It may seem basic, but there’s plenty to know about how to brush your dog’s teeth
If the thought of adding toothbrushing to your dog’s hygiene routine sounds overwhelming, you’re not alone. There are mornings when the effort to get myself showered and brushed feels like enough of a chore, let alone adding my dogs to the to-do list. But dental hygiene is an important part of your dog’s long-term health, not to mention preventing that nose-wrinkling puff of “dog breath” when your pup comes to greet you.
Why brush your dog’s teeth?
Like us, once a dog gets its set of adult teeth, those are the teeth it’s going to need for the rest of its life. Taking good care of those teeth is important for your dog’s overall health. Veterinary procedures to remove plaque from teeth are expensive and require anesthesia, but this can be avoided or at least delayed with regular, routine brushing throughout the dog’s life.
A side benefit of regular brushing will allow your dog to become accustomed to having your hands in her mouth. Some dogs can be fearful about people reaching into their mouth, but this may be necessary someday for a veterinary exam or medical care. Teaching your dog to accept and trust hands in her mouth will make future care much less stressful for you and her both.
What toothbrushing supplies do you need?
To brush your dog’s teeth, it goes without saying that you’ll need a toothbrush and toothpaste. But be careful!
You must be sure to use dog-friendly toothpaste and never human toothpaste. Human toothpaste contains additives such as xylitol and fluoride that can be extremely dangerous for dogs. Human toothpaste is also not meant to be swallowed, while dog toothpaste is formulated to be safe for the pup to swallow. Most dog toothpaste also contains enzymes to help break down tartar even after you are finished brushing.
Canine toothpaste is available in a variety of flavors ranging from beef and poultry to vanilla and mint. Taste preferences vary between dogs, of course. I find that I prefer using a flavor that isn’t too delicious for the dog because if they love it too much, it can be hard to get the toothbrush past their tongue and into their mouth! You may have to test a few flavors to find the one that works best for you and your dog.
For the toothbrush, you have several options depending on your personal preference and the size of your dog. Dog-specific toothbrushes come in a variety of designs from a traditional brush, to a three-sided brush that reaches around each tooth, to a finger-mounted “brush” with rubber nubs. You can also use a human toothbrush as long as it has soft bristles. Again, some trial and error here may be required until you find what works best for you. I like the way that traditional dog toothbrushes are angled back and away from the handle, which gives a better angle when trying to get to those back teeth.
How to brush your dog’s teeth
Once you have the right supplies, the process of brushing your dog’s teeth is pretty straightforward, especially once your dog is desensitized to the process. Ideally, this is started early in the dog’s life so that it’s part of her overall conditioning to new experiences. Even if it’s not, it’s never too late to teach your dog to be comfortable with having her teeth brushed.
The first couple of times, allow your dog to see and sniff the toothbrush. Touch her front teeth with the brush and praise her for being such a good girl. If she’s acting stressed, stop there and add more steps later. Add a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and start on the front teeth. You don’t need to go digging all the way into the back of the mouth right away. Make sure the toothpaste is applied to all surfaces of the teeth so that the enzymes can get to work on the tartar. You can add more toothpaste as you need it, but, in general, it should be used sparingly.
Because canine toothpaste is designed to be swallowed, there’s no need for a rinse. In fact, don’t rinse it off so that the enzymes can continue doing their job. But if you’ve taught your dog to rinse and spit, please send us a video.
Wash and store the toothbrush and toothpaste out of reach of your dog. Believe me. That poultry-flavored toothpaste residue left on the brush is enough to get a dog to sniff it out and chew it to pieces … or so I’ve heard.