How to Brush Your Pet’s Teeth – the Fear Free Way

By February 6, 2020Blog

By: Staff Member Leanne S.

Have you ever wondered how to brush your pet’s teeth?

The goal with this How-To article and video is to share a few tried-and-true tips and techniques you can use to help your pets become accustomed to – and eventually enjoy – their teeth brushing experiences at your home.

How do we introduce the toothbrush, toothpaste, and brushing activity to our pets? The answer is with patience, compassion, and TREATS!

1. Prepare by designating a ‘special spot’ for your pet and gathering up all of your tools and supplies.

If possible, select an area your pet already finds to be comfortable. Place a mat, rug, or towel in this area and spray it with a species-specific pheromone spray such as: Adaptil for dogs or Feliway for cats.

Assemble your pet’s toothbrush, pet-safe toothpaste, and high-value treats on the pheromone treated mat.

When we use the term ‘high-value treats’ we are referring to those treats which you know your pet finds particularly yummy.

The toothbrush can be a finger toothbrush, a standard toothbrush, or as simple as a gauze square.

The toothpaste must be designated as pet safe because we’ve yet to teach any pet to rinse and spit, human toothpaste is not safe if swallowed, and fluoride is toxic.

Ask your pet to come to the special spot on the pheromone treated mat or towel. Reward with a treat. Be careful not to force your pet to stay on the mat with restraint. Instead, use high-value treats and gentle praise to encourage them to come and explore the pheromone treated mat. With time and consistency, your pet will learn that going to the mat is a precursor to positive things and they will voluntarily choose to sit there.

2. Acclimate your pet to the taste of the toothpaste and the look-and-feel of the toothbrush.

As I demonstrate in the video, proceed slowly because many pets have never seen a toothbrush. Allow your pet to investigate, sniff, lick, paw-at the toothbrush – all while going at their own pace. We don’t want pets to feel frightened by this unknown tool.

Place a small amount of pet safe toothpaste on your finger, or on a treat, and allow your pet to lick off the toothpaste. If they are interested, place some toothpaste on the toothbrush, set it down and allow your pet to lick the toothpaste from the toothbrush – as I demonstrate in the video.

If things are going well, you can pick up the toothbrush and hold it close to your pet’s mouth while your pet is still enjoying the taste of the toothpaste, and then follow-up with gentle praise and a high value treat.

If your pet shows any sign of fear, anxiety, or nervousness at any time during this acclimation process, stop and back up a few steps to the point they were showing no signs of anxiety (perhaps you’ll get only as far as licking toothpaste from your finger during the several attempts at the acclimation step – and that’s okay). It is important to go at your pet’s pace and make it a positive experience.

FUN FACT: I have found that most animals LOVE the poultry flavored toothpaste, including our feline friends! You can find pet safe toothpaste here in our online store.

3. Help your pet to become accustomed to having their mouth and head handled.

Coming toward your pet’s head or reaching over them can be interpreted as threatening. Be sure to give high-value treats during this process with the goal of creating a positive emotional response to this type of handling. Go slow and stop if your pet moves away or is reactive. For example:

  • Touch your pet’s lip and give them a treat.
  • Lift the lip and give a treat.
  • Hold the toothbrush near your pet’s mouth and give a treat.
  • Touch the toothbrush to your pet’s lip (as shown here) and give a treat.
  • Lift lip, touch the toothbrush to a tooth and give a treat.
  • Brush one tooth and give a treat.
  • Extend brushing time and contact with teeth – going at your pet’s pace.

Always begin the session and end the session with a high value treat.

Dental care should not be stressful or overwhelming for you or your pet. If you are struggling with brushing your pet’s teeth, please call CoastView Veterinary Hospital and speak with one of our technicians. We would be happy to offer advice over the phone or schedule an appointment to demonstrate Fear Free techniques for brushing teeth.

Click here to read more about why dental care is so important!

If you have questions about recommended dental care products, we’re happy to help you with this, as well. You can find a list of approved pet dental care products here on the Veterinary Oral Health Council website: http://www.vohc.org/accepted_products.htm

With that said, please know some pets will never be good candidates for home brushing sessions. For these pets, we have other options ranging from special matrix-designed abrasive treats to enzymatic chews to oral rinses. The rule of thumb has always been:

Good to Chew. Better to Rinse. Best to Brush.

Your pet’s health is always our priority and minimizing fear, anxiety, and stress is always our goal.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the How-To brush your pet’s teeth article and accompanying hands-on demonstration video.

Happy pets have healthy smiles!

And please be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel because I have plans to shoot even more videos to share with you. Yes! I take requests. Please feel free to comment directly on this blog post, on our Facebook Page, or send me an email with your ideas for more helpful pet health videos.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • MICHAEL RUMSEY says:

    Excellent demonstration video, Leanne. It really helps when you “show and tell” in addition to the written instructions. Thanks, Mike.

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