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In our last post, we talked about diet choices that can help make a big difference to your pet’s overall dental health. But there are other measures we can take as well. For example, many of us are at least aware that we can also brush our pet’s teeth at home. Whether we choose to act on this knowledge hinges on several important questions:

  • Will I need to somehow wrestle my pet to the ground in a friendly, non-threatening manner?
  • Is my pet going to feel anxious or traumatized?
  • Will I need to show up late to work, or cancel important engagements, because this is taking so long?
  • Will there be a lot of growling and/or flailing around (not just on the part of my pet)?
  • Will our prized plasma TV and/or favorite coffee table be demolished in the process?
  • Is somebody (like, say, me) going to require emergency wound care?

Believe it or not, when tooth brushing is done correctly none of these things is ever likely to happen. Brushing your pet’s teeth should never be unpleasant or stressful — for either you or your pet. In fact, it can actually be a great bonding experience. If you take things very gradually at the beginning, and offer lots of upbeat praise, both of you may actually begin looking forward to at-home tooth brushing sessions — and they can help improve your pet’s oral health dramatically.

Here are a few insights I’ve gained from learning to brush our own dogs’ teeth at home. Note that I’m using the term “dog” below, but these insights can be applied to cats as well. The important thing is to let your pet’s individual preferences dictate the pace.

Pet Tooth Brushing

A smaller toothbrush like the Triple Pet Finger Brush can help you reach around smaller angles inside your pet’s mouth — and that makes things much more comfortable for your pet.

 

Going in, keep reminding yourself that this should be a FUN experience for you and your dog. Keep your tone upbeat, and take things slowly. Keep sessions short and positive, don’t use force to restrain your pup, and keep on praising throughout the process. Again, your pet will let you know when it’s okay to advance to the next step. Give yourself some encouragement too, because you’re doing a wonderful thing for your pup’s pearly whites and overall health.

First, have your dog get used to you putting things in his mouth. Dip your finger in beef broth or peanut butter. Call your dog in a voice that means “treat” and let your dog lick your finger. Next, “re-load” your finger and rub it very lightly over your dog’s gums and front teeth. Just a few seconds is fine – when your dog pulls away, praise. Once your dog begins looking forward to this activity (usually after a few sessions), move on to the next step.

Now, wrap a small piece of gauze around your finger (dip it in the broth or peanut butter if you’d like). Gently rub your dog’s teeth in a circular motion with your gauzed finger — starting with just the front teeth if necessary. Remember to praise constantly and use an upbeat “treat” tone. Do this once per day until your dog seems comfortable.

Once you’ve reached this point, you’re ready to start using an actual toothbrush or dental sponge (a brush I especially like is the EZDOG Triple Pet Finger Brush, which has very soft rubber bristles and is completely dishwasher safe for easy cleaning). First, let your dog lick something super-tasty off of the brush or pad so that he gets used to the bristly texture. Again, approach this just like treat time. Next, add a little bit of actual toothpaste to the brush or pad. Pet toothpastes come in a range of flavors like malt, peanut butter, or poultry – so feel free to experiment and find a flavor your dog really loves. Some dogs have a bit of a sweet tooth, in which case you can also try a children’s fruit-flavored toothpaste without fluoride.

Once your pup has selected a favorite flavor, begin by letting him lick some of this toothpaste off your finger. Next, apply a dab to your pet’s gum line with your finger. Praise, praise, praise constantly while this is going on. After a time, wrap your finger in gauze and do this same thing again.

Once your pet is comfortable with this step, you’re ready to begin brushing. Talk to your pup in a very reassuring, happy, upbeat voice throughout the process, and give BIG praise at the end.  I’ve found that it’s helpful at first to brush only the upper canine teeth (the pointy ones toward the front of the mouth). These are pretty easy to reach, they’re vital to your dog’s chewing ability, and they provide good practice.  As your pup gets comfortable having a few teeth brushed, gradually increase the number every few days. Tell your pooch to “sit, stay” (or “down, stay” if that’s more comfortable) and make it feel like a game. Offer a fun reward at the end (quick belly rub, romp in the yard, small treat, game of tug or fetch, etc.)

As your pet becomes used to the tooth-brushing routine, you’ll begin to realize it takes less than five minutes each day to give his teeth a quick yet thorough polish. We do this every morning before work, followed by tons of praise and an enthusiastic ear scratch. The dogs actually run over with their tails wagging, and will even do tricks when they see their toothbrushes. It’s become a really fun activity for them – and it’s SO beneficial to their dental health.

Do you have special tips for brushing your pet’s teeth at home? Share them with us below. In our next few blogs, we’ll talk more about special products that can really support (and in many cases, greatly improve) your pet’s dental health. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to ask anyone on our Two Bostons team for insights and suggestions!

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