Picture this scenario: you come home from a long day at work and can’t wait to see your pet. When they go to give you kisses, you notice they have terrible breath, and wonder if there is anything you can do about it.

If this has happened to you, what do you do? Have you thought about brushing your pet’s teeth? Is that something that you should do? Absolutely!

Do You Need To Brush Your Pet’s Teeth?

If this question perplexes you, you’re not alone. Many pet owners have had this question cross their mind in some fashion or another. Many people think that giving their pets a rawhide or dental chew will help clean their teeth. While appropriate chews can help improve oral health, teeth brushing is the best way to preserve dental health and prevent disease. To be effective, you should brush your teeth every day and every other day is the minimum. While it’s nice to have someone else take care of teeth brushing, performing brushing at the groomer every 6-8 weeks is not effective at preventing dental disease.

What Are Consequences Of Not Brushing?

Veterinarians estimate that more than 80% of dogs and cats over the age of 3 have periodontal disease. What is periodontal disease? Periodontal disease is the body’s inflammatory reaction to plaque build-up under the gums. If left unchecked, periodontal disease leads to separation of the tooth and gums. One of the most common signs of periodontal disease is bad breath or halitosis. Fortunately, mild periodontal disease is reversible with a thorough cleaning and treatment under anesthesia. More severe periodontal disease can be irreversible, and may result in teeth requiring extraction. Frequent, regular brushing can help prevent or prolong the onset of periodontal disease in our pets.

How Do You Brush Your Pet’s Teeth?

Start sooner rather than later brushing your pet’s teeth. The earlier you start, the healthier their teeth will be. Start as soon as you bring your new puppy or kitten home. If you have an adult pet, consult your veterinarian prior to beginning brushing. Brushing may cause pain in pets with moderate to severe periodontal disease.

When brushing your pet’s teeth, the best approach is to take it slow and make it a positive experience. There is no need to rush the process, you want to establish a good experience as this will be a lifetime commitment. You want your pet to enjoy it.

To help make it a positive experience, show your pet that having your fingers in their mouth is a good thing. You can do this by dipping your finger in something tasty like peanut butter or cheese and let them lick it off. As they lick the treat, rub your finger along the side of their gums and teeth. This gives them the sensation of getting their teeth brushed before you begin! Give this a try in short sessions daily. If your pet shows any aggression during this process, stop and consult your veterinarian before proceeding.

After doing this for a week or two, switch to pet toothpaste (not human toothpaste!) to help them get used to the smell and taste. You can also follow with a tasty treat.

The next step is to get your pet used to the finger brush or toothbrush in the same manner.

If your pet struggles during any of the exercises above, you may have progressed a little too fast, so go back and practice the previous steps for a few more days.

Once your pet is happy to accept the tooth brush in their mouth, you can begin gently brushing the outer surfaces of the teeth. While it would be nice to do the inside surfaces also, the majority of plaque accumulates on the outer surfaces of your pet’s teeth, which is the most important to brush. If your pet’s gums bleed during brushing, this is a sign of periodontal disease (gingivitis), and you should consult your veterinarian.

How Often To Brush Pet’s Teeth?

Just like humans it would be ideal to brush your pet’s teeth after every meal. In the real world, many of us would never have the time for this. Once a day is the best recommendation for brushing their teeth, but if your schedule is still tight, aim to brush at least every other day to make a difference. Try to brush for at least 30 seconds per side of their mouth during each session.

What Else Can You Do For Your Pet’s Dental Health?

Regular annual vet exams that include a dental check-up are essential to evaluate your pet’s oral health. Your veterinarian will recommend cleanings under anesthesia when needed.

There are many products available to help prevent dental disease and maintain your pet’s oral health. Products that have been proven to work are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). Lists of these products can be found for cats and dogs at the VOHC website. If you have questions about what product is most appropriate for your pet, consult your veterinarian for guidance.

Dental Health Is Important

Remember that your pet’s dental health contributes to their general health and happiness. And as we know: a healthy, happy pet makes us all smile.