- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
You want your dog to be their happiest, healthiest self. And good oral hygiene plays a huge part in canine health—so, if you want to keep your dog healthy, you need to be brushing their teeth on a regular basis.
But what, exactly, does “regular basis” mean? How often should you be brushing your dog’s teeth?
Before we jump into how often to brush your dog’s teeth, let’s cover why brushing your dog’s teeth is so important in the first place.
“Dental care is tremendously important to your pet’s overall health. Oral bacteria are responsible for serious internal medical problems, not to mention very painful periodontal and bone health problems,” says Jim D. Carlson, DVM CVA CVTP, holistic veterinarian and owner of Riverside Animal Clinic & Holistic Center located in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.
And all of those medical, periodontal, and bone issues? They can have an impact on how many years you get to spend with your pet. “Poor dental care throughout a pet’s life can also lead to a shortened life span,” says Carlson.
Clearly, making oral hygiene a priority is a must if you want your dog to live a long, healthy life. But how, exactly, do you do that?
When it comes to brushing your dog’s teeth, the more you can brush, the better. Ideally, you’d brush your dog’s teeth every day.
But for many pet parents, finding the time (and energy!) to settle your dog into a daily brushing session isn’t realistic—and that’s ok!
According to PetMD, aiming for a thorough brushing two to three times per week should be plenty to keep your dog’s teeth clean and free of plaque and tartar buildup. And, just like you wouldn’t spend an hour brushing your teeth, there’s no need to spend too much time on your dog’s oral hygiene routine. “Two minutes [of brushing] with a quality pet toothpaste will work well to hold down plaque and tartar,” says Carlson.
It’s also important to start brushing your dog’s teeth early. “Periodontal disease is seen in most pets by age three,” says Carlson. “As soon as you bring your puppy home, please start working with them right away on the brushing process.”
Older dogs might be less accepting of teeth brushing, and you could have to be more creative about getting them to play along, Carlson adds.
If you’re just getting started with your dog’s oral hygiene routine, here are the key steps to follow to brush your dog’s teeth:
Stock up on the right supplies
Before you start brushing your dog’s teeth, you’re going to need the right supplies—and that starts with a toothbrush.
“Owners should use a long-handled brush made especially for a pet, not a human toothbrush that might be easily broken or snapped,” says Carlson. Wary of a long-handled toothbrush? Finger brushes are fine, too, Carlson says.
You’ll also need toothpaste. There are a number of toothpastes that are formulated specifically for dogs—and, as such, come in dog-friendly flavors like peanut butter, poultry, or beef. Or, if you want to go the DIY route, you can also make your own toothpaste by mixing 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 1 teaspoon of water.
Get your dog comfortable with the teeth brushing process
Most dogs aren’t going to be comfortable getting their teeth brushed right off the bat; instead, you’re going to have to take steps to help acclimate them to the process.
But how, exactly, do you do that? Here are a few tips for getting your dog more comfortable with the teeth brushing process:
- Start slow. The last thing you want to do is jump right into brushing your dog’s teeth. Instead, start slowly. Get them comfortable with you touching their mouth, lifting their lip, touching their gums and teeth, and the taste of the toothpaste before you attempt to brush. And make sure to reward them with plenty of treats and praise along the way!
- Make things tasty. Dogs love tasty treats—and associating tooth brushing with a tasty reward is a great way to get them more comfortable with the process. “Dip some gauze or a washcloth in a tasty treat like bouillon, peanut butter or bone broth. Once a pet understands this can be a fun and tasty experiment, they may be more interested in trying out the toothbrush,” says Carlson.
- Take breaks. Again, it might take your dog awhile to get used to the tooth brushing process. So, as you’re getting started, make sure to take frequent breaks as you brush—especially if your dog seems uncomfortable.
- Brush at the right time. You don’t want to try to brush your dog’s teeth when they’re bursting at the seams with energy. Instead, brush your dog’s teeth when they’re feeling calm and relaxed, like after a walk or right before bed.
Once your dog is comfortable, you can start brushing their teeth on a regular basis. The key is to focus on the outer parts of the teeth; not only is this where your dog will likely have a lot of buildup, but it’s also the safest way to brush.
“The proper way is to concentrate on brushing the outside of the teeth,” says Carlson. If you attempt to brush the inner parts of the teeth, “your pet might bite a toothbrush head and could pull it off. This could lead to choking or a foreign body issue if swallowed.”
If your pet just isn’t comfortable having their teeth brushed, there are alternatives you can use to help promote good oral hygiene. “There are some great products available if your pet doesn’t tolerate brushing,” says Carlson. “There are effective water additives, wipes, and gels that really work well and target biofilm, a major cause of dental decay and gum disease.”
In addition, chews might work. “Chews can also be helpful. Some chews contain chlorhexidine or enzymes to clean the mouth,” says Carlson. “You should discuss these ingredients and others with your veterinarian before giving chews.”
Also, never let your dog have a dental chew unattended. “Dental chews are typically hard, making them a potential choking hazard. Pets always need to be supervised when eating a chew, so that’s not a treat you give and leave your home for the day,” says Carlson.
Whatever oral hygiene products you choose for your dog, make sure they’re approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. “Owners should stick with professional products that are VOHC approved because they’ve been screened for additives that are dangerous to pets or those that have side effects,” says Carlson.