Introduction to Brushing Your Pet’s Teeth

So you have been to the veterinary clinic for an exam and the veterinarian has recommended that you start brushing your dog’s teeth. Your first thought is “How am I going to make this work? My dog won’t let me do that.” Although true for some dogs, I feel most of our dogs, with a little training will allow for the successful brushing of their teeth. It is like anything else you have asked your dog to do (sit, stay) they need to be taught.  I have successfully taught both of my Rhodesian Ridgebacks to allow tooth brushing.

My first piece of advice would be to start young. The younger your dog is when you start to brush their teeth, the easier it will be. Puppies look to their pack to teach them the ways of the world. As pack leader you are asking them to put a strange brush in their mouths, but that toothpaste is delicious. This will be where we will start.

You want your dog to enjoy the toothpaste, so select a flavor you think your dog will enjoy. My dogs aren’t picky about the flavor, so we use vanilla mint. Please make sure you are using a pet friendly toothpaste that doesn’t contain xylitol. Once daily take your dog to the location where you will be doing the brushing (keep this consistent-dogs like routine) and let them lick the toothpaste from your finger. Reward this positive behavior. I personally use a pea size amount of toothpaste as a reward but any dental friendly treat would be fine. When this becomes second nature (a couple of days at most) then see if they will lick the toothpaste off the toothbrush. Hopefully yes, and now we have our first introduction to the toothbrush.

Your dog loves the toothpaste, yay. Now we need to take the toothpaste put it on our finger and gently rub it along the gum line. This step may take a bit longer to master, as this is a request that is new to your dog. Every time you rub the toothpaste on their gums, reward them. Once the finger application of toothpaste is well accepted, then you would move onto using something a little more abrasive then your finger, like a gauze square or a child’s facecloth. Apply the toothpaste to the gauze square and gently rub that along the gum line. Reward after every attempt. Remember this will become easier overtime. When your dog is widely accepting of this stage we will move onto the toothbrush.

The first few attempts at brushing with the toothbrush might be more challenging, but keep working at it! A few recommendations that I have picked up along the way would include:

1) Have confidence in your abilities (your dogs can sense if you are nervous. You can do this!)

2) Have tooth brushing time be after a nice long walk/run (your dog will be calmer and more relaxed)

3) For small dogs it may be easier to put them up on a table or counter (making it easier for you and they are more likely to stand still, seeing as they are normally not allowed up there).

4) It is also recommended, if your pet gets stressed at any point to stop, give them a break and try again later. We want things to be positive, and end on a good note.

Now let’s get the toothpaste and toothbrushes out and let’s start working towards happier/healthier canine friends.

If you have any questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to call the clinic at 905-853-4706


Cat opening its mouth to be examined

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Last updated: September 7, 2021

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Your dedicated team at College Manor Veterinary Hospital