Afterward, (and during a time of rest or cuddling), slowly introduce them to their toothbrush with their veterinary toothpaste on it. You will have a great chance of continued success if you sit next to them and make it a fun practice by not forcing the issue. Encourage them, pet them, laugh with them, but never try to force the toothbrush into their mouths or show frustration. 

Other Practical Tips and Tricks for Tooth Brushing

Although we don’t adhere to the “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” rule, it’s still true that it can be easier to train younger animals to accept dental homecare than middle-aged or older animals. If you happen to be a new pet parent to young puppies or kittens, you should start dental home care as early in life as possible to prevent disease development. 

Here are some other practical suggestions:

  • Make your pet comfortable by approaching from the side rather than the front.

  • Start with just a few teeth and then gradually increase the number of teeth cleaned each time until his or her whole mouth can be cleaned in a single session.

  • Offer a reward at the end, like a game or a treat.

  • Include tooth brushing as part of the daily grooming routine. Home care is more likely to be acceptable to an older dog if he is introduced to it as an extension of a pre-existing routine, like an evening meal, walk, or grooming.

  • You can sit small dogs and cats on your lap while brushing while cuddling or otherwise reassuring them to reduce their apprehension. Alternatively, have someone else they trust cuddle and restrain them while you perform the tooth brushing. 

One thing a lot of pet parents might not realize is that, to start, your pets’ mouths don’t need to be opened when introducing them to tooth brushing. It is mainly the buccal (outer surfaces toward the cheeks and lips) that need to be brushed, especially at the gum margin. Once your pet is fully comfortable with just these surfaces being brushed, you can attempt to open their mouth and brush the other surfaces of the teeth. Even if this isn’t acceptable to your pet, you should continue with brushing their buccal surfaces.

Still overwhelmed at the prospect of getting your dog or cat comfortable with tooth brushing? We understand how intimidating and frustrating it can be, and we’re here to consult with you and your pet about dental hygiene. From dental care suggestions to full dental cleanings, we can help! Give us a call at (619) 448-0707 so we can set up the best routine to help your pet have the freshest breath (and healthiest teeth) possible. 


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