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    How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth

    Authored by Tractor Supply Company

    You love your dog. You walk them, play with them, feed them healthy foods, and maybe even let them sleep on your bed with you. Yet you may still find yourself asking, “Do I really need to brush my dog’s teeth?” The short answer is yes. That is unless you want to deal with plaque buildup, potential gum disease, and some severe halitosis (bad breath), which is one of the first signs of dental disease. Many pet owners overlook the importance of dog dental care, but brushing your dog’s teeth regularly is key to maintaining his or her oral health. This guide covers everything you’ll need to know, from step-by-step brushing instructions to the supplies you’ll need to get started. We also have a dog grooming guide that covers related areas

    Steps to brushing your dog’s teeth

    Brushing your dog’s teeth can be a challenge when you are starting out. But just as you can train your dog to have his nails trimmed, he can also be trained to have his teeth brushed. Your dog will likely be anxious about the unfamiliar sensations at first. That’s OK. In order to be successful and not cause stress, it needs to be a positive experience for both of you. Praise and reassure your dog throughout the process. 

    Begin by choosing a quiet time and place to begin. Don’t rush the process—take breaks or try again later if needed. If you have a small dog, hold him or her in your lap with the head facing away from you. If your dog is too big to be in your lap, sit in a chair with your dog sitting next to you so you can easily handle his mouth and teeth. 

    To help your dog become comfortable, it may be helpful to “brush” your dog’s teeth with just your finger or a soft cloth a few times, using a normal back and forth motion, being careful to stay on the outside of the teeth and gums to avoid being accidentally bitten. Once your dog is comfortable with your finger or the cloth, you can introduce the toothpaste. Begin by letting her taste a bit from your finger. Once your dog has accepted the taste of the toothpaste, put a small amount on the cloth and brush her teeth with the cloth and toothpaste. Finally, when your dog is comfortable with the cloth and toothpaste, you can introduce the toothbrush. 

    Once your dog is familiar with the brush, grip your dog’s snout gently from above and lift up your dog’s upper lip or gently push up on the lip with the index finger of your free hand. Make sure you are on the dog’s level and that, as you raise the toothbrush and begin brushing, your movements are slow and gentle.

    Using the toothbrush, lightly brush your dog’s teeth and mouth, ensuring that you clean the outsides of both the upper and lower teeth as well as the gums. Wipe any tartar (plaque) buildup off your dog’s teeth. You do not have to be forceful; soft pressure on the teeth is enough. Just like human teeth, dogs’ teeth and gums can be damaged if you brush too hard. Make small, circular motions with the brush. If your dog’s gums bleed a small amount, it is normal. If there is heavy bleeding, contact your vet.

    To access the lower teeth, you may have to tilt your dog’s head back to open his mouth. Try to brush for around thirty seconds on each side of his or her teeth, focusing on the large cheek teeth and canine teeth where plaque and tartar build most quickly. Spend less time trying to brush the tips or insides of the teeth unless you have an extremely cooperative dog. The outer surfaces of the teeth are where periodontal damage is most likely to occur.  

    It will take time for your dog to be comfortable letting you brush all his or her teeth, likely taking several days or even weeks. Start with a few teeth at a time and add several more each day. As you brush, pet your dog and talk to him or her soothingly.

    After brushing your puppy's teeth, reward him or her with a treat or play session.

    How often to brush your dog’s teeth

    Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly is essential for maintaining oral hygiene because brushing removes a high amount of tartar and plaque buildup and prevents inflammation, infection, and bad breath.

    If your dog is a puppy, you can start brushing his or her gums with your finger and introducing him or her to a small toothbrush that fits on your finger as early as two months old. Once your dog has his or her adult teeth, start brushing once a week and build up to multiple times per week. Beginning a tooth brushing routine with an older dog will likely take longer, but it is worth the effort and peace of mind. 

    Once your dog is comfortable with having his or her teeth brushed, brushing every day is recommended to ensure that his or her teeth stay clean and healthy. If your dog is resistant to having his or her teeth brushed and has otherwise good oral health, brushing two to three times per week is acceptable. Some dogs actually come to expect and enjoy having their teeth brushed as part of their daily routine.

    If tartar and plaque are building up on your dog’s teeth but he or she won’t let you brush them, contact a veterinarian for a dental cleaning. A vet can remove tartar and plaque from your pet’s teeth and can identify issues such as gum disease and periodontal disease. 

    Having your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned is important for maintaining your dog’s dental health and well-being. If you notice bad breath, sore or inflamed gums, or signs of periodontal disease, your veterinarian may recommend professional dental cleaning. Your dog should have a professional dental cleaning done every six to twelve months.

