7 Hacks to Help with Brushing

1. Take it slow

Cats and dogs can be anxious and fearful of new things, especially when it involves you handling an area of their body they are not used to you handling. More notably they may be more uncertain because you are going in their mouth as opposed to just handling the outsides, which they are likely very used to.


Help Fig 1.

2. Get them used to the brush near their face 

Sometimes it’s just the fact that there is something weird near their face that they are objecting to. (Help Fig 1) Touch the brush to their body and show them it’s not scary and as they get used to it, move it closer to their muzzles. What you want to do is get them to be okay with brushing the fur on their muzzles and continue to then work towards the lips. It may take time, so as the first tip says, take it slow.




Help Fig. 2

3. Handle the mouth area frequently 

The next time you and your furry companion are having down time together, rub a nose, or around the whiskers, chin scratches are just about always welcome and get them used to your hands all over their face in a positive way. Eventually, work closer to their lips and gently and slightly pick up a part of the lip for a brief moment then let it back down. Increase the time you hold the lip up until your cat or dog, doesn’t think it’s anything strange anymore. (Help Fig 2) For the kitty owners, don’t be surprised if it takes a lot longer than you expect (think months). And don’t forget, keep it positive, if your critter decides he or she has had enough, then let it be enough and don’t force them.




4. Super special treats

A lot of the time a “treat” is a food related item and if there is something that your fur-kids especially enjoy, then only pull it out for after tooth brushing, they will learn pretty quickly that they will get that favorite thing after the brushing is done. Treats though don’t necessarily have to be a food item. You can also use favorite activities, if your dog or cat loves a good brushing, or for the cats, drinking water out of the faucet, or for the dogs, going on a walk or playing with a favorite toy with you. You can use things like that as the reward.


5. Brushing right before a meal

Dogs and cats don’t normally get cavities unless you are feeding them something that has sugar in it, so brushing for them isn’t meal dependent. If you feed them on a schedule, there’s a fair chance your cat or dog has learned to tell time. You can use that to your advantage by brushing right before they get their food so they are anticipating the food after and will be more likely to cooperate in order to get the meal. The idea is similar to getting that very special treat as mentioned previously.


Help Fig. 3 – So much for my nap!

6. Making them comfortable

While you don’t want to sneak attack them when they’re sleeping, you may want to introduce brushing when they are in a comfortable position, whether it’s chilling on the couch with you, snuggled in your lap, or somewhere in the house you find that they are relaxed. You can associate that relaxed time with brushing. Just be careful though, if they are still very afraid of the brush, you don’t want to scare them off from that area they like to be. (Help Fig 3)





Help Fig. 4 – I’ve got a word for you!

7. Word Association

Brushing is just like any other training. If you do something consistently long enough, they will pick up on it. So if you use a particular word (and yes cats can learn words too, the difference between cats and dogs, is they have been scientifically proven to have the ability to ignore you, which you already knew if a cat owns you), they will associate that word with brushing and their reward. It doesn’t really matter what the word is either, just keep it clear and consistent. (Help Fig 4)

If you have more questions about brushing or about their mouth health in general, contact us or set up an appointment if you’re in the area.

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth

Yes, you read the title right, this is about brushing cat teeth, and yes you need to brush their teeth every day because they form periodontal disease just like we do. And no, cat breath is not normal. I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah right, not in a million years, my cat….” Finish that thought however you like, but I’m here to show you how to brush all the same.

The biggest difference between brushing cat and dog teeth is with a dog you can say, “Let’s do this!” and gradually after a little bit of training and time they acquiesce and off you go. With cats you say, “Let’s do this!” and they look at you with that expression of “yeah, right,” push something off the table (usually something breakable), and walk away in triumph totally crushing your hopes and dreams. So how do you deal with such a singular creature? Well, it’s kind of the same way you manage your boss at work to get something you want, you make it their idea.

How do we go about doing that? By breaking the process down into as many small steps as possible (just not so many that you end up procrastinating on the actual brushing part). Cats are creatures of habit and routine, they thrive on it. So, making big or sudden changes can stress a kitty out to the point where they want nothing to do with it—more so when trying to shove something in their mouth they’re not used to.


