If you have a dog or cat over the age of three, you’ve likely been told by your veterinarian that they have some form of tartar build-up, gingivitis, or periodontal disease. Brushing your pet’s teeth may have been recommended to slow the progression of tartar build-up and make the gums healthier. Or perhaps a dental cleaning was recommended first, followed by at home dental care. At home dental care is beneficial to pets by slowing the progression of periodontal disease. It keeps the mouth healthy and pain free.
While all of the above are true, sometimes we need a little more motivation to make dental care a part of our pets’ daily lives. So today, I’m appealing to your monetary side. Here’s the thing: brushing your pet’s teeth will save you money. How? Let me give you an example of my own dog, Suzie, a Westie.
Suzie is a small breed dog prone to tartar build up and dental disease. This is partly because of her small size, she has a lot of teeth crammed into a small space, and partly because of the genetics she was born with. Over the years my commitment to brushing her teeth at home has waxed and waned. Like many others, work, family, and a busy life got in the way. It’s pretty easy to find something with a higher priority to spend time on. As a result Suzie needed yearly dental cleanings over the past few years. Looking to save some money each year, I re-invested in my commitment to her teeth. A year and a half ago she had her teeth scaled and polished and received a complete oral examination under general anesthesia, including dental x-rays. After her dental cleaning, I began brushing her teeth at home daily. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not perfect. I certainly do not brush her teeth each and every day, but I sure do try. In an average week I probably brush her teeth 5-6 times. And the result after one year plus? Pretty awesome. She has some tartar build-up and her gums are a little inflamed. But she doesn’t need her teeth cleaned yet, saving me money and her, a yearly trip under anesthesia.
Have I convinced you? Are there still roadblocks to overcome in your life? Keep reading.
What to Use When Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
Use any soft bristled toothbrush. Use what is comfortable to you and what is sized right for your pet’s mouth. You can use the free adult sized toothbrush you get from your own dentist, a child’s size brush, or a brush designed specifically for dogs and cats. There are even finger brushes without handles that slip right over your finger.
How about toothpaste? Use it or don’t. Sometimes pets with sensitive stomachs can’t tolerate the toothpaste (my own dog Suzie being one). The mechanical action of a toothbrush wet with water alone can do a great job.
If you do use toothpaste, make sure it is for dogs and cats. Human toothpaste is toxic to pets and will cause them to get sick because they will swallow it. CET toothpaste is safe for dogs and cats, comes in appealing flavors to them (flavors like fish and poultry!), and has the added benefit of being enzymatic. So, if you can’t brush super well, you still get the toothpaste working hard to break down plaque and tartar.
How to Successfully Get Started with Brushing
Starting at an early age can greatly improve your odds of being successful with brushing your pet’s teeth. But just because your pet is older doesn’t mean you can’t. Either way, the key is to gradually get them used to the process. If you are using toothpaste, start by letting them try a little bit off the tip of your finger. Let them think of it as a treat. Over time, lift their lip and rub the toothpaste on the outsides of their teeth. Finally, introduce the brush. The process should be positive for both you and your pet: take it slow and give lots of praise. If you aren’t using toothpaste, follow each session with a few small treats. Your goal is to brush the outsides of the teeth–this will require lifting your pet’s lips and getting all the way to the back premolars and molars but does not require opening the mouth.
How Often do the Teeth Need to Be Brushed?
Daily, or as close to it, is the best. But less often can be effective too. If you aren’t able to do it at least once a week, you should look for an alternative to brushing.
How to fit brushing into your schedule/Remembering to brush
Find a time that works for you. Use something to trigger your memory. If once a week is what you can commit to at first, do it on garbage night or some other weekly occurring event. This may be a silly one, but when my husband brushes my young son’s teeth nightly, I brush the dog’s teeth at the same time. That’s what works for us. Other ideas include keeping your pet’s toothbrush somewhere you will see it. Don’t store it hidden in a drawer, but out in the open, maybe near your own brush. When you brush your own teeth before bed, you will be reminded to brush theirs too. Or you could set a daily reminder on your phone.
What if you can’t? Alternatives to brushing
For whatever the reason, sometimes we can’t brush our pets’ teeth. While brushing is the best, there are several worthwhile alternatives including rinses, chews and prescription dental diets. If you have questions about products or specifics on how to go about brushing your own dog or cat’s teeth, contact your local veterinary clinic.
Jennifer Timmerman, DVM
River Hills Pet Care Hospital