Beginner's Guide to Brushing Your Dog's Teeth

The AVMA sponsors National Pet Dental Month every February to spotlight the importance of dental care to your pet's health and well-being.  Bad breath, drooling, dropping food, or difficulty eating are all clues of more advanced dental problems that you may notice at home.  Your veterinarian may detect other signs, e.g. gingivitis, chipped tooth, loose tooth, tooth resorption, and treat them before they lead to more serious problems.

A comprehensive oral health assessment, cleaning and treatment (e.g. extractions) under general anesthesia may be recommended for your pet.  After the cleaning, a good home dental care program is important to maintain that fresh breath and oral health. As with behavioral issues, preventing dental health problems is one of the more difficult subject for veterinarians and their teams to tackle because it relies on you, the caregivers, to do the work at home.  Showing you how to brush your dog's teeth is also not something that can easily and effectively be done in a brief exam room visit.  Below are a series of very short videos we did with Elaine almost 3 years ago on how to start brushing your dog's teeth.  Click anywhere on the pictures to start/stop the videos.

Beginner's Guide to Brushing Your Dog's Teeth: Step 1: Handling Her Mouth.

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Beginner's Guide to Brushing Your Dog's Teeth, Step 2: Touching Her Teeth.

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Beginner's Guide to Brushing Your Pet's Teeth, Step 3: Adding Toothpaste. #pets #teeth

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Beginner's Guide to Brushing Your Pet's Teeth, Step 4: Transitioning to a Toothbrush. #pets #dentalcare

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Brushing Your Dog's Teeth: Holding Technique A. #pets #teeth

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Brushing Your Dog's Teeth: Holding Technique B. #pets #teeth

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Beginner's Guide to Brushing Your Pet's Teeth, Step 5: Toothbrush Readiness Test. #pets #teeth

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Restraining or holding your pet for the brushing depends on her size and willingness to sit still.  Some pets do better sitting with their back to you; others like Elaine, do better facing you.

Beginner's Guide to Brushing Your Dog's Teeth, Step 6: Introducing the Toothbrush. #pets #teeth #dentalcare

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The amount of time it takes for your pet to get used to having her teeth brushed depends on how much handling she already gets and how consistent you are with the routine.  It is like developing any habit --- consistency, rewards, and patience.  For complete beginners, pets who have not even had their mouths handled at home before, we usually suggest at least a week of daily practice for each step.  Most people give up or fail because they rush and expect to be brushing their pet's teeth after a few days.  Move on to the next step only when you can safely and repeatedly do each exercise.  Yes, that means it may take a month before you actually brushes her teeth but by then, dental care would be part of her daily routine, not a feared procedure that you have to force on her.

Sweet Elaine was not the most trainable dog.  It's embarrassing but I think it took us almost 6 months before I was able to brush her teeth.  I started then gave up when it seemed she would never learn to sit still for the brushing.  We then did 10-15 seconds sessions and eventually worked our way up to actual brushing.  I'm sure it will not take 6 months for you and your pet, but don't expect it to happen overnight either.

If you are currently not brushing your pet's teeth daily, give it a try.  It is a much overlooked practice that not only improve her health and prevent bad breath but, like daily walks, also strengthen the bond between you and her.

Elaine is getting her daily teeth brushing.

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