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a guide to brushing your pet's teeth

Should I Brush My Pet’s Teeth?

You’re probably used to taking your pet to the vet for their shots and when they’re not feeling well, but have you ever considered your pet’s dental health? Your pet is as susceptible to gum disease as you are, so keeping your pet’s teeth clean is an important part of their overall routine. Taking the time to protect your pet’s oral health can benefit their overall health.

Dogs and cats can start to develop gum disease by the age of three to four years old. Gum disease can be identified by changes in your pet’s gums. The infection can eventually spread to other parts of their body, so it’s important to start them on an oral hygiene regimen as soon as possible. There are multiple ways to help your pet keep their teeth clean and healthy, including brushing their teeth, professional cleanings, and special treats.

Should I brush my pet’s teeth?

You can! Your pet is susceptible to dental problems, just like you. Lack of oral care can eventually result in gum disease, or periodontal disease, which is an infection in their gums. If left untreated, your pet could experience pain and even other health problems if their teeth aren’t cared for properly. Periodontal disease can even affect your pet’s overall health if left unchecked. Brushing your pet’s teeth regularly can help prevent periodontal disease.

Lack of oral care can result in gum disease in your pets

Periodontal Disease in Dogs

The majority of dogs will experience some form of periodontal disease by three years old. What’s unfortunate is that this is easily preventable. There are usually no symptoms in the beginning. However, the infection slowly erodes the health of their teeth, gums, and jaw.

Periodontal Disease in Cats

According to the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, an estimated 50-90% of cats over the age of four have some form of gum disease. Like dogs, issues such as gingivitis and periodontitis are common. Both species are also susceptible to tooth reabsorption — a condition where teeth are damaged beyond repair.

Signs Your Pet May Have Periodontal Disease

It’s easy to miss periodontal disease in its early stages. However, there are some symptoms you should be on the lookout for as your pet gets older. Common symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Irritated gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Receding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Bloody saliva
  • Increased nasal discharge or sneezing
  • Lumps in their mouth or under their eyes

How Gum Disease Affects Your Pet’s Health

Gum disease develops from bacteria that isn’t properly removed from your pet’s teeth. Food, other debris, saliva, and bacteria combine to form a substance known as plaque. Your pet’s body then picks up on this and releases white blood cells to fight off the plaque by releasing enzymes.

These enzymes do a wonderful job at removing plaque naturally. Unfortunately, they also attack your pets gum tissue in the process. This results in gums that are inflamed and eventually bone loss if nothing is done about it.

But the problems don’t stop there. Gum disease can go on to erode parts of your pet’s body, resulting in jaw fractures or openings between the mouth and nasal cavity where they shouldn’t be. They can also experience nasal infections and chronic discharge. 

More concerning is that the infection can reach your pet’s bloodstream. Once there, it can travel to vital organs such as their heart, liver, and kidneys. This can lead to even more severe health problems.

Proper dental care is as important as vaccines and other regular healthcare for your pet. Without it, your pet’s quality of life and even their lifespan can be reduced considerably. If your pet is already dealing with gum pain then it may be time for a dental prophy. For more information, check out our blog.

How often should I brush my pet’s teeth?

Pets need regular dental care as much as you do. But what kind and how often?

Regular brushing at home will keep their teeth clean throughout the year. It will also prevent plaque-fighting enzymes from being released, which can end up damaging their gums in the long run. Just like with humans, professional dental cleanings provide a deep clean, getting all the nooks and crannies that you may miss with a toothbrush.

How to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth

Chances are that your pet won’t be too thrilled about having their teeth brushed at first. That’s why it’s important to help them get used to the process. Just like with how you acclimated your dog or cat to their new home, you’ll also need to acclimate them to having their teeth brushed. 

This process can be broken down into five parts:

  1. Buy your supplies
  2. Massage their lips, teeth, and gums
  3. Let them taste the toothpaste
  4. Introduce the toothbrush
  5. Brushing their teeth


By introducing everything slowly, you’ll be able to help your pet get used to the idea of having their teeth brushed on a regular basis.

Buy Your Supplies

Never use human toothpaste on your pet. Instead, use toothpaste specifically made for pets in flavors they love, like chicken. You’ll also want a toothbrush that fits your pet’s mouth. Choose one specifically designed for a cat or dog’s mouth, or you can use cotton swabs or a square of gause in a pinch.

Massage Their Lips, Teeth, and Gums

You don’t want to try brushing their teeth with your new supplies right off the bat. Instead, help them get used to the feeling of a toothbrush by massaging their teeth and oral tissue. Do this for one minute for each part, twice a day using slow, circular motions. It may take a few weeks for them to get used to it, but it’s worth it for their oral and overall health.

Let Them Taste the Toothpaste

You can introduce their new toothpaste once they’ve gotten used to having their lips, teeth, and gums massaged. All you have to do is put a small amount on the tip of your finger and let them taste it, then give them a treat. Do this for a few days and gradually increase the time between them tasting the toothpaste and giving them a treat.

Introduce the Toothbrush

This process is similar to introducing toothpaste. Put a small amount of toothpaste on the brush and let them lick it. Give them a treat afterward and slowly increase the time between them licking the brush and getting a reward. Again, you shouldn’t use a human toothbrush on your pet. Our teeth are built differently and require different things. Your local pet store will sell pet specific toothbrushes.

Brushing Their Teeth

Now you’re ready to actually brush your pet’s teeth. Start by lifting their lip and brushing one area of their mouth using gentle circular strokes (just like how you should be brushing your own teeth). Make sure you also brush their gumline as you talk to them throughout the process. This should only take about one minute total.

There’s a chance that your pet won’t want to sit still for the entire minute, and that’s okay! Take short breaks and talk to them in a positive tone to help keep their spirits up.

Alternatives to Brushing Your Pet’s Teeth

Brushing your pet’s teeth isn’t the only way to prevent gum disease. You can choose to have your pet’s teeth professionally cleaned at your veterinarian’s office. This is an especially good option when your pet enters their senior years and might require more advanced dental work.

You can also purchase special treats that help keep your pet’s teeth fresh and clean. These treats help remove and prevent plaque accumulation. There are dental treats specific to both dogs and cats!

There are alternatives to brushing your pet's teeth
Invest in special treats that help keep your pet’s teeth fresh and clean!

Pets begin to develop gum disease around the age of three or four. This is usually signaled by changes in their gums along with other symptoms. It’s important to start them on an oral hygiene regimen early to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of their body. They’ll need time to get used to it, but brushing their teeth, professional cleanings, and dental treats will protect their oral health and overall health in the process.

PetWellClinic is dedicated to being here for pet owners. Our hours of operation extend into the evenings and weekends, and our clinic environment is built with your pet’s comfort in mind. Talk to our vets about solutions for your pet’s dental health today!

PetWellClinic provides convenient, affordable veterinary care for pet owners. PetWellClinic has locations and services built with convenience in mind. Stop by with your pet any time! No appointment necessary.

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