A Guide to Home Dental Care for your Dog

I am a strong believer in brushing my dog’s teeth. I have been in the Veterinary Industry for 17 years now and have seen the pain and discomfort of pets and the loss of closeness between a pet and their human companion due to bad breath. Yes, bad breath can create a distance between the pet and the human companion. What a shame when their entire life is focused around their people!


We adopted Brisko, a male Shepherd/Rottweiler mix as an 8 week old puppy.  The next week we adopted Baylee, a 10 week old female Shepherd/Lab/Border Collie Mix. We had our hands full and loved every minute of it.  We began brushing their teeth when they were young.  We offered the pet toothpaste on a toothbrush and just let them lick it off.  Pets cannot have human toothpaste because they swallow it and the ingredients are harmful when swallowed. I also do not encourage people to offer toothpaste on their finger for puppies.  Puppies should learn to keep their mouths off human skin to avoid misunderstandings or accidental nips.  Not everyone will appreciate your pet’s mouth on their hand!


Brisko and Baylee were apprehensive to brushing at first but as they became comfortable that the brush was a treat dispenser for their favorite new treat (poultry flavoured pet tooth paste) we were well on our way. Then we began to rub the toothbrush along the outside of their teeth. Just a little bit at a time. No pressure to go quickly. We went at their pace.  The focus should be on the surface of the teeth that touch the lips/cheeks.  If you can keep that surface clean, you will be less likely to see the surface of the teeth next to the tongue get tartar accumulation.  Be careful to not “poke” the back of the mouth with the toothbrush. It can hurt.  Be gentle and use the time as a bonding, fun time with your pet.  It is all in your approach! Remember they see the toothpaste as a treat – not oral hygiene!  For a toothbrush, use something with soft bristles and a wide enough head that is comfortable for the pet’s mouth and not too small that it requires surgical precision to hit each tooth!  Brush in circles as you would your own and brush gently.  There are special toothbrushes you can put over your finger like a thimble to help you get a feel for the pet’s oral anatomy.  These will help you get a feel for how best to brush and are a good starter brush.  Try to brush your pet’s teeth once a day.  Then if you miss a day you don’t need to feel bad.  It should be done at least every second day to have a good impact.  Once daily is even better!  If you brush twice daily, you will be my hero!  I aim for once a day – no hero here!

Brisko and Baylee were champs at getting their teeth brushed and would run to us to get it done.  When we were done brushing Baylee’s teeth, she would try to lick the toothbrush while we were trying to brush Brisko’s teeth!  They never feared the brush or fought the brushing.  It was a part of their day and they loved it.  I made it a part of my daily routine by doing it right after I brushed my own teeth before bed.


As the years went on and we had to say goodbye to Brisko, we adopted a 10 month old male Lab/Husky mix to keep Baylee company after the loss of her long-time companion.  Wilson was (and is) a very headstrong sweetheart.  I say that very lovingly.  Let’s just say most of the time, Wilson outsmarts us!  He had so much energy and had had his own way of doing things. The home dental care process was slower with him but after about 6 months of persisting, again, no pressure, some nights I would only hit a few teeth, but eventually I was able to brush his teeth fully as well… and yes, he too loves the tooth paste.  Do you know adult dogs have 42 teeth?

When our beloved Baylee passed away, we found Penny, a 10 year old, female Lab mix and began the same tooth brushing with her.  She was as easy as pie (after Wilson!) and took almost no time at all.


We adopted a wonderful 13 year old Newfoundland/Lab mix named Ranger who had advanced dental disease when he came to us.  His Veterinarian felt the anesthetic risk was too high for a dental prophylaxis cleaning in the pet hospital due to his medical condition at the time and brushing his teeth would have been painful to him so we opted to use oral rinses to do what we could.  He was on pain medication for his arthritis which would have helped with oral pain as well.  Early prevention would have helped Ranger but we did follow the Veterinarian’s advice and kept him comfortable for the last year and a half of his life.



Now we have our sweet Lab/Border Collie Mix named Gigi, another SPCA adoption just like Wilson and Penny.  We are about to begin brushing her teeth and we know it will go well.


Remember, the experience is what we make it.  Be calm, be patient and keep it up.  It is for life so we want both you and your pet to enjoy it!  Ask your Veterinary health care team members to give you tips.  Do this until you are comfortable with the process.  We want to set you and your pet up to succeed!  Prevention at home is always the best approach!  Why treat later if you can prevent now?

Happy brushing!

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