How to clean your dog or cat's teeth

October 7, 2021 - 3 min read

This article was written for the United Kingdom market and the advice provided may not be accurate for those in the United States.

A dog with a toothbrush in his mouth

Brushing your dog's or cat's teeth is a great way to play an active role in your pet's health. Regular tooth cleaning can help prevent issues that are painful for patients and expensive to treat.

But it's easier said than done. So we asked a vet and vet nurse to give us their top tips for pet tooth cleaning and explain why it's so important to do it.

Should I clean my dog's teeth?

Yes, regular brushing can help remove plaque and prevent periodontal disease.

Spending time brushing your dog's teeth can also help you spot the symptoms of dental disease.

Periodontal disease is common in dogs and occurs when there is a buildup of plaque on the teeth that eventually forms tartar. The symptoms can be really unpleasant for you and your dog:

It's not just older dogs that can have tooth pain. If your puppy is teething, try putting their chew toys in the freezer for a few hours, or there are teething gels you can buy to sooth their discomfort.

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Should I clean my cat’s teeth?

Just like with dogs, brushing your cat's teeth will remove plaque and reduce the risk of gum disease.

Dental problems can cause cats a lot of pain and lead to deeper health issues like kidney disease if the bacteria from their teeth enters their bloodstream.

Getting them used to regular brushing could keep them pain-free and healthy.

How to brush your dog's teeth

Brushing your dog's teeth can be difficult if they're not on board. The last thing you want to do is give them a fear of the toothbrush and paste.

Fortunately, there are a few alternative ways to clean your pet's teeth, including:

  • Pet tooth wipes

  • Dental chews

  • Dental treats

  • Mouth sprays

  • Water additives

Find out more about each of these options in our guide to pet dental products.

But there's no getting around it—our veterinary experts say the most effective way to look after your dog's teeth is regular brushing with a pet-friendly toothbrush or finger brush and a canine-approved toothpaste.

There's even an ultrasonic toothbrush in our pet dental product guide - but an ordinary brush will work fine too.

So here's how it's done:

Step 1: Get your dog used to the brushing process

  • Pick a time when your dog is relaxed and comfortable

  • If your dog's small, sit them on your lap, facing away from you. If they're larger, have them sit beside you so you can handle their head and mouth

  • Use a soft cloth to rub along where the gum meets the teeth

  • Get your pet used to toothpaste. Let them taste it first; meaty flavors are available, so hopefully they'll see it as a treat. If they like it put some on the cloth and start rubbing their teeth with it

  • Once your dog's completely used to you rubbing their teeth with a cloth, it's time to try the toothbrush

Step 2: Brush your dog's teeth

  • Apply a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush and gently raise your dog's upper lip

  • In slow circular motion, lightly brush your dog’s canine teeth and the gum line

  • Every day, increase the amount of teeth you’re brushing, but always make sure your dog's comfortable with the amount of brushing

  • You don’t need to brush the insides and tips of the teeth as most of the plaque build-up happens on the outsides of the teeth

How often should I brush my dog's teeth?

Ideally, you should brush your dog's teeth every day.

But we know it can be difficult to find the time to do it that often, so just brush as often as you can and build it into your pet care routine.

How much does it cost to have your dog’s teeth cleaned?

It's possible to have your pet's teeth professionally cleaned by a vet.

The cost will depend on the size of your dog, the procedure required, and the vet you go to.

Dental tooth cleaning can be quite an extensive procedure. A scale and polish mean your dog will need to be put under general anesthesia, which can take 20–40 minutes.

How to brush your cat's teeth

  • Relax your cat by rubbing around their face and cheeks

  • Introduce your hands around their face first by holding their head. Do this when your cat's settled

  • Try feeding your cat some toothpaste on your finger. If they like it, start lightly rubbing your fingers on their teeth and along the gum line

  • Brush their teeth with a cotton bud for the next couple of days, and if they're comfortable with this, move on to a toothbrush

  • Brush a couple of teeth, and only brush more if they're still happy. If not, try taking breaks between every couple of teeth

  • Tip: Make sure you have a special toothbrush for your cat, whether it's a smaller one with softer bristles or a finger toothbrush made for brushing cats' teeth.

Does pet insurance cover dental cleaning?

Pet insurance policies don't usually cover routine tooth cleaning, but some policies may cover it if it is recommended as treatment by a vet for a health issue.

Most pet insurance policies will only cover tooth problems caused by accidents, although dental illness, like tooth rot or gum disease, is covered by some of the most comprehensive pet insurance policies.

Oliver Smith
Marketing executive

Oliver is our multi-media wizard. He has worked in pet insurance since 2020 and since joining ManyPets, has built up a relationship with our veterinary relationship team, trainers, behaviourists and a whole host of pet experts to create articles, video and social media posts for pet parents and veterinary experts alike.