How To Brush Your Cat Or Dog's Teeth

Introduction to Pet Dental Health

Brushing your pet’s teeth is the number one best thing you can do to help combat dental disease. Many people are hesitant to brush their pet’s teeth, thinking that the pet will not tolerate it, they may get bit, or that the pet will resent the owner for it.

Pretty well any pet can be conditioned to like it, especially since pet toothpaste comes in many yummy flavours!

I adopted my cat when he was seven, and slowly introduced him to daily brushing, and now he likes it! It is a part of his daily routine and he LOVES the chicken flavoured toothpaste. Here are a few steps on how to introduce your pet to brushing, so they learn to love it!

Step One: Familiarization

Get your pet used to having your hands near its face/muzzle area. Do this for a few seconds on at least a daily basis, preferably a few times per day. It is best to start doing this when your pet is relaxed and happy, not when they are too excited or stressed. Be sure to make this a positive experience for your pet and end each session on a happy note. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to getting a pet used to tooth brushing – do not rush. Do not proceed to the next step until your pet is comfortable with the first step.

Step Two: Introducing Toothpaste

Introduce a pet-safe toothpaste. We carry many different flavours here at the clinic including chicken, beef, and malt. Introduce the toothpaste by putting a small amount on your finger and letting them lick it off to make sure they like the flavour. Then gradually put your finger in the mouth and start by placing some toothpaste and gently rubbing it on the teeth. Generally, starting with the canine teeth (fangs) is most comfortable. Gradually work up to doing the entire mouth (including going gently over the gums). If you have concerns about your pet biting you, do not put your fingers in the mouth. Please call your veterinarian to ask for advice as we don’t want anyone getting bit! If your pet is upset by anything you do in step two, go back to step one for awhile then try again!

Step Three: Toothbrush Introduction

Introduce a toothbrush! Use a toothbrush that has either been provided by, purchased at a vet clinic or one that has been recommended by a vet or vet clinic team member. Be sure to choose a toothbrush that is the appropriate size and softness for your pet – your vet care team can help you with this. To introduce the toothbrush, wet the bristles and place a line of pet-safe toothpaste on the brush. Then hold the toothbrush like a pen and start by just doing the canine teeth. Brush these teeth with a gentle and circular motion. If your pet resents this, please go back to step two! The last thing you want to do is make your pet uncomfortable. Getting them used to new things can take time!

Step Four: Expanding the Cleaning Area

You can now work up to doing the canine teeth, as well as the molars and pre-molars. Continue to be very gentle and gradually work up to doing the back teeth. As your pet gets used to having their teeth brushed you may be able to work up to cleaning them for longer periods of time; at the beginning try to keep it short and sweet. Always end on a positive note! If your pet does not tolerate having the entire mouth brushed quite yet, go back to step three!

Step Five: The Final Frontier - Incisors

The final step is brushing the incisors (front) teeth. Gently hold the muzzle and lift the upper lip of your pet. Use a gentle up and down motion on these teeth. Again, if your pet does not tolerate this well, go back to step four!

Conclusion and Veterinary Advice

The most important thing to remember is not to rush! If you hurry, your pet may become freaked out and not enjoy having their teeth brushed. This can also increase the risk of getting scratched or bitten. Slow and steady wins the race, and building up gradually to a full mouth brushing will help your pet learn to like it. Also keep in mind that if your pet already has dental disease, they should see a vet before you begin trying to brush. If there are loose or painful teeth in the mouth, brushing may be too painful for them until they have had a dental procedure done by a veterinarian. Having clean teeth can help your pet live a longer life, and have a better quality of life. It may just take some time to get them used to it! Your vet care team will be happy to help you out with this process!

Written by: Mikaila Cariou, RVT