Gimme a Break! How Hard Can It Be to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth?

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: April 7, 2011
Gimme a Break! How Hard Can It Be to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth?

I try. Really I do. But it’s not as easy as you’d think it might be. Even my most compliant clients — the ones who’ll happily roll over backwards to do their best on behalf of their pets — don’t always manage to get their pets to submit to the kind of regular toothbrushing I regularly recommend.

No, not everyone takes me seriously when I tell them they need to brush their pet’s teeth. That’s when I whip out the toothbrush and pet toothpaste and get to work on a demonstration. But even that’s not always enough to convince them of my resolve on this issue.

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 head tilt that says, "seriously…?"

Yes, seriously.

And yes, it’s about time everyone recognized that their veterinarian 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 his teeth, train him 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 ministering to their pet’s teeth:

1. Train pets to looove it!

I’m not saying she’ll ever adore it, but she might at least tolerate it. If you consider it on the order of "sit," "stay," and "come" or "fetch," then it’s likely your dog will consider it a fun thing to do, and not a chore; especially when treats and fantabulous-tasting toothpaste is involved.

And your cat? It’s not as if enticing them to submit to most things that last only thirty seconds is too big a deal…

2. Start early

Ideally, all pets should be acclimated to brushing before they ever show signs of periodontal disease (80 percent 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 great video.

4. Fast is 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 by how effective just thirty seconds can be when it comes to removing early plaque.

5. Don’t rely on groomers (etc.)

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 necessarily recommended you initiate an assiduous brushing regimen if you haven’t had your pet’s teeth evaluated yet. Especially if heavy tartar, bleeding gums and loose teeth are the case, you’re better off waiting for a proper professional eval than chancing the pain and discomfort that your own dental ministrations might occasion.

7. Get it all off first

Even mild to moderate tartar buildup won’t disappear with a novel dedication to brushing. Before you begin a new brushing routine, a round of professional cleaning is probably the first line of business.

8. Frequency

"How often should I brush?" is the most common question I get on this subject. And the answer is always, "It depends." Once a week is the minimum; twice a week for those more likely to develop plaque; and daily for my severe periodontal disease patients. Even so, professional cleanings are typically in order.

9. Tools

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.

10. Toothpaste

Just as with the cool brushes, nothing fancy is needed here. Because even baking soda is good enough. Nevertheless, here’s where flavored toothpaste can sweeten the pot so much that it can make the difference between a successful brushing … and a little toothy violence. Just make sure you steer clear of fluoride-filled or sugar-free human-grade stuff. Remember, xylitol kills!

11. Brushing isn’t always enough (in fact, it usually isn’t)

Just as your dentist can’t be expected to do it all, neither can you — especially if your pet is predisposed to serious gum disease. Regular prophylactic dentistry procedures (as often as every six months for some pets) are strongly recommended for most periodontal disease-predisposed pets … along with brushing, of course.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Rat Terrier Showing Teeth by dagnyg

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