You probably already know that you should be brushing your dog’s teeth… but how do you accomplish that when she hates letting you do it?
Well, remember when you were a kid and you had yummy strawberry toothpaste that you learned to apply with a toothbrush that sang the Barney theme song? Do the same for your dog!
Make brushing fun, tasty and a game.
Brushing does not have to be a struggle.
Tools You will Need to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth
Before getting your dog, make sure you have everything you need laid out for their. I typically just load up the toothbrush and go to wherever they happen to be lounging.
For most dogs, a child’s soft bristled toothbrush works perfectly. However, for small, especially toy breeds like the Chihuahua, even a kid’s toothbrush is too big and will not allow you to reach the molars.
Oh, and those finger brushes are too big, too, a lot of the time. And they have awkward rubber nubs that do not seem like they will actually clean teeth. You may as well use a tissue wrapped around your finger.
As humans, we brush our teeth thoroughly every day, but many of us don’t do the same for our dogs. Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in adult dogs.
To prevent illness and keep your dog healthy, it’s important to clean your pup’s teeth. Although many dogs may not like it initially, finding the right dog toothpaste, introducing it slowly, and brushing consistently, can help with the process.
Break It Down
Brushing your dog’s teeth may not be a fun or impressive feat, but it is way more important than teaching your dog to play basketball.
So, you really need to set aside the time to break brushing down into easy steps.
- Teach your dog to place their chin in your hand!
- Training your dog to allow you to lift their lip to access their teeth!
- Teach your dog to allow you to simply touch their teeth with a fingertip!
- Brush the canines, brush the incisors, brush the molars!
How do you keep her teeth clean in the meantime?
If they are not terribly afraid of letting you near her mouth, you can squeeze some toothpaste onto your fingertip and quickly, gently swab their canines. Just getting some enzymatic toothpaste into their mouth will help.
The enzymes help break down plaque even without that scrubbing action, although you will need to eventually add some light scrubbing when your dog is ready.
How to Hold Your Dog for Brushing?
Depending on the size of your dog, your relationship to their, and how they feel comfortable being held, you will have to find a position that works for the both of you.
For my Chihuahua, it can be hard to see into him tiny mouth, so the position I use most is having him lie on my chest while I am lying down. I know it sounds a little odd, but it works, and I can peer up into her mouth easily.
You can also have your dog sit or stand on a table, or on the couch while you sit on the floor, so he is above you.
This serves two purposes: it elevates her mouth so you can see better, and you will not have to hover over him.
Most dogs do not like it when you hover over them. It can feel threatening to them.
If you have a helper, you can also just have them hold your dog close to their chest while you brush.
Either you or your helper should gently massage the dog while or between brush strokes.
Rewarding Your Dog for Brushing
Treats and other edible rewards can change your dog’s state of mind when it comes to a potentially annoying treatment like having her teeth brushed.
But what can you give your dog as a treat when you are trying to brush their teeth?
I find that the best thing to use is a spoon with a little bit of coconut oil on it.
My Chihuahuas let me brush a tooth; they get to lick the spoon. Repeat.
Coconut oil has antibacterial properties which makes it ideal for giving during or after brushing.
A tasty dog toothpaste also works as a reward. You can let your dog lick the brush. There is no need to load it up with lots of toothpaste.
Do not Forget to Praise Your Dog
When it comes to brushing, clipping nails, and other precarious tasks, I would often find myself holding my breath, being incredibly quiet, and saying absolutely nothing to my dog. This created tension that my dogs could certainly sense. Brushing teeth is not fun or exciting… until you decide that it is.
Always praise your dog as though they are doing something awesome. You can even sing a little song. I find that just chatting with my dog, singing, and constantly praising her makes a huge difference in her mood. It seems to keep her mind off having her teeth brushed
What About That Crazy Flicking Tongue?
If your dog’s toothpaste is yummy, she is going to flick her tongue out trying to lick it up. This is inevitable, and there is really nothing you can do to teach her to control that wild tongue.
Do your best to brush around that tongue. It is also fine to take “lick breaks” to allow her to lick the brush for a bit. There are bacteria on your dog’s tongue, too, so lick breaks are important.
Remember, even if you are not great at brushing your dog’s teeth, simply getting some toothpaste in her mouth is helpful. Enzymatic toothpaste will help break down bacteria even if it is not perfectly applied to the teeth.
How Often Should You Brush Your Dog’s Teeth?
I need to preface this with I do not brush my dog’s teeth often enough either. Ideally, we would brush our dog’s teeth every day.
Dogs eat daily, just like us, and food gets stuck to their teeth. Brushing daily breaks down plaque before it hardens and turns into yellow tartar, which then becomes exceedingly difficult to remove without a professional dental cleaning.
I try to do it before bedtime, as that is when my Chihuahuas have finished eating. They usually have visible bits of food between her teeth that I must remove. When I forget, I usually give her a raw meaty bone for breakfast the next morning.
Alternatives to Brushing.
Every veterinarian I spoke to about dental health says that there is no alternative to brushing.
Water additives, chews, and dental treats can certainly help, but they will not provide the same abrasive, cleansing power. Still, something is better than nothing. Plus, these things can (and should!) be used in conjunction with brushing.
Even when you get good at brushing your dog’s teeth, you may not be able to reach the molars effectively. Chewing helps a lot with that.
My all-time favorite “dental treat” is fresh, crunchy carrots. Use baby carrots to eliminate the need to peel and chop. Carrots, apples, and celery are all good sources of fiber, and the chewing action massages the gums, helping to remove plaque along the gumline. These foods also stimulate saliva production to help wash away bacteria.