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Brushing Your Dog's Teeth

By: Tammy Gagne

February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Some of you just cringed after reading that sentence, I know. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many people are intimidated by the tasks involved in keeping a dog’s teeth and gums clean and healthy. Getting your pet to sit for a weekly brushing session—never mind a daily one—can be a challenge for sure, especially if he has never been exposed to the activity before. If you are willing to stick with it, though, you just might find that establishing a healthy dental care routine for your pet doesn’t have to be a taxing chore.
 

MAKE IT FUN

A little fun can go a long way. The first step in helping your pet see toothbrushing as an enjoyable experience is keeping a positive attitude yourself. Dogs are intuitive creatures; they pick up on their owners’ feelings of either eagerness or dread. Show some excitement as you gather your pet’s dental supplies. You may even act the way you do when you open a package of treats. “Oh boy,” you might say, “look what I’ve got!”
 
Canine dental products are made to appeal to dogs. Sure, beef- or chicken-flavored toothpaste may not sound appetizing to you, but to your pet, it smells and tastes great. To make matters easier, canine toothpaste is also completely safe for them to swallow. Take advantage of this huge perk by offering your dog a small taste before you start the brushing process. Squeeze a pea-sized amount onto the end of the toothbrush, or use the tip of your finger if your pet is wary of the brush. The important thing is to show him that brushing comes with a tasty reward. Do remember, though, that human toothpaste isn’t safe to use on your pet, whether your dog swallows it or not.
 

BE FLEXIBLE

For some dogs the biggest stumbling block to brushing is getting the toothbrush inside the mouth. Enticing a stubborn Chihuahua to open up can be surprisingly similar to unhinging the jaws of a crocodile. (Incidentally, if your dog is a toy breed, it is even more vital that you perform regular brushings, as these tiny dogs are more prone to dental issues.) The secret to eliminating the struggle for many dogs is losing the brush. Believe it or not, you don’t actually need a conventional toothbrush for toothbrushing. Many canine dental care kits come with a finger brush. Some owners find that their pets accept this soft plastic sheath more readily than the standard toothbrush. 
 
It’s also important to understand that you aren’t going to turn your pet into a dental care convert overnight. Take a few minutes for brushing each day, working on just a few teeth at a time. This gradual approach will help ease any tension your dog feels. Increase the duration of each session based on your pet’s tolerance level. In just a few weeks, he might even come to enjoy the cleanings.
 

WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER

Whether your dog is willing to sit for two minutes or twenty, make the most of the opportunity. Using the proper technique for a short period of time will accomplish more than fighting with your pet for a longer one. Your goal is to remove as much food and plaque as possible. In order to do this, though, you must know how to eliminate the debris.
 
Many of the same rules for brushing your own teeth also apply to your pet’s dental care. Work in an oval motion close to your pet’s gum line. This area is where plaque and tartar tend to build up the most. When you are done, offer your pet a fresh drink of water. Though not necessary for rinsing, your dog will likely appreciate the refreshment. And don’t forget to praise your pet. Dog owners must never underestimate to power of positive reinforcement.
 
If your pet has an excessive amount of tartar buildup—or loose or broken teeth—consider scheduling a professional dental cleaning. Although it requires anesthesia, this common procedure will do wonders for your pet’s dental health. It can even help him live a longer life, as periodontal disease can lead to many other health problems.
 

LET THESE PRODUCTS DO SOME OF THE WORK

You can minimize the amount of time you need to spend on brushing with tooth-friendly pet products, including good old-fashioned chew toys. Nylabone Dental Chew toys, for example, aren’t just for entertainment. They can also help remove food particles from your dog’s teeth between brushings. Some even come in tasty flavors like chicken and fresh breath.
You will need to brush your pet’s teeth more often if you feed him canned food or a large number of wet treats. Wet foods morph into tartar remarkably quickly. You may have heard that dry kibble helps remove plaque and tartar—this is true to a certain degree, but it is only the lesser of the evils when it comes to dental health. It is essential to remember that all food leaves behind small bits and particles. This means that even kibble-fed dogs need those regular brushings, through both the month of February and the rest of the year.
 

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