How to clean your pet's teeth

September 21, 2021 - 4 min read
Dog with toothbrush in it's mouth

Cleaning your cat or dog’s teeth may feel like a difficult task. But take heart: It's absolutely possible to get your furry friend used to dental hygiene, especially if you begin basic teeth-cleaning habits like brushing when they’re young.

Cleaning your pet's teeth regularly can help prevent health issues that are dangerous and painful for your pet, and monumentally expensive for you.

So how do you do it?

Dog with toothbrush in mouth

Why clean your dog's teeth?

Diligent at-home dental care (especially brushing) is key to preventing gingivitis, bad breath, dental pain, and periodontal diseases that have a major impact on your dog's overall health. Brushing slows down the buildup of plaque on the teeth, which eventually forms tartar and can lead to serious dental diseases.

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There are also a number of other ways to help stave off plaque and tartar buildup,  including prescription diets, dental chews and treats, wipes, sprays and special water additives. But brushing is by far the most effective way to maintain your pet’s dental health at home.

To learn more, check out our article on the most common dental conditions and how to avoid them.

Illustration of cat sitting down

Why clean your cat’s teeth?

A cat’s teeth can develop plaque and tartar (and therefore serious dental conditions) just as a dog’s teeth can. Brushing your cat’s teeth or turning to specialty diets, treats or additives can help remove plaque and reduce the risk of gum disease.

By the way, there’s this organization called the Veterinary Oral Health Council, or VOHC. It offers its Seal of Acceptance to cat and dog dental products that been shown to be effective. It’s a great resource if you’re looking for guidance on what to buy.

Or you could just check out our article about the best pet dental products on the market.

Anyway, here’s the bottom line: In both dogs and cats, at-home care (particularly brushing) is key to fighting dental disease. And when left unchecked, dental problems can cause your cat or dog not only great pain, but even major, life-threatening illnesses like kidney disease, since bacteria from teeth can get into the bloodstream.

So please, take care of your pet’s teeth at home to whatever extent you can. We swear, brushing and other at-home dental health techniques are less difficult than they seem. And your pet will get used to them quickly, especially if you start when they’re still young.

How to Brush a Dog's Teeth

How to Brush Your Dog's Teeth

It all starts with finding a toothbrush or finger brush with soft bristles and a toothpaste approved especially for dogs or cats. And keep in mind, experts say that regular brushing is the most effective (and usually most cost-effective) way of looking after your dog's teeth.

For puppies going through teething, you can also consider puppy teething gels, or helping to soothe their pains by putting their toys in the freezer.

So without further ado, here’s how to brush a dog's teeth.

Step 1: Get your dog used to the brushing process

  • Pick a time where your dog is relaxed and comfortable

  • If your dog is small, sit with them in your lap facing away from you. If they’re larger, have them sit beside you so you can handle your pet's mouth and head.

  • Introduce a soft cloth and rub along where the gum meets the teeth

  • Get your pet used to toothpaste. Introduce it for tasting initially, and then if they like it, apply it to the cloth and start rubbing the teeth with it

  • Introduce the brush once your dog is completely used to you rubbing their teeth with a cloth

Step 2: Brush your dog’s teeth

  • Gently introduce the toothbrush, apply a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to the brush and raise the upper lip

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

  • Every day, increase the number of teeth you’re brushing

  • Make sure your dog is comfortable with the amount of brushing

  • Unless your dog is extremely comfortable, you don’t need to brush the insides and tips of the teeth, as majority of the plaque buildup happens on the outsides of the teeth

You’ll make the biggest difference if you can brush their teeth daily. But even if it’s difficult to brush that frequently, it shouldn’t stop you from brushing when you can; some brushing is better than none. Brushing your dog’s teeth, however often you can, can help make them happier and healthier for longer.

How to Brush a Cat's Teeth

How to brush your cat's teeth

As with dogs, the first step is finding a toothbrush or finger brush with soft bristles and a toothpaste approved for your pet. While some may think of cats as aloof creatures, believe it or not it is possible to get your kitty comfortable with brushing.

Here’s what you do:

  • 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 is settled

  • Try feeding your cat some toothpaste on your finger, and 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 comfortable. Otherwise, try taking breaks in-between every couple of teeth

Check our guide to pet dental products for more info.

Dog lying down

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

Dental coverage for accidents is often included in pet insurance policies. Some companies (including ManyPets!) will also cover dental treatments stemming from illnesses. But no pet insurance companies will cover routine professional cleanings under their standard policies.

Professional cleanings, which take place at a vet’s office following an oral exam, involve scaling, polishing, and extractions of broken or damaged teeth. Your pet will be placed under general anesthesia, and the procedure will take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. Price varies based on factors such as the size of your dog, the vet you choose and how extensive the procedure is. Unfortunately, professional cleanings are expensive, sometimes costing into the thousands of dollars.

The earlier and more often you brush your pet’s teeth, the fewer professional cleanings they’ll need throughout their life. Nonetheless, your pet will almost certainly need a routine cat or dog teeth cleaning at some point, and likely several. (According to expert veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Coates, who recently authored our article about the importance of pet dental cleanings, certain types of smaller breeds, or breeds with flat faces, sometimes need more than one cleaning per year.)

If the cost of dental cleanings seems daunting, you might want to think about buying a pet Wellness Plan. Unlike insurance policies, the ManyPets Wellness Plan will help reimburse you for cleanings when your dog or cat needs them. After all, dental care is crucial to your pet’s overall health.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.