Just like their human counterparts, it is ideal to brush dogs’ teeth twice a day. For many dogs, once brushing becomes part of their daily routine, they will begin to expect it and enjoy it. Brushing three times a week is the recommended minimum to help prevent plaque build-up and tartar accumulation.
Why Should I Brush My Dog’s Teeth?
Tooth brushing helps to remove plaque and tartar from the surface of the tooth, which helps to reduce the chance of your dog developing periodontal disease. This is an inflammation or infection of the tissues surrounding the tooth that starts as inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and can progress to destruction of the bone that surrounds the tooth. As periodontal disease progresses, it can cause pain in your dog’s mouth when chewing or picking up toys and increases the chance of other dental diseases such as root abscesses.
Your dog’s mouth is home to a lot of bacteria. Keeping his or her teeth clean helps prevent infections and improve overall health. Dental disease is common in pet dogs, and signs of oral pain can be very subtle, making it difficult to assess if your dog’s teeth are causing pain. Prevention is always better than cure.
When Should I Start Brushing My Dog’s Teeth?
It is best to start introducing tooth brushing when your dog is a puppy. That way, they will grow up knowing it is part of his or her daily routine. However, it is never too late to start. Introducing tooth brushing to an older dog may take a little longer, but is well worth the effort. Tooth brushing should always be a positive experience with plenty of rewards. Introducing it slowly is key.
What Can I Use to Brush My Dog’s Teeth?
There are several commercially available dog toothbrushes on the market. Some of these have a long handle with an angled head, specifically designed to fit the shape of a dog’s tooth. Others are designed to fit on a fingertip and are used to rub the surface of the tooth using your finger. Alternatively, a small, soft toothbrush like the type used for human babies can be used. Fingertip toothbrushes are often useful when first introducing this behavior, but the type of brush used will largely depend on the size of your dog and your preference.
Whichever toothbrush you use, it is important to go slowly and gently to avoid poking the gums or causing discomfort when you are cleaning your dog’s teeth. Advice on dental hygiene and home care can be sought from your veterinary surgeon.
A canine-specific toothpaste should also be used. Many of these are flavored in delicious flavors such as chicken or beef that appeal to our furry friends (not exactly minty fresh!). If your dog likes the taste of the product, they are more likely to be on board with the whole process. Why not try a few different brands and pick your dog’s favorite?
Some canine brands of toothpaste are labeled as “enzymatic toothpaste.” This means that the toothpaste contains enzymes that help to break down plaque and tartar and will work alongside the brushing action.
Human toothpaste should be avoided as many contain ingredients that are potentially toxic to dogs. Some toothpaste contains xylitol, an artificial sweetener, which can be toxic to dogs. Similarly, agents like bicarbonate of soda are not recommended as this can cause a harmful reaction when it reaches your dog’s stomach.
How Do I Brush My Dog’s Teeth?
Introduce Tooth Brushing Slowly
For the best chance of success, introduce tooth brushing slowly and make it a positive experience for your canine companion. Choose a calm, quiet environment to begin. Perhaps introduce your dog to the toothbrush while playing another game so they associate it with pleasure. For older or very nervous dogs, this step may take a little while. Placing the toothbrush near their food at mealtimes can help them to create a positive association with it. Get your pet used to the taste of the toothpaste: Offer a little as a treat from your finger or place some on top of his or her dinner.
Practice Looking at the Teeth First
Initially, practice lifting your dog’s lip to look at his or her teeth. Try this on both sides so that you can see the teeth at the front and back of the mouth. It is not necessary to open your dog’s mouth to do this. Again, use a lot of positive reinforcement with treat rewards or a clicker if your pet is clicker trained. Over several weeks, build up to smearing some of the toothpaste on the surface of your dog’s teeth.
Next, use your finger, or a fingertip toothbrush, to gently rub the toothpaste into the surface of the tooth. Build up to being able to clean all your dog’s teeth using a gentle, circular motion focusing on the gum line.
Aim to Build a Positive Habit
Some dogs will accept toothbrushing quickly, whereas others will take a little longer to enjoy the process. Don’t be afraid to go back a step if you are not succeeding. Most importantly, never force the toothbrush into your dog’s mouth, and always stop if your pet is stressed or worried. It is important that they enjoy the process to build a positive habit for both you and your pet.
If your dog shows signs of discomfort when brushing his teeth or you are concerned about the appearance of the teeth or gums, seek veterinary advice.
How Long Should I Brush My Dog’s Teeth?
It is recommended to build up to 30 seconds of brushing on each side. That is 1 minute of time that could help prevent painful dental disease in your dog!
What Else Can I Do to Improve My Dog’s Dental Health?
There are a lot of other products available that can help keep your dog’s teeth clean and improve dental health. Specially formulated dry foods are available that help to improve the chewing action of your dog’s mouth and contain ingredients that bind minerals in their saliva to help reduce the build-up of tartar on the surface of the tooth. Similarly, there are additives that can be added to food or water that help reduce plaque build-up. Your dog’s veterinarian can often advise on suitable dental-specific diets.
Toys and treats that encourage chewing can be helpful to clean the surface of your dog’s teeth. However, dogs should always be supervised when given chew toys or treats to avoid accidental ingestion or injury to their mouth. Dental chews can be useful in some dogs, although it is worth remembering that much of their benefit comes from the chewing action. If your dog has an eager appetite and is prone to demolishing a dental chew in a few bites, it is unlikely to have much of an effect on dental cleaning. Again, it is important to supervise your pets with these chews. Check out The Daily Dog’s Dental Chew Buyer’s Guide here.
Brush your dog’s teeth! The sooner you start, the better! Hopefully, our tips will help you train your dog to love having his or her teeth brushed, but if you’re struggling, your local veterinary practice will have tips and resources to help.