Think you’re in the running for No. 1 Pet Parent? If you’re not brushing Fido’s teeth, doggy breath might cost you the title.
Veterinarians generally recommend brushing your dog’s teeth every day, and at least 2 to 3 times a week.
And even if you love your Goodest Boy and give endless belly scratches, we know you’re probably not doing that (guilty 🙋😫).
Here’s why helping your doggo with oral hygiene should actually be part of your routine and how it can keep your pup-pup healthy.
Not brushing your dog’s teeth leaves them vulnerable to periodontal disease, mouth pain, losing teeth, infection, and other health problems. (Poor puppers!)
Just like with our own chompers, plaque hardens into tartar on your canines’ teeth if they aren’t brushed regularly. Tartar under the gumline causes gum inflammation (gingivitis) that can progress to painful periodontal disease.
“Dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem for dogs,” says veterinarian Douglas Kratt, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “In fact, most dogs have some evidence of dental disease by the age of 3 years. All breeds of dogs are susceptible, although toy and small breeds are particularly at risk.”
“Dogs with dental disease are also at risk of other health problems, such as heart and kidney disease,” Kratt says.
*Adds dog toothbrush to cart*
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends daily brushing, but they say brushing a few times a week may be effective.
So, make daily doggo teeth brushing your goal, and pat yourself on the back if you manage 2 or 3 times a week. Brushing is the best way to keep Borky Boop’s tartar buildup under control and prevent serious dental disease.
The short answer: Very, very carefully.
If you and Rover are new to brushing, take your time. Only progress to the next step when your dog is chill with the previous step. It might take a few weeks to progress from handling your dog’s mouth to a full brushing. (Spoiler alert: Princess Pooch is probably going to HATE it.)
Try these steps suggested by the American Kennel Club:
- Time it right. Save the brushing routine for when you and your dog are relaxed.
- Brush in an area that is well lit and where your dog can be comfortable.
- Start by just touching your dog’s teeth with your fingers. Gently move his lips and touch the top and bottom teeth on each side.
- Introduce the brush, just touching like before. Each step your dog tolerates is closer to a good brushing.
- Show him the toothpaste and give him a taste.
- Add paste to the toothbrush and start brushing his top front teeth.
- Pause frequently to praise!
- Work around brushing the side and back teeth on top. (These are the areas most vulnerable to plaque.)
- Move on to the bottom front teeth and work around to the sides and back.
- Throughout the process, pile on praise and rewards. Follow brushing with something like a walk or playtime so your dog looks forward to it.
The best dog toothbrush has soft bristles and a long handle to help reach the back teeth. A human toothbrush may fit that bill since a lot of dog-specific toothbrushes look a lot like human toothbrushes.
However, picking a product made for dogs allows you to choose the brush that is most suitable for your dog’s age and size.
There are also small “finger” brushes, made of a flexible material that fits over your finger. These may be helpful in the early stages of brush training when your dog is just getting used to the process.
That’s a hard yes. Human toothpaste is not good for puppers, so don’t even try it.
Dog toothpaste is safe to swallow and comes in flavors Fido will flip over. Chicken, beef, or peanut butter? These are way yummier options for your doggie friend than minty fresh.
🚨 If your dog has ingested human toothpaste, call your vet, emergency clinic, or animal poison control center ASAP. 🚨
You might be tempted to DIY dog toothpaste by using baking soda, but it’s not a good idea.
1). Baking soda just tastes bad, so Mr. Floof won’t be into it like his fave chicken-flavored paste. 2). It can also give your dog a stomachache if swallowed.
If Fido unleashes his fury every time you reach for those teefers, don’t panic. In most cases, dogs will accept toothbrushing, but it might take time to get used to the idea.
For the greatest chance of success, follow these tips from veterinarian Douglas Kratt:
- Start brushing when your pup is young so it’s a familiar routine.
- Brushes and toothpaste made for dogs will make the experience more palatable to them.
- Introduce your dog to the tools along with praise and treats so they have a positive association.
- Go super slow. Don’t worry if it takes several weeks to work up to brushing a for few seconds.
Sure, it’s ideal to start brushing those teefers in puppyhood, but if you just realized you’ve never touched your dog’s teeth, better late than never.
If you have an older dog, you may want to start with an annual exam and professional cleaning to be sure there are no problems.
Wait a few weeks after a professional cleaning to start the gradual process of toothbrush training.
There are many toys, treats, and other products claiming to improve your dog’s dental health. But, Kratt says they’re not always effective.
Get your vet’s advice on whether a product is a good choice for your Little Cutie Pie Wiggle Butt. Some chewy toys and treats may mechanically clean teeth as your dog chews, but first you want to make sure those products are safe for doggo.
If you suspect your dog already has dental problems, his teeth may be too sensitive to brush.
“Remember, always be careful when checking out your pet’s mouth, because an animal in pain — even a beloved pet — may bite,” Kratt says.
Your vet will do an oral exam at your pup’s annual visit and alert you to any signs of concern. Regular brushing should keep a dog’s mouth healthy between these annual checkups and may prevent the need for professional cleaning.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, consult your vet for a dental exam sooner. These could be signs of painful dental disease.
- bad breath
- broken or loose teeth
- teeth that are discolored or covered in gunk (plaque and tartar)
- bleeding from the mouth
- swelling around the mouth
- unusual chewing, drooling, or dropping food
- reduced appetite, not eating or drinking water
While regular brushing can reduce your dog’s risk of teeth problems and associated illness, your vet will need to step in for annual exams, cleanings, x-rays, and treatment of existing oral problems.
To keep your pup’s mouth fresh and healthy, you should brush their teeth every day or at least a few times a week.
If your dog is not used to brushing, it can take weeks to help even the Goodest Boy warm up to the routine. Once you’ve made it a habit, brushing your dog’s teeth should be quick and easy, and help prevent painful inflammation and infection.
That means more cuddles, boops, and sploots with your furry friend.