    Importance of brushing your dog’s teeth

    Dental cleaning and brushing are important for your dog’s oral health. If you don’t brush your dog’s teeth, your dog runs the risk of developing periodontal disease, a dental disease that affects the gums and other parts of the mouth. It is estimated that over two-thirds of dogs three and older have this disease, which begins as gingivitis caused by plaque and can invade tooth sockets. If not treated, it can not only lead to pain, tooth loss, and permanent jaw damage, but infection can give bacteria access to the bloodstream, possibly leading to infection in kidneys and other organs and even heart disease. 

    A dog’s mouth is very susceptible to dental disease when plaque is allowed to build up—in fact, dental disease is one of the most common health issues that dogs face. If left untreated, dental irritation and disease can lead to gum disease, periodontal disease, bad breath, tooth decay, and more. Dental disease can become painful and costly for your pet and can ultimately lead to tooth loss, which can put a strain on your dog’s overall health. Cleaning your dog’s teeth regularly will help to prevent dental disease and the associated pain and costs.

    Tools and supplies for brushing your dog’s teeth

    There are some important tools and supplies you will need to begin brushing your dog’s teeth. Choose your supplies carefully and make sure your selections are well suited to your dog’s breed and size.

    Dog toothbrush: You’ll need a toothbrush that has a head designed specifically for dogs’ mouths; these brushes typically have a long, angled handle to help you easily reach your dog’s teeth while brushing. They also usually have bristles on multiple sides so you can brush the inside, outside, and top of the teeth at the same time. Select a toothbrush that has soft, wide bristles and that fits easily inside your dog’s mouth. Soft bristles are better for your dog’s gums than rigid bristles. If you have a puppy or a smaller-sized dog, you may consider a pet toothbrush that goes over your finger so you can simply use your finger to brush your dog’s teeth. Once you have determined the right size and type of toothbrush for your dog, remember to always be slow and gentle as to avoid poking it against the gums, which can cause irritation.

    Pet toothpaste: Use a toothpaste designed specifically for dog’s teeth. Toothpaste for humans often contains artificial sweeteners, high levels of sodium, and other ingredients that can not only be harmful to your canine’s teeth and stomach but may also be toxic. Instead, use toothpaste made for pets. In the store, pet toothpaste will be labeled accordingly. There are many types of toothpaste available that are designed to smell and taste good to your dog, like chicken and peanut butter flavor. It is also not recommended to use baking soda as a toothpaste. If swallowed, it can upset your dog’s stomach. It also doesn’t taste good and can cause your dog to not look forward to her teeth being brushed. 

    Dog teeth cleaning: To make dental care for your dog more enjoyable and productive, you may opt for professional teeth cleaning. A veterinarian knows what’s best for your dog’s oral health and can address any potential issues she may find. A veterinarian will be the expert in locating and treating any issues that may have gone unnoticed, no matter how vigilant the dog owner. While definitely more expensive than other preventative measures, a veterinarian visit will include a cleaning and polishing of your dog’s teeth along with a long-term dental plan that caters specifically to your dog’s teeth and oral health, effectively protecting his dental health. 

    Dog dental wipes: If you simply don’t want to, or can’t, brush your dog’s teeth, you may opt for dog dental wipes. These are wipes made to be rubbed against your dog’s teeth to help remove plaque. While they work similarly to toothbrushes, they are not effective in getting into the tiny nooks and other spaces that a toothbrush does. However, they are an easier and still effective alternative.

    Dog dental treats and chews: Chew toys designed to help reduce tartar buildup can help keep your dog’s teeth clean and healthy. These toys are specially designed to supply your dog with a cleaning experience while also facilitating chewing. Dental toys that may help clean your dog’s teeth include dental chews that act as a dental aid, dental chews that nourish your dog’s teeth with natural ingredients, dental chews that prevent bad breath, and more. Look for treats that are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) as they have been proven safe and effective in clinical trials. It is important to remember that treats have calories and that the number of calories from regular meals may need to be reduced to avoid weight gain. 

    Your dog also might need a dental diet. In addition to treats, the VOHC researches and recommends foods and rinses for your pet’s dental health. 

    A dog’s mouth contains a lot of bacteria. If your dog allows, consider wearing gloves while brushing her teeth. If that is not possible, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when finished. Rinse the dog’s toothbrush well after each brushing and replace every three months. Also, if you have more than one dog, be sure to use different toothbrushes for each.

    Your dog’s oral health is a critical part of his or her overall well-being. Dogs hide most dental pain, which means you may not notice signs of dental disease. Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly will help maintain good dental hygiene and prevent periodontal disease and tooth decay. If properly cared for, the permanent teeth can stay healthy and functional for life. When your dog is happy and healthy, she will be more playful and active, and you can focus your time on making great memories with your pet.

    Tractor Supply makes caring for your dog easier with our wide selection of dog supplies. From dental health, to toys and dog beds, we have everything you need for your best furry friend! Subscribe to our autoship program and receive regular deliveries of food, treats, flea & tick preventatives, supplements and more, all while saving you time and money.

    Need more guidance on your pet's dental health? Visit our PetVet clinics for drop-in visits with licensed veterinarians.