The Top 6 Reasons You Should Be Brushing Your Dog’s (and Cat’s) Teeth

It’s worth learning to take care of your pet’s teeth, says veterinarian Dr. Rachel Szumel. Here are six reasons why.

Six reasons to brush your dog's and cat's teeth. A woman brushes her pet dog's teeth on the sofa
Photo: GerryP/Shutterstock

By Dr. Rachel Szumel.

The top six reasons tooth-brushing is important for your pet - and how you can teach your dog or cat to enjoy having their teeth brushed.

1. Their breath stinks! 

Dog breath has the classic bad reputation, but cat breath can be foul, too. And it’s not just cosmetic - that stink is a clear indication of infection and inflammation in your best friend’s mouth. Consider it a pungent reminder that those teeth (and gums!) need attention, because their health depends on it...

2. It’s good for their health. 

Chronic inflammation in the mouth is known to have adverse effects on the rest of the body. It’s true for humans, and it’s true for pets as well. Chronic oral inflammation and infection can contribute to kidney, liver, and even heart problems, potentially shortening your pet’s life. 

Think of the last time you had a root canal - that tooth didn’t feel good beforehand, did it? Our pets tend to be very stoic, but I promise you, they feel that pain. Time and again, I hear from my clients how the pet they thought was just slowing down from age started playing and acting like a youngster again once I treated (i.e., extracted!) the bad teeth and gums. Brushing will decrease the inflammation and slow or prevent the progression of periodontal disease, thus preventing chronic pain. 

3. Inflammation and infection hurts. 

***A word to the wise; you don’t want to try to brush your pet’s teeth if they are already in pain. Check with your vet before starting, especially if your pet already has a lot of tartar and bad breath. They may need a cleaning and even extractions to take care of any painful areas before you start brushing. 

"The only way around this, for me, was to make it something that Mamacita loves to do."

4. You will notice problems sooner. 

If you are looking in your pet’s mouth on a daily basis (or even just 3 times a week, the minimum you should be brushing to make an impact), you will notice right away if there is something new going on. Areas of new inflammation will bleed, and you will see that on the brush. You might notice a chipped or cracked tooth, or a mass growing on the gums. Or you might just notice a new hesitation to allow brushing in a certain area. All of these are important signals that you need to get your pet in to see the vet, and many problems will be easier to address if they are found sooner. 

6 reasons to brush your cat's or dog's teeth. A cat has their teeth brushed with a finger brush
Photo: cuttingtool/Shutterstock

5. It very well could save you money.

Dental care (for pets and humans!) can be very costly. Effective dental cleanings and treatments for your pet involve general anesthesia and often, surgery for extractions or gum treatments. Brushing won’t necessarily mean your pet will never need a cleaning, but it absolutely can prevent the progression of periodontal disease that leads to those more costly treatments and/or extractions. Brushing is a really cheap way to make a big impact on your pet’s health and well-being, and if it saves you money in the long run, that’s a win-win!

6. It’s fun and enriching for your pet! 

My Chihuahua, Mamacita, lingers by my bathroom door each night waiting for her turn to brush. It only takes a few minutes, but she obviously looks forward to it, and it’s nice for us to spend those few minutes together before bed. It’s one way to fit a little training fun into our day, even if we didn’t manage to get out for a trail run or bike ride. 

Learn how to brush your dog’s (or cat’s) teeth

Look, I know you are busy. And I KNOW that you won’t brush your pets’ teeth if they run from you when they see the brush. It’s hard enough to fit one more task into the day, but if it’s a miserable experience and feels like you are torturing your best friend with that soft-bristled brush, you absolutely aren’t going to do it. 

The only way around this, for me, was to make it something that Mamacita loves to do. There are many nights that I’d rather skip the brushing and just get to bed, but when I open the bathroom door and she’s sitting there expectantly waiting for her snacky-brushy-time, how can I say no? 

To help my clients - and you! - get that happy “do I hear the cookie jar” response to toothbrushing in your beloved pets, I created a self-paced toothbrushing course, Healthy Smiles, hosted by DogKind Training. The course covers at-home dental care for dogs and cats, walking you through the do’s and don’ts, and giving you a step-by-step training plan to make them love the process. Check it out, make your vet proud, and enjoy those sweet kisses for years to come. 

Happy Pet Dental Month!

6 reasons to brush your pet's teeth. Veterinarian Dr. Rachel Szumel pictured holding her Chihuahua, who loves to have her teeth brushed
Veterinarian Dr. Rachel Szumel with Mamacita

Dr. Rachel Szumel is a graduate of the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and practices in beautiful South Lake Tahoe, California. She earned her CTC in 2015, and is extra-super-thrilled when good training can help her provide better medical care to her patients.

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