Smiling brown dog

A healthy mouth is key for a healthy body. Unfortunately, most dogs and cats develop periodontal disease by age 3. 

Besides pain and reduced quality of life, poor dental health is also associated with more dangerous medical conditions like kidney, liver, heart problems and diabetes. With just a few simple changes, you can help keep your pet's teeth pearly white.

How to clean your pet's teeth

Training your pet to be comfortable with — and even enjoy — having their teeth brushed is easier than you think, especially if you start when they're young. Learning how to clean your cat or dog's teeth is simple, and your veterinarian can help you learn how to do it the right way.

With gradual conditioning, tooth brushing will be enjoyable for your pet. It just takes a few minutes every day and your pet will thank you.

You will need:
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A soft bristled toothbrush
Toothpaste tube icon
Pet toothpaste (optional)
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TLC and some small treats
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Plenty of patience

Tips & tricks:

  • When looking for the best dog or cat toothpaste, look for pet specific toothpaste. Pet toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors. Human toothpaste can upset their stomach. 
  • Brush your dog or cat's teeth at the same time every day — a daily routine will make training much easier.
  • Remember, you're training your pet to think tooth brushing is a fun activity that they get to share with their favorite person. Use treats and TLC to reward them after brushing to reinforce the positive association. 
  • Don’t force your pet's mouth open like you would to give them a pill. Instead, gently place the brush between their lips and teeth.

How to Start Brushing Your Pet's Teeth

Week 1

Put some soft food or your pet toothpaste on the toothbrush and let your pet lick (but not chew on it). After a few licks, praise them with a treat. 

Week 2

With the soft food or toothpaste on the toothbrush, gently lift their front lip up and wipe the food on their front teeth. Immediately after brushing follow up by rewarding them.

Week 3

This week, follow the same steps as before but actually brush the front teeth for 3-5 seconds. While brushing, just worry about the outside of their teeth. Keep reinforcing that positive association by immediately rewarding them.

Week 4

Keep following the steps but every day brush further back in their mouth. Be sure to always finish with a reward. By the end of the week, you should be brushing their entire mouth.

Know the Signs of Dental Disease 

It takes a trained eye to identify periodontal disease. Remember, pets have a natural instinct to hide the pain they’re feeling. That said, there is no such thing as “dog breath” or “cat breath” — so if while cuddling with or getting kisses from your pet, you notice their breath smells bad, go to the veterinarian. Other things to look for include:

  • Red, swollen gums 

  • Increased drooling 

  • Dropping food from the mouth 

  • Whining while eating 

  • Loss of appetite or weight 

  • Loose or discolored teeth 

  • Bleeding from the mouth 

  • Decreased energy and acting grumpy 

  • Unwillingness to play with toys

Periodontal disease in pets is a chronic, irreversible condition. Which is why taking care of your pet's mouth before there's a problem is so important. Ask your veterinarian to look at your pet's teeth at least twice a year at wellness visits and follow their recommendations for dental cleanings. Certain dental problems cannot be detected by the naked eye, so dental x-rays are recommended as well. But as crucial as your veterinarian is in keeping your pet's mouth healthy, their work twice a year is in vain if you're not doing anything to help their teeth the other 363 days of the year. But there are a few simple steps you can take to help clean your pet's teeth.