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Rosco’s Pearly Whites

Dental Tips for Cats and Dogs

Wow! You could really use a breath mint! Have you ever gotten a big kiss from your dog and had that thought? Dogs and cats get bad breath due to dental disease, and you can help by brushing your pet’s teeth. Brushing their teeth will remove plaque, the sticky film on teeth that contains millions of bacteria that cause odor and disease.

You should introduce your pet to tooth brushing as soon as possible; eight to twelve weeks of age is best, as this is an impressionable period of learning and brain development. This is the time when pets learn who and what they like, and a toothbrush can be one of those things. Between four and six months, your pet is losing baby teeth and permanent teeth are erupting. You may want to decrease the intensity and/or frequency of brushing during this time. But be ready to pick up where you left off at six months of age to keep those pearly whites pearly white.

The first step is to work with your pet’s face and mouth. Gently stroke the muzzle and lips. Next, lift your pet’s lips to view his teeth. With a little patience your pet will soon accept this attention. Keep it positive and make it a short interaction at less than thirty seconds. For dogs, use a lot of praise. For cats, keep the sessions calm and quiet. Try to have these practice sessions at the same time each day to establish a routine. If your dog is motivated by food, try just before dinner with the meal as a reward. But don’t rush it. Pick a time when you can be patient and calm.

Once your pet is used to your hands around his face, try to slide your finger into the mouth to rub the teeth and gums. You are only trying to touch the outside surfaces of the teeth, next to the cheek where the majority of tartar accumulates. Do not invite an accidental bite by sliding your fingers between upper and lower teeth. Practice this once a day for about a week or until your pet is used to this.

Now you can start brushing. To hold the head and muzzle steady, use your non-dominant hand and make an L shape with your palm flat. Place your thumb (the bottom of the L) under your pet’s chin and your four fingers can rest gently against the head and muzzle.

Finally, introduce the toothbrush. There are several veterinary brushes available and many human brushes are suited for animal use as well. Hold the brush with bristles tilted slightly toward the gum line and brush back and forth. Start with the front teeth and gradually work towards the outside of the back teeth. If your pet does not tolerate a toothbrush, a number of other items can be used, such as a piece of gauze or small washcloth wrapped around your finger. Use a few drops of chicken broth for dogs or tuna juice for cats on the brush or washcloth to increase acceptance.

There is an ever-increasing selection of veterinary tooth washes, pastes, and gels. Some of these products may improve the effectiveness of your home brushing by increasing your pet’s acceptance. Remember, it is the brushing action that does most of the cleaning, regardless of what other products you use.


Evan Apotheker, DVM
Evan Apotheker, DVM, worked in both day practice and a local emergency clinic before joining the team at Wellesley Animal Hospital. He has a deep love for veterinary medicine and wanted to be a veterinarian since he knew what one was. His background is in emergency medicine, but he has a particular interest in orthopedics, dentistry, and geriatrics.
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