how to brush dog (and cat) teeth

Tooth with Brush GIF

Be loving, be patient, be ready for slobber 

 Help your pet avoid super-stinky breath and yellowed, crusty teeth with a daily toothbrushing. 

Without your help, natural plaque on your pet’s teeth will harden into tartar. This browny-yellow gunk is stinky, full of bacteria, and causes gum irritation that can lead to tooth loss and other serious problems. 

Taking time for toothbrushing doesn’t have to be a big ordeal. Here are some tips to get started.

Get ready, get set, brush

Vector graphic of a veterinarian examining a dog's teeth

Pet mouth, meet human hands

Both of you need to feel safe and comfortable to make this work, so take it slow. Start by helping your pet get used to the weirdness of your hands near their mouth. Don’t worry if you can’t get a good look on the first try — some pets need days, or even weeks, to get used to this new idea.

  1. Using lots of soothing praise, start by petting your BFF’s head. Slowly work your hand down to their mouth and lightly rub the side of their lips. Stop if you see signs of  aggression, and try again when your pet is mellow.
  2. Gently lift the side of your pet’s top lip. Take a look at their side teeth, starting with the canine tooth and ending at the front.
  3. If your pet seems cool, now you can gently lift their top lip with one hand. Use the thumb of your other hand to pull down their lower lip so you can examine their bottom  teeth.
  4. When you’re done with your check, lightly run your finger along your pet’s teeth and gums. This will help to prepare your pet for the next step in your home dental journey — brushing.
Vector graphic of a tooth paste and a tooth brush

Tend to the teeth

No matter how much you love each other, even the mellowest pet can find ways to wiggle right out of your hands. Even if your pet is used to your fingers in their mouth, you might consider recruiting a pet-loving friend to help hold your BFF.

  1. Have your pet toothpaste, a piece of gauze, or a pet toothbrush all ready to go before you start.
  2. Let your pet taste a dab of pet toothpaste first (mmm). Then, using your finger, a piece of gauze, or a pet toothbrush, gently rub the toothpaste in circular patterns on the outside of their upper and lower teeth.
  3. Start your routine with only a few teeth, and keep it short. Slowly add more time and teeth each time until you can manage roughly 30 seconds on each side of your pet’s mouth.
  4. Are the teeth clean, but your dog’s breath is still less than fresh? You may want to know more about how to get rid of dog breath.

Never use human toothpaste, which can be toxic for pets. There are many pet-safe toothpaste options to try, so just ask your veterinary team.

When to call the vet

When your pet point-blank refuses

Safety first! If your pet absolutely refuses to have their teeth brushed, reach out to your veterinary team to see what else you can do to help reduce plaque and tartar.

You see swollen gums or yellowed teeth

Ask your veterinary team about a professional dental cleaning, which can get below the gumline to remove crusty yellow and brown tartar before it can lead to painful gum inflammation, tooth loss, and more.

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