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Health & Wellness

Toothbrushing for dogs and cats: 10 easy tips (we promise!)

Teeth cleaning is an essential part of your pet's overall health. Learn how to brush your dog or cat's teeth with these easy-peasy tips.

Did you know that keeping your pet’s pearly whites in tip-top shape is essential not only to their oral health, but to their overall well-being? That’s right, dogs and cats are just like us. Pets need their teeth brushed regularly to give them the best bill of health possible. In fact, according to Dr. Aliya McCullough chronic inflammation in the mouth puts a lot of stress on the rest of the body, and when dental problems go untreated, those inflammations and infections can also exacerbate other illnesses in dogs and cats. 

While we know the thought of cleaning your cat or dog’s tiny chompers might seem a little daunting at first, it can actually be incredibly easy. We’ve broken down our top 10 tips on how to make cleaning your cat or dog’s teeth a simple and seamless part of your regular routine together. 

And remember, Fetch provides comprehensive dental coverage – from broken teeth to periodontal disease and beyond. Plus, Fetch Pet Insurance covers every adult tooth, not just the canines.

1. Check in with your vet

Make sure your cat or dog gets a dental exam before you start brushing their teeth at home. According to Dr. McCullough, not only is a visit a great opportunity for you to get an in-person toothbrushing demonstration from your vet, but it's also an important moment to make sure your pet has no underlying dental issues. For example, dogs can have existing tartar and/or gingivitis, which means brushing can be ineffective and sometimes painful. Seeing your vet first and addressing any important health needs can set you up for success. 

2. Start ‘em young  

Kittenhood or puppyhood is a great time to start brushing. For puppies, incorporating this routine with other training techniques can help them get used to the process. For kittens, aim for a time of day when they’re sleepy and not overly excited. Make sure to be gentle and avoid places where your pet might have loose or missing baby teeth.

3. Don’t be tempted to use human toothpaste

Use pet toothpaste since it’s designed to be safe for your dog or cat to swallow. It’s also really tasty with flavors like poultry, beef and seafood. Yum! Human toothpastes contain fluoride, foaming agents, abrasives and other ingredients that aren’t safe for pets to ingest or inhale. 

4. Go slow 

You don’t have to tackle your pet’s whole mouth right away. It’s okay to start with one tooth, or to simply introduce your dog or cat to the equipment you’ll be using. Allow your pet to become familiar with the toothbrush and how things might be handled so that they aren’t frightened. 

5. Keep it short

It can take a few weeks until your pet is comfortable with toothbrushing, so gradually work up to brushing for about one minute. You’ll eventually want to spend about 15 seconds brushing each quadrant of their mouth.

6. Easy does it

Not to state the obvious, but our furry pals’ mouths are a lot smaller than ours, so remember to be mindful of how much force you’re using. A finger toothbrush or even a washcloth over your finger is sufficient for removing plaque. Don’t worry about brushing the inner surface of your pet’s teeth. Your cat’s or dog’s tongue is a great built-in plaque remover and they’ll do it themselves!

7. Positive reinforcement is key

Use lots of treats – like yummy toothpaste – and rewards! Even food rewards after tooth brushing is A-OK. Let your dog or cat take the lead. If they become too stressed, take a step back.

8. Make a routine of it

Plaque forms on your pet's teeth within hours. Tartar forms within days. Daily brushing is definitely the best way to keep dental disease at bay. But, we know that a daily routine might be a little too much to squeeze into your busy pet parent life. Dr. McCullough recommends brushing at least three times a week at home to see some health benefits.  

9. Don’t skip those professional cleanings 

Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth does a great job of removing food particles and plaque from their mouth. However, even the most thorough brushing cannot replace a professional cleaning, which addresses plaque and food particles that accumulate below the gumline. Most pets will need a professional cleaning once a year. But some might need fewer or more professional cleanings based on their unique dental needs. Make sure to check in with your vet about the best schedule for your pet! When you add Fetch Wellness to your Fetch Pet Insurance plan, your pet will have coverage for a routine dental cleaning to ensure their teeth and gums are clean and healthy.

10. Want to dig your teeth in deeper? Get advice from the Veterinary Oral Health Council

This is a great online pet dental health resource to find products that are clinically proven to work. The VOHC is a group of veterinary dentists and dental scientists who evaluate and endorse vet dental products that control plaque and/or tartar. Or, if your cat or dog is having a hard time tolerating toothbrushing, they’ll have suggestions on alternatives like dentals diets and oral rinses.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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