Tooth Brushing

The gold standard of plaque control for canine and feline patients is twice daily tooth brushing. Devices such as gauze pads, sponge swabs or cotton swabs remove plaque above the gum line, but cannot adequately clean the space below the gum line where plaque and calculus (tartar) accumulate.

Convincing clients to brush their pets' teeth regularly is not an easy task. Struggling, biting and/or scratching from an uncooperative pet can quickly cause owners to become reluctant.

To help improve at-home plaque-prevention habits, encourage pet owners to:

  • Start with a healthy, comfortable mouth — Untreated, painful oral disease will create a non-compliant client. Dental pathology must be cared for first.
  • Choose a proper toothbrush and toothpaste — Toothbrushes have bristles that reach under the gum line to clean the space that surrounds each tooth. Explain to pet owners that the size of the toothbrush is important. There are specially made brushes that fit the large mouths of long-muzzled dogs, as well as small brushes for cats.


  • Each dog or cat must have his or her own brush.
  • Human toothpastes which contain detergents should not be used because dogs and cats will swallow the paste.
  • Pets seem to prefer poultry flavoured pastes.

The Most Effective Brushing Method

The toothbrush and toothpaste should be gently introduced under the lip. Pet owners should concentrate on the outside surfaces of the upper teeth. A circular brush motion is the goal, but back and forth will also remove plaque. If an owner senses that a pet is anxious during the brushing procedure, he/she should reassure the pet by talking and try again. Encourage owners to reward progress immediately with a treat or a play period after each cleaning session.

Toothbrush bristles should be placed at a 45-degree angle at the gum margin where the teeth and gingiva meet. Pet owners should use an oval pattern, gently forcing the bristle ends into the area around the base of the tooth as well as into the space between the teeth. Ten short back-and-forth motions — covering three to four teeth at a time — should be completed before moving the brush to a new location. The area requiring the most attention is the outside of the upper teeth.