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Prevent Periodontal Problems: How to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth

February 11, 2010

“Doc Truli, how can I prevent periodontal problems?”

If you are half-way normal, you are thinking, “Dear Heavens! (If you are aged 90)” “Holy crap! (If you are 40)” and “What the F***!! (If you are <30)" "Is periodontal homicide {pomicide} happening to my pet right now??????"


Sorry, it’s the truth. Actually, if you are truly lazy, it’s happening to you, too. Flossing your teeth every day adds 6 years to your expected lifespan. (Unless you’re already 90, then I’m not so sure…) Brushing your pet’s teeth daily and having a deep cleaning, and x-ray study under anesthesia once a year adds 2-4 healthy years to your cat or dog’s lifespan.

“Brush your pet’s teeth every day”

I’m not joking. Seriously. Grow up and get to it. Do not attempt if your pet bites or you cannot approach your “pet,” like a vicious kennelled yard dog (I’m guessing you wouldn’t have read this post so far if you housed vicious, untouchable yard dogs.)

Tips to Teach You and Your Pet to Enjoy Tooth Brushing

canine tartar and calculus build up

The gold-brown stuff is calculus.

Note: If your pet already has visible calculus build-up on the teeth (picture at left), then see your veterinarian for a proper dental assessment, treatment, and prophylaxis right away. Brushing gingivitis, and painful teeth will only cause your pet to “rightfully” reject your idea of toothbrushing!

  • Choose the same time and place each day to make a habit of it.
    • Doc Truli suggests brush your teeth, brush pet’s teeth.
    • Probably best in evening, in bathroom.
    • Small pets can have a mat or pet bed placed on the counter, sit in the bed, get teeth done.
  • Use a soft baby toothbrush, or soft pet brush (feel the bristles, make sure is soft.)
  • Run the brush under warm-hottish water for a few minutes to super soften the bristles.
  • Or use gauze 4×4’s (buy at medical supply store, not chain pharmacy, for best deals.)
  • Use “finger brush” if you like it, Doc Truli finds them unfriendly and hard to feel what you are doing.
  • Use warm water, or best, dog toothpaste (from pet stores or your vet.) They don’t have to spit; it is nonpoisonous (unlike our toothpaste)
    • Note: DO NOT go “all natural” and buy baby toothpaste. Most of it contains the sweetener xylitol which is poisonous to dogs (causes liver failure.) Just because something is safe for babies does not mean it is safe for dogs and cats.
  • Have treats or reward like a walk or snuggle ready for 30 seconds after you are done (pets do not connect rewards more than about 30 seconds from the good activity.)
  • Talk calmly to your pet and tell them what you are doing as you do it.
    • Use a word or short phrase like , “Tooth time!” One client I have uses, “Open your mouth!” every time you brush the teeth. (Some pets will learn to relax and settle into the routine with the words, just as some pets learn to pee on cue when someone consistently says “hurry up!”)
  • Feel along the teeth, and run the brush in circles as you would in your mouth.
  • Chewing on the brush and squirming is allowed. Head turning is acknowledged, but firmly ask to try again. Only do about 25% of the mouth the first few times, reward briskly and right away. Do not push past panic, calmly take it back a notch, if you have to. Even take it back to “sit” on the spot you assign for toothbrushing and reward that when your pet manages to pull it off.
  • Do not let your pet stop the session. If you cannot continue, ask for one last good sit (even for a second), reward it, and then the session is over.
  • Build up to calm, longer brushing with treats and pats on the chest under the chin.
  • When you are successful, the whole thing should take less than 5 minutes a night!

If you have neglected to teach your pet how to learn, hire a dog trainer to help, schedule a nurse visit at your veterinarian’s if they offer tooth brushing training, or comment on this post, and Doc Truli will make the demonstration the first video podcast on the site! It is that important to keep your pet’s teeth healthy!

These same tips work after a deep cleaning and surgery. Preventing further problems helps your pet stay pain-free and live a longer, happier life!

Download your own toothbrushing instructions for free from VirtuaVet! If you wish to use these instructions on a professional website, or school project, credit VirtuaVet and include a link back to

Pet Tooth Brushing (.odt format)

Pet Tooth Brushing (pdf format)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Melanie permalink
    March 4, 2016 11:49 am

    We have a 7lb chi mix and a 80 lb lab mix. Both began life as strays so we had to work up to toothbrushing, but the benefits (less stinky breath, extended life span) are worth it. I found flavored pet toothpaste immensely helpful!! The chihuahua is much more reluctant to have the brush in her mouth, but she will continually sit/lay down for me as long as the toothpaste keeps coming.

    Thanks for a great article!


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