Should you brush your dog's teeth?
It’s an everyday practice for humans to brush their teeth twice a day, but many pet owners don’t realise that dental hygiene for their dog is equally important.
Pets can be afflicted with dental issues at any age if their diets and hygiene habits aren’t well maintained. Of paramount importance to good dental health is brushing your pet’s teeth, says Dr Adam Sternberg, Veterinary Director, Greencross Vets Brookvale
, particularly in order to remove plaque, which can calcify into tartar and cause major problems.
“We have clients who are very proud of brushing their dog’s teeth once a month, and although that’s good, it’s probably not going to be good enough,” he cautions.
Dr Adam believes owners find it difficult to allocate the time with busy lifestyles and schedules, while others struggle with the concept of putting their fingers in a dog or cat’s mouth. However, he recommends daily brushing, with twice a day being the “gold standard”.
He also says that beginning the practice when the pet is a puppy or a kitten is important. Brushing teeth in an aggressive cat or dog is difficult, with biting a real risk, particularly with cats.
The way to brush your pet’s teeth
“Just use a finger, gauze swab or Chux wipe, or some stocking material over your finger, using some dog/cat toothpaste to brush their teeth using nice, gentle circular motions,” says Dr Adam.
Depending on the size of the pet, you may need a toothbrush designed for pets, and toothpaste, which comes in chicken and beef flavours. With smaller dogs (i.e. weighing less than 5kg to 10kg), a toothbrush may be too large for the mouth, as it needs to reach the skull or the jaw.
“You can’t use human toothpaste as over time the fluoride in it can become toxic and an irritant to dogs’ and cats’ stomachs,” says Dr Adam.
Alternatives to brushing
For owners struggling to brush a pet’s teeth due to size or behaviour, there are alternatives.
“There are specialised dental foods that are available that help dogs in particular, and cats. There are of course chew toys and bones, and there are a whole lot of toys to play with,” says Dr Adam.
Make it fun
Depending on the size of the dog, Dr Adam suggests having the pet up on a table or bench, which should have a non-slip surface.
“If you do it on the floor, it’s bad for your back and the dogs have got more chance of running away.”
It’s also important for it to be done in a neutral space – that is, don’t use a spot that the pet usually associates with relaxation, so no couches or beds. Dr Adam also suggests rewarding the pet afterwards for good behaviour.
“I’d give them a really high-powered treat, like a tiny bit of cabanossi or a tiny bit of cheese, as bribery.”
If you have concerns about brushing your pet’s teeth or dental health in general, see your local Greencross Vets.