You wouldn’t skip brushing your own teeth every day and rely on your dentist’s twice-yearly cleanings, right? The same holds true for your pet. Only hours after eating, sticky plaque forms on the teeth that, if not removed, will harden into durable tartar in only a few days. Plaque that hardens into tartar is impossible to remove through toothbrushing alone, and can only be fully eliminated with a professional dental cleaning. Based on how quickly plaque can turn into tartar, brushing your pet’s teeth twice daily is an essential part of a well-rounded at-home dental health care regimen.

Before you jump straight into brushing your pet’s teeth, take a minute to understand how to perform this task correctly, especially if your furry pal has never had their teeth brushed before. Most pets are not fond of their heads being held still and their mouths manipulated, so for maximum success, take each step slowly when introducing toothbrushing to your pet.

Step 1: Purchase pet-friendly toothbrushing supplies

Refrain from using your electric toothbrush and ultra-whitening toothpaste on your pet, and find products better suited for cats and dogs. Since your pet can’t spit out the toothpaste when you’re done brushing, they need a fluoride-free option. Pet toothpaste, like C.E.T. enzymatic toothpastes, comes in a variety of tasty flavors to help your pet enjoy toothbrushing. Pair a tube of beef- or seafood-flavored toothpaste with a finger brush, a child’s toothbrush, or a soft, adult-sized toothbrush. Determining the appropriate size and type of toothbrush that best fits your pet’s mouth may require trial-and-error.

Step 2: Teach your pet to accept their head and mouth being handled

Arm yourself with a pile of tasty treats to condition your pet to their head and mouth being touched. Scratch them along the chin, rub their lips, and gently cup their muzzle, all while doling out treats for their cooperation. As your pet comes to accept each touch, hold your hand in place for a few seconds instead of immediately removing it, and make that the criteria for a reward. If your pet pulls their head away too soon, take a step back, and try again for a shorter time. Ideally, work up to rubbing your pet’s face for 15 seconds before handing them a treat. This should give you plenty of time to scrub one section of teeth in the later steps. 

Step 3: Introduce the toothpaste to your pet

Your pet may be unsure at first about the toothpaste, especially presented on a toothbrush, so first offer a small dollop on your finger as a treat. Once your pet readily takes their toothpaste treats, swipe your finger inside their mouth. 

Step 4: Wipe your pet’s teeth with your finger

Since your pet should now be accustomed to your toothpaste-covered finger bearing treats, start “brushing” their teeth. Scrub your finger along the outer surface of their teeth—the side that touches their cheeks—allowing your pet plenty of breaks to eat their reward. You shouldn’t have to open their mouth and scrub the teeth surfaces that face their tongue, since the tongue should do that hard work.  

Step 5: Let your pet eat toothpaste off the toothbrush

Now that your pet knows that the toothpaste is delicious, transfer it from your finger to the toothbrush. Allow them to lick the toothpaste off the brush so they learn the brush comes paired with a treat.

Step 6: Brush your pet’s teeth

Once your pet is readily eating the toothpaste, slip the toothbrush inside their mouth and brush their teeth. This will feel odd to them, so go slowly, and give them numerous breaks as you brush the entire mouth. With time, you won’t need to take as many breaks, and can quickly brush your pet’s entire mouth during a TV commercial break. 

If, despite your best efforts and the tastiest treats, your pet still will not tolerate toothbrushing, other options are available. Keep in mind, however, that twice-daily toothbrushing is the gold standard for at-home dental care, and nothing else will be as effective at banishing plaque and tartar. If you do have to forgo toothbrushing, round out your pet’s dental care regimen with our favorite oral health products. Combining daily dental treats, chews, and food and water additives with regular professional dental cleanings, can keep your pet’s teeth clean and healthy, although less frequent veterinary dental cleanings would likely be necessary if they accepted at-home toothbrushing. 

Is your four-legged friend ready for their next dental cleaning? Schedule an appointment with our Animal Dental Clinic team to evaluate and care for your pet’s oral health.