Pre-Brushing Prep Work


  • Face RubsStart handling the mouth area by doing something your kitty loves to do anyway, rub the side of her face. The next time your fuzzy musical lap warmer decides to grace you with her presence engage her to rub the side of her face on your fingers. As she does this, gently and very briefly pick up her lip and let it fall again. (Cat Fig 1) Do this for both sides. Over a period of days as you continue to do this, increase the time you hold the lip up in small increments until you can hold the lip and your brave companion no longer thinks you are that (Well, you may be, but that’s a discussion for a different day, just know your cat loves you all the same). Once you can pick up the lip on each side, try doing both sides at the same time by getting her to push her face through your thumb and forefinger stopping momentarily to pick up the lips and hold her head. (Cat Fig 2) Again, do this until you kitty thinks this is a fun new game, or at least tolerates it because you happen to be the human she might like, ‘cause really, it’s all about her. This part alone could take a few weeks to a month. The key here is to make a routine out of it and take it slow.


Fig 1.

Fig 2.


  • Toothpaste treatWhile getting your feline wonder used to face handling, you could also introduce the toothpaste like a treat. Find a pet safe toothpaste with a flavor your cat will love. You never want to use human toothpaste, it contains fluoride and that’s toxic to everyone—it’s one of the reasons why we spit it out. Plus, cats are carnivores (meat-eaters) and giving them something that has a plant taste will not be appetizing to them. So find a flavor they will enjoy—chicken, seafood—it will help you in the long run if they want to eat what’s on the end of the brush.


Fig. 3

  • Small bristle brush—(Cat Fig 3) Cats have tiny mouths so find as small a toothbrush as you can and make sure it’s a bristle brush. It’s tempting to use a finger brush, but the problem with the finger brush is first of all your finger is very big, bigger than the space between their teeth and their lips (it’s like shoving a large hair brush in your mouth—see how far that goes). The second problem with the finger brush is, well, your finger. If your cute little ball of fluff decides she likes the taste of the toothpaste she may want to snack on the brush and you may not appreciate those pearly white spears chomping down. The third problem with the finger brush is the plastic nibs, they don’t do much where you’re going. So, have I convinced you finger brushes are not the way to go yet? What you want to do with the bristle brush is let your sweet fur-face investigate the brush, bite it, paw at it, knock it off the table. Pet around her mouth with it and show her it’s all going to be okay.



The Art of Brushing


  • FIg. 4

    Start with the teeth you can seeIt doesn’t matter where you start, whether it’s the canine teeth (the fangs) or the teeth on the sides that you can see, just take the brush angle it towards the gums, and with light to moderate pressure, have at it! Give the teeth a couple of swipes then reward. If your feline friend is still around after this first venture, then try adding in a few more teeth and see how she does. (Cat Fig 4)








  • Make a routineEveryday add in a couple more teeth so long as your kitty is cooperating with this. It helps to keep it at the same time every day or in a particular sequence of events to cue your cat in on what’s happening. As we all know, cats have far superior intellects than ours so it will not take her long to figure out what you’re up to.


  • Use the treat or activity your cats loves as a motivatorIf there is something that your kitty loves, use it to get them to work through brushing. They will learn to associate their favorite activity or treat with brushing so keeping positive is important and as they get used to brushing they will grant you permission to brush, just so they can get what they really want. Just remember it could take a month or two, so be patient.


Fig. 5

  • Brushing the back teethRemember all that prep work you did with brushing by the face and pausing to hold the lip up? Now it’s time to use that training. Cats have tight lips, you know this because when you ask them a question, they never answer you, even though you know they have the answer. Using your fingers to pick up the lip and brush the teeth. Sometimes getting to the bottom teeth can be a little challenging because they like to clamp their mouths shut, but as with everything, be patient and keep at it (notice a theme yet?). (Cat Fig 5).







  • Fig. 6

    Brushing the insides of the teethAs if trying to brush the outside wasn’t hard enough, the insides need attention too, but don’t rush it. Let your feline love get used to the outside being brushed. When she’s ready, if she isn’t snacking on the brush already, hold her cheeks and gently open her mouth and brush the insides starting in the front and working your way back. If she objects back off and try again later, this can scary for them, because you’re being weird again. (Ever notice that with cats, it’s always your fault?) (Cat Fig 6)







Once your kitty has accepted that you are the strangest thing on two legs, and has begrudgingly assented to your odd routines of brushing her teeth, it shouldn’t take you more than about a minute to get through her whole mouth. If you can do it routinely at the same time everyday, your higher life form will know when that time is and when paired with something she really enjoys, you might see her telling you to stop procrastinating and get brushing. (If your furry companion has decided that she has better things to do check out these 7 hacks to help with brushing.)


If you have questions about your cat specifically, call us to make an appointment if you’re in the area and we’d be happy to work with your kitty.

Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

Everyone knows that tooth brushing is an important part of daily hygiene. No matter what order it actually falls in, basically, you get up, you brush your teeth, and get ready for the day. Right before bed you brush your teeth, and you’re ready for the night. But what about your dogs, where do they fall? They have teeth, they get bad breath, and they form periodontal disease exactly the way humans do. And yet, many people don’t think twice about not brushing, or we hear: “My dog doesn’t like it.” Or “He won’t tolerate it.”

