Monday, May 14, 2012

Tips on brushing your dog's teeth.

When Leopold was a little pup and I took him to the vet for the first time, it was recommended to me that I brush my dog’s teeth as often as I could. I was a little taken aback because I don’t remember my family ever brushing our dog’s teeth when I was a kid. We would give Max bones and he had a “dental” tug rope, but that was the extent of it. I was told, again, by Leo’s training instructor that it’s a good idea to brush your dog’s teeth, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to do so. Dogs can get cavities and tooth decay just like humans, so why wouldn’t I want to help keep my dog’s teeth clean?
I have since been brushing my dogs’ teeth as often as I can remember with the goal of brushing them once a day.  Here’s what I’ve learned about brushing a dog’s teeth.

The toothbrush.
There are special doggy toothbrush products out there. The most common brush I’ve seen is one that has a large brush on one end and a small brush on the other, both angled in a way that is supposed to be ideal for your pet’s mouth. I’ve seen three-sided tooth brushes and little rubber brushes that fit on the end of your finger.
I don’t use any of these.

I’ve found that human toothbrushes work just fine and are often cheaper than the special-made, dog toothbrushes. The criteria I use when selecting a toothbrush for my dogs are based on the fact that Leopold likes to chew on the brush while I’m brushing his teeth.
Right off the bat, that means the finger brushes are out. I’d lose my finger for sure if I tried to use one of those things on Leopold! It’s possible that there are dogs out there that the little finger brushes work well on, but I personally don’t want to risk having my finger chomped.
Leopold’s chewing behavior also means that I want his toothbrush to be sturdy, so I look for brushes that have a harder plastic base. Before trying human tooth brushes, I once bought some very inexpensive “dog toothbrushes” only to find that the plastic was way too soft, and they barely lasted through one teeth-brushing session. You get what you pay for, I guess.
Here's a cheap set of three toothbrushes you can get from Colgate Extra Clean Toothbrush, Medium, 3 Count (at the time I made my link this was one of the cheapest options I could find!)

The toothpaste.
Dogs need special toothpaste because they will swallow it. Never use human toothpaste, as human toothpaste can make dogs (and humans!) very sick if swallowed. That’s why we spit our toothpaste out. Dog toothpastes are specially formulated, using enzymes to help remove plaque while being safe to consume.
I’ve tried many different brands and flavors of toothpaste. Leopold has sneered his lip and subbed all but one brand. The brand is C.E.T. I use the poultry flavor and Leopold loves it. So if you’re having trouble finding a toothpaste that your dog likes, try C.E.T. Unfortunately this brand doesn’t seem to be sold in pet stores. I have seen it for sale at a couple vet offices, but I usually just order mine online from Virbac C.E.T. Poultry Toothpaste

Brushing Leo's teeth is a fun experience for me because its a fun experience for him!
Starting out.
Believe it or not, Leopold loves to have his teeth brushed. I ask him, “Should we brush your teeth?” and his ears perk up and he gets very excited. For him, teeth-brushing is a wonderful treat. So how did that happen? I started slow and kept things positive and fun. The very first time I “brushed” Leopold’s teeth, all I did was dab a little of the toothpaste on his nose so he could be introduced to the taste. He licked it off, I praised him, and that was that. The next time, I dabbed some toothpaste onto his teeth with the toothbrush, and then praised him. Next time, I brushed just a few teeth lightly, keeping the session short, and then praised him. Over time the sessions have gotten longer and he now allows me to actually scrub his teeth with the brush.  I’m still in this beginning stage with Halo. It’s been hard to get her to sit still, but she’s gotten better about that, so I’ve been working more on getting her used to teeth-brushing sessions.

How I brush my dogs’ teeth.
Gently holding Leo's head.
I never use restraint (this is part of keeping the experience positive!) so I first ask them to sit, because a sitting dog is more likely to be a calm dog. I let them sniff the brush and sniff the toothpaste. At this point Leopold is usually flipping his tongue out like a snake in anticipation of the yummy toothpaste. Then, because the toothpaste doesn’t foam up like human toothpaste, I like to smear it on as many teeth as I can before I start to scrub. I use my other hand to gently guide my dogs’ head into a position that is easy for me to work with the brush. I let them chew on the brush a bit (not too much, because I don’t want to go through toothbrushes too quickly!), but enough that they work the bristles into some of the crevasses in their teeth.  And when we're done, I always tell then what a good doggy they are!

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