Starting healthy dental habits can be difficult for anyone, especially pets because they rely on us to keep them consistent. The challenge for us as owners is not just to make it part of their routine so it becomes acknowledged, but to also make it an enjoyable experience and not a scary one.

How do we accomplish this? Well, if you started with your pet as a baby, it does make it a lot easier to immediately start brushing their teeth so they think it’s a normal part of life from the get go. However, if your pet has never brushed its teeth before, adjusting them to this new routine will take some time. The key is to be patient and to also not be afraid yourself because approaching a fanged creature with a toothbrush, no matter how much they seem to love us, can be daunting especially if this is something they aren’t familiar with.

Here’s what we found from the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMA):

Get the right equipment:

  1. NEVER use human toothpaste. The foaming agent in fluoride can cause stomach upset in an animal. Pet toothpaste comes in flavors like beef, mint and chicken, much more attractive to your pet.
  2. Get a pet toothbrush which can be similar to what you and I use but they also make ones that fits on your finger which makes the process more like petting/massaging.

Once you have the right tools for the job, the AVMA recommends a 4-step process:

  1. Periodically leave a dollop of the toothpaste out for them to smell and taste. Do this for about a week.
  2. Next, rub the toothpaste on their lips/teeth/gums for a few days up to 2 weeks. When they let you do this, give lots of praise and treats.
  3. After this 2 to 3 week process, put the toothpaste on the brush and let them lick it off. Again, take a few days and give lots of praise and treats.
  4. When they’re comfortable with the brush, begin using it in short intervals, eventually working up to a 30 second stretch. Move fairly briskly around the mouth so they don’t get bored or uneasy. Of course, lots of praise and treats.

Above all, be patient:

Just like us, building healthy habits, and learning to like them take time. If you do get frustrated, remember that there are also plenty of treats and chew toys out there created to assist you, so don’t stress. You’re going to have good days and bad days, but if you stay consistent, this will become a normal, bonding activity for you and your pet!

Here’s another little tip – you don’t have to worry about brushing the inside of the teeth. Plaque forms on the surface of the teeth that touch the inside of the cheek. That makes the whole process a little easier and faster.

Happy brushing and here’s to every species living out their golden years with a good, strong set of chompers.