I need to brush my pet’s teeth?!

The importance of brushing and how to do it

by Melinda Brown

Just like people, if an animal does not take care of their teeth they can develop multiple issues. Every time a dog or cat eats something they start to develop plaque on their teeth from the residue left by the food, which contains bacteria that can cause problems. Just as with humans, without brushing the plaque away it will harden and form into tartar, which can only be removed by scaling and polishing with a dental. Dogs and cats do not hold still for these types of procedures, so we have to sedate them. The more preventative measures you take to keep your pet’s teeth clean, the less often they will need to be sedated for a dental, which is more risky the older they get.

So how can you take care of your dogs’ and cats’ teeth? The best option would be to brush their teeth. (Be sure to use toothpaste that is specific for dogs and cats and use a flavor they will like, such as chicken.) The next best option is to provide a water additive such as Oxyfresh Oral Solution in their daily water and/or dental chews such as Oravet or Enzymatic Rawhide Chews (only give 1 per day as these can quickly make your pet overweight).

But how do you get your pet to enjoy their teeth being brushed? You can easily do this with clicker training! We want to make the toothbrush something fun and positive for our pet, so we’re going to associate it with food since they tend to like that the most. The clicker is just our communication tool; the click noise tells them “you did what I wanted and you’re about to get a reward for it”. (You can purchase a clicker here at Kitty Hawk in our Boutique area.) First, get your pet used to the clicker by clicking and giving them a small tasty treat. After 1 click you will ALWAYS follow it by giving your pet 1 small tasty treat (even if you clicked at the wrong time because you always want the click to tell your pet they are getting a reward). Your pet will soon learn that the click noise means they did something right and a good thing is on the way!

After about 30 click/treats you can start training your pet. To get them used to the toothbrush you want to start with small steps and work up. The more clicks you give, the faster your pet will learn. First, start by simply holding the toothbrush out for your pet to sniff and click for any interaction with it. Once your pet is excitedly touching the toothbrush, you can start to get them to bite down on it by putting some tasty food on the end of it. You’re going to slowly work up to actually brushing their teeth and it may take a few training sessions (they only have to be about 2 minutes each), but they will learn!

Here is a video to show you this plan in action (the basic steps work the same for either dogs or cats):

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