Ever wondered how to take care of your dog or cat’s teeth?
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Dental care for pets is a very important part of their health, the same as for humans.
There are many products available that are marketed for dental care including dental treats, water additives, and dental gels. However, the most effective way to prevent tartar from accumulating is to brush the teeth, just as it would be for a person. Imagine living your life without brushing your teeth daily… No wonder so many pets have dental problems and bad breath!
Tooth Brushing Will Not Happen Overnight
Pets have to learn to accept tooth brushing. It is easiest to start training when they are young so it can become a normal part of their routine. However, older pets can be taught too as long as you go slow and give lots of positive reinforcement. It will be easier to teach pets that are food motivated!
Step 1: Introduce Toothpaste As A Treat
Purchase a flavored pet toothpaste (chicken tends to be the favorite flavor) and give it to your pet as a treat daily. Let them lick it off your finger. These toothpastes are edible so it is ok for them to ingest it. Repeat daily for 1-2 weeks before step 2.
Step 2: Apply Toothpaste To Teeth With Finger
Once your pet has learned to love the toothpaste and has a positive association with the taste of it, hold them in your lap with their back facing you and wipe a small amount of toothpaste onto their teeth with your finger. Let them lick it off their teeth and give them a break, or feed them another treat to positively reinforce. If they don’t seem flustered, then wipe some on the other side. Repeat daily for 1-2 weeks before step 3.
(Some people never go beyond this step and simply apply toothpaste with their finger as their dental care regimen. While it is better than nothing, the physical act of brushing will do a better job at cleaning the teeth than toothpaste application alone).
Step 3: Introduce Toothbrush
Give your pet their daily toothpaste treat from a size appropriate toothbrush. This means a special, small toothbrush designed for pets. Always start with a small size before working up to a larger toothbrush. Let your pet get comfortable with licking and chewing the toothbrush to get the toothpaste off. Repeat daily 1-2 weeks before step 4.
Step 4: Toothbrush Movements
As long as your pet is doing well with the toothbrush and eagerly licking and chewing it to get their toothpaste treat, you can start wiggling and moving the toothbrush while they are licking and chewing. They need to become comfortable with the fact that the toothbrush moves. It is always advised to have your pet sitting in your lap with their back to you, or have another person holding the pet. Their natural reaction is to back away so if they are facing you and not held still, they might just run away. However always go slow and do very short sessions of toothbrush wiggles (2-3 seconds) and give them frequent breaks so they don’t get overwhelmed. Use plenty of toothpaste to positively reinforce since by now, they should love the taste of it. Repeat daily 1-2 weeks before step 5.
Step 5: Brushing Teeth
With your pet held by someone else or sitting with their back to you, try to do a little more thorough brushing of the teeth. Do short sessions (4-5 seconds) and give frequent breaks.
(The outer surfaces of the teeth are where you need to brush, don’t try to get the inner surfaces unless your pet is extremely mellow and used to getting their teeth brushed. )
As your pet gets more accustomed to this, you can pull back the corner of their mouth to get to the teeth in the back (molars). These are often the teeth with the worst problems in pets who receive no dental care. Remember to always positively reinforce when they do a good job sitting still! This means giving them a favorite treat, their next meal, a play session or a walk outside, whatever makes them happiest.
Final Tips from Dr. Barrett
If your pet has learned to let you brush their teeth via this process, great job! It takes a lot of work and patience to train an animal to allow this. If you’re not having luck, go back to the previous step and spend some more time on it. Or change something about your approach. If you are trying by yourself and struggling, try to get a helping hand from someone else. It can make a big difference.
Daily toothbrushing is ideal! Brushing after meals is ideal! The same principles apply to animal dental care as human, so use your common sense.
Even if you brush their teeth once a week or once a month, it is better than nothing. Don’t be hard on yourself if you forget, but try to do it as often as you can!
Toothbrushing will maintain clean teeth. It will not remove dental tartar that has been there for a long time. You may need to have your pet’s teeth cleaned professionally to get a clean slate if they have a lot of tartar and inflamed gums. If this is the case, it also may be painful to brush their teeth so have your pet’s teeth checked out before you start using a toothbrush.
Contact me if you have any questions!
Video demonstration coming soon!