Not everyone takes me seriously when I tell them they need to brush their pet’s teeth. That’s when I whip out a toothbrush and pet toothpaste and get to work on a demonstration. But even that’s not always enough to convince them.
Not surprisingly, it’s more often the long-time pet owner who gives me that "you’ve got to be kidding" look. You know the look. It’s usually accompanied by a bemused smile and a head tilt that says, "seriously..?"
It’s about time everyone recognized that their vet won’t sympathize with them when they complain about their pet’s bad breath and expensive dental procedures — not if they’re unwilling to learn how to brush their pets' teeth, train them to sit still for brushings, and actually do it more frequently than once every full moon.
Sure, some pets don’t make themselves great candidates for brushing. But here are eleven tips everyone should take to heart when it comes to brushing their pets' teeth:
1. Train your pet to tolerate it
I’m not saying he’ll ever love it. But he should at least tolerate brushings.
Less than 10% of dogs are actually trained. It’s likely that an even smaller number is trained to accept a toothbrush or fingerbrush in their mouths. Hire a trainer if you must, but make a point of teaching him that the toothbrush is his friend.
2. Start early
Ideally, all pets should be acclimated to brushing before they ever show signs of periodontal disease (80% of pets have periodontal disease by the age of three). Training always works best when you begin early. But don’t despair if you didn’t.
3. Learn how
Have someone actually demonstrate the procedure on your pet. Make little circling motions. Concentrate on the outside of the teeth. Skip the tongue. Here's a good video for cat owners and a good video for dog owners.
4. Lightning fast brushings are better than nothing
It doesn’t have to take you forever. Half a minute of brushing twice a week is waaaaay better than skipping it altogether. You’d be surprised how effective just thirty seconds can be when it comes to removing early plaque.
5. Don’t rely on others
Letting your groomer do it every few weeks is NOT a substitute for brushing your pet’s teeth at home and receiving routine dental care by your vet. Regardless of how it’s advertised, a groomer’s welcome addition to a pet’s dental regimen doesn’t mean it’s a panacea for everything dental that ails her.
6. Check with your vet first
It’s not recommended you initiate a brushing regimen if you haven’t had your pet’s teeth evaluated first. Especially if heavy tartar, bleeding gums and loose teeth are the case, you’re better off waiting for a proper professional cleaning than chancing the pain and severe discomfort of your own dental ministrations.
7. Get it all off professionally, first
Even mild to moderate tartar buildup won’t disappear with brushing. Before you begin a new brushing routine, a round of professional cleaning is probably the first line of business.
"How often should I brush?" is the most common question I get on this subject. The answer: "It depends." Once a week is the minimum. Twice a week for those more likely to develop plaque. Daily for my severe periodontal disease patients.
Toothbrushes for pets are all the rage in pet stores. They sport fancy handles, angled bristles, finger attachments and super-fine fibers. But an extra-soft bristled baby toothbrush works great, too. And for those who won’t tolerate something hard in their mouths I recommend a gauze sponge. Its rough surface is just nubbly enough to abrade the plaque … and not the gums.
Just as with the brushes, nothing fancy is needed here. Baking soda is good enough but flavored toothpaste for pets can sweeten the pot (poultry flavor, anyone?). When pets won’t tolerate fancy pet toothpaste or Arm & Hammer’s finest (or regular store-brand baking soda), even water on a brush beats not brushing at all. Just make sure you steer clear of fluoride-filled or artificially sweetened human-grade stuff. Remember, Xylitol kills pets!
11. Brushing doesn’t cure all
Just as the groomer can’t do it all, neither can you — especially if your pet is predisposed to serious gum disease. Regular dentals (as often as every six months for some pets) are strongly recommended for these guys … along with brushing, of course.
Dr. Patty Khuly