If you’re not already brushing your dog’s teeth, you should start after he’s had a professional cleaning by a vet (or, ideally, when he’s still a young pup). You’ll need the following items, which you can purchase at a pet supply store or from your veterinarian:
- Toothpaste specially formulated for dogs. Dog toothpaste comes in lovely, digestible flavors like liver and chicken. Minty toothpaste for humans is meant to be spit out – which your pooch can’t do – so don’t use it, since if your dog ingests it, it can upset his stomach.
- A toothbrush designed specifically for dogs. Don’t use your own – not only would that be gross, but it wouldn’t adequately clean your pup’s teeth. According to veterinarian Holly Nash on peteducation.com, toothbrushes for dogs are smaller, ultra-soft and have a somewhat different shape. A variety of brushes, sponges and pads are available. For a squeamish pooch, you could start with a sponge or pad, which is softer and more pliable than a brush. However, it can’t get below the gum line like a brush can, so it is not effective in preventing periodontal disease. You might find that a rubber fingertip brush is easier to use than a brush with a handle.
Once you’ve got a doggie toothbrush and toothpaste, you should make the routine as relaxed and fun as possible. If you get in the habit of brushing his teeth right before giving him a treat or taking him for a walk, Bowser might actually look forward to the experience.
1. Don’t try to brush Bowser’s teeth right away. The first day, dab a bit of toothpaste on your finger and let him lick it off, praising him while he does so. Give him a treat when he’s finished. If he doesn’t like the flavor, you may need to try another kind. Repeat this step each day until your dog looks forward to licking the toothpaste.
2. Put some toothpaste on your fingertip and then gently run it along your dog’s gums. You may both be more comfortable if you start at the front of his mouth and work back. Repeat this step for a couple of days, or until your dog seems comfortable with it.
3. Now you can actually use the toothbrush. Put a dab of toothpaste on it, and then angle the bristles up along your dog’s upper front teeth so they get below the gum line. Make small circles with the brush along the gum line. This should take less than 30 seconds. According to the Placerville Veterinary Clinic, it is important to stop brushing before your dog becomes resistant; remember, you want this to be a pleasant experience for him. If he figures out that fussing will make you stop brushing, then this procedure will become more challenging for you. Repeat this step until your dog is comfortable with the toothbrush.
4. Repeat this process on your dog’s lower front teeth.
5. The day after that, repeat the process on your dog’s upper back teeth. The back teeth are where tartar and plaque tend to accumulate, so it’s important to brush this area as thoroughly as possible. Since dogs don’t get much tarter on the inside surfaces of their teeth, you should concentrate more on the outside surfaces.
6. Repeat the process on your dog’s lower back teeth.
7. Once your dog is comfortable with having sections of his mouth brushed, you can try brushing his entire mouth. If he’s resistant, go back to doing sections until he’s more comfortable.
Now that Bowser’s used to it, you should optimally brush his pearly whites for a minute or two every day. Plaque that can’t be removed with a toothbrush can build up in as few as three days, so it’s important to brush at least every other day. You can also give your dog treats that help eliminate plaque buildup between brushings, such as dental chews (make sure they’re accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council), rope toys, and rawhide chips.
Avoid giving your pooch table scraps or sweet treats. Not only are they potentially dangerous for him, they can increase tartar and plaque.
Even with regular brushing, dogs, like people, should have their teeth professionally cleaned once a year.
PHOTO: The U.S. Army
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.