Brushing your pet’s teeth is a habit that seems impossible but is actually achievable—dare we say enjoyable—with proper training. In honor of National Pet Dental Health Month, our Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital team provides you with seven steps to toothbrushing success. 

#1: Know what proper toothbrushing looks like for pets

Before teaching your pet a new routine, consider the goal by breaking the larger objective into bite-sized—pun-intended—pieces to avoid becoming frustrated or overwhelming your pet. From start to finish, your pet’s toothbrushing routine should take no longer than 60 to 90 seconds—longer sessions may create unnecessary stress. Use a gentle touch to brush the outside (i.e., cheek-facing) of each tooth’s surfaces, focusing on the gumline—not the visible crown. Your pet should be comfortable and not exhibit any stress signs.

#2: Use pet-friendly toothbrushing supplies

Set up yourself and your pet for success by using effective pet-safe supplies. These pet dental products include:

  • Enzymatic pet toothpaste — Human toothpaste contains toxic xylitol and harmful foaming agents. We recommend C.E.T. pet toothpaste, which comes in many pet-pleasing flavors.
  • Brush — Select a brush style that suits your pet’s mouth size and is comfortable in your hand. Options include:

#3: Practice touching your pet’s muzzle, teeth, and gums

During your pet’s first few toothbrushing training sessions, focus on building their positive associations with muzzle handling. Remember, many pets are sensitive to physical pressure and may misperceive your movements as a threat, so go slowly and reward your pet often with tiny training treats or small licks of pet toothpaste. Be mindful of your pet’s whiskers, which may be sensitive.

Use gentle movements and practice in short sessions a few times per day. Once your pet is comfortable, focus on specific motions such as:

  • Lifting your pet’s lip on both sides
  • Moving your finger gently over the gums
  • Applying light pressure to the teeth (i.e., simulating a brush)

#4: Introduce the toothbrush to your pet

Some pets find unfamiliar objects frightening, especially when you bring those items close to their head or nose. Introduce your pet’s toothbrush by allowing them to lick toothpaste from the bristles. Next, using the toothbrush, reintroduce the movements you’ve already practiced (e.g., lifting the lip, touching one tooth). Finally, gently brush your pet’s teeth using back-and-forth or circular motions.

Avoid toothbrushing if your puppy or kitten is teething. However, you should still practice handling your pet’s muzzle and mouth, but to avoid unnecessary pain or negative associations with toothbrushing, wait until their adult teeth have erupted. If your adult pet appears sensitive or reluctant to having their teeth brushed, hidden dental disease may be causing them pain. If this is the situation, schedule an appointment with our Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital team before continuing your pet’s dental care training.

#5: Establish a routine for your pet

Although twice-daily tooth brushing is ideal, you may consider such a routine to be a bit impractical. According to veterinary dental experts, you’ll need to brush your pet’s teeth at least three times per week—or every other day—to ensure this health care routine’s full plaque and tartar-fighting benefits. 

One tip for helping establish a reliable at-home dental care routine is to brush your pet’s teeth right before or after a regular daily task, such as feeding your pet, or at a specific time, such as after their morning potty break. End each tooth brushing session with something your pet finds rewarding such as a walk, playtime, or a dental chew. Creating a familiar and consistent routine will help your pet and you feel confident and comfortable with the toothbrushing process. 

#6: Keep your training short and positive for your pet

Don’t rush the toothbrushing training process or expect your pet to be perfect—especially if your pet is an adult. Remember that slow progress now ensures a lifetime of dental health, but pushing your pet too far can trigger stress, frustration, and potentially long-term issues such as head shyness. Especially during training, take frequent breaks (e.g., five seconds for your pet to lick the toothpaste or relax their mouth), and end all training sessions after a few minutes.

#7: Gradually increase the time you brush your pet’s teeth

As your pet learns to enjoy the toothbrushing process you’ll find you can spend several seconds on each tooth or area. Remember to focus on each tooth’s outside surface where tartar is most common. Gradually extend your pet’s toothbrushing sessions until they allow you to brush all of their teeth.

Not only does toothbrushing reduce your pet’s periodontal (i.e., dental) disease risk, daily or every-other-day brushing ensures you are regularly assessing your pet’s mouth. By doing this, you will notice early periodontal disease signs such as bad breath, gingivitis, sensitivity, and visible tartar or tooth damage. 

Routine toothbrushing and annual wellness exams with our Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital team will go a long way toward ensuring your pet’s lifelong dental health. If you’re concerned that your pet is suffering from periodontal disease, a professional cleaning and dental X-rays may be necessary before starting a toothbrushing routine. Schedule your pet’s annual wellness and dental exams with our Twin Maples Veterinary Hospital team.