Brushing your dog’s teeth is just like any other training: keep it positive, make a routine of it, and keep at it. Sure, in the beginning you may feel like you’re not accomplishing much with your pup tossing his head around. But I promise, if you are getting the brush in the mouth, something is getting done. If you are still in the head tossing phase, how do you brush your pet’s teeth?

Fig. 1

First off, let’s be real, your dog may not sit there and let you brush. You may have to coerce a spouse, older child, sibling, friend, or the creepy guy down the street—okay maybe not that guy, but you get the idea; someone to help you hold your dog’s head still long enough for him to realize it’s not so bad. So now that you’ve bribed a family member or friend to help you, you next need your toothbrush. Make sure it is an actual brush, not the finger brush with the rubber bits on it. Those brushes don’t do much where you’re going. Also, we actually want to encourage a little chewing on the brush because it’s as close to your dog brushing his own teeth as you’re going to get and we don’t want your finger there. Next get the toothpaste flavor that your pup loves—chicken, beef, seafood—just make sure it’s pet safe. You never want to use human toothpaste because it contains fluoride and that’s toxic to everyone—it’s one of the reasons we spit ours out. Pet-safe toothpaste is safe to eat. It’s made to aid you in brushing because your dog will want to eat what’s on the end of the brush.
Now you’ve got your brush, you’ve got your toothpaste, and you’re ready to go, right? Not so fast. You as the human knows what’s going on, but for your loving canine companion all he sees is this weird, gooey, spiky thing coming for his face and suddenly you’re trying to pry his mouth open with that thing coming towards him. If your dog could talk he would be screaming, “No don’t do it! It’s going to eat me!” In short, not the ideal situation. (Dog Fig. 1)

So, if you can’t just start brushing, then where do you start? Remember I said earlier brushing is just like any other training? You need to break the process down and show your dog that there really isn’t anything scary, and maybe he might even like it.

Building Blocks of Brushing

Fig. 2

• Offer the toothpaste like a treat.

Unless you’re already brushing on a regular basis, gel and paste are probably not part of your pup’s regular diet, so let him investigate. Let him lick the toothpaste off your finger, or off a treat, so he knows it’s okay. (Dog Fig 2)

Fig. 3

• Offer the toothpaste on the brush.

Once he thinks the toothpaste is a good thing, add some to the brush and again let him investigate. Let him eat the toothpaste off the brush and if he wants to bite the brush, go for it, just don’t let him eat the brush. A little chewing is about as close as you’re going to get to him brushing his own teeth. Just be careful not to let his eating the toothpaste get in the way of all your efforts. (Dog Fig 3)

Fig. 4

• Start with the teeth you can see.

Begin the actual brushing process with some of the teeth in the front of the mouth, whether it’s the incisors (the little teeth between the fangs), or the canines themselves (the fangs) angle the brush towards the gum line and with light to moderate pressure brush. After you get through those few teeth, stop. Give your furry friend a special treat, something he doesn’t get often and use it to help train him to sit for the brushing process. It will also give him a second to unwind his doggy brain from what just happened. When everyone’s had a moment, go back and add in a couple more teeth, reward again. Then be done for that day. Tomorrow, do the same thing again, and add in more teeth, repeat until the whole mouth gets brushed. And yes this is a daily exercise, just like in your mouth. (Dog Fig 4)

Fig. 5

• Brushing the back teeth.

When you get to the back of the mouth, you know those really big teeth you see when he pants, those teeth can be challenging to brush. Don’t pull the lip all the way back. I know it’s tempting to do so you can see what you’re brushing. However, cranking back on the lips like that can actually scare them, and we want to keep it positive. Instead, just move the lip back enough to slip the brush back there, then let the lip fall back down and listen for the brush to make contact with the teeth. (Dog Fig 5)

Fig. 6

Don’t worry, I promise you will be able to hear it and again angle that brush towards the gums. Keep in mind when brushing in the maxilla (upper jaw) there are usually two smaller teeth behind that big tooth. However, that big tooth sits right at the cheek bone so if you brushed straight back, you would miss the two smaller teeth. Instead, you need to swing the brush handle out so that the bristles look like you’re moving in to brush the center of his mouth. The angle is a little less than forty-five degrees (for all you techie people). (Dog Fig 6)

Fig. 7

• Brushing the insides of the teeth.

Now that your pup is comfortable with getting the outsides done, and he realizes the brush won’t eat him (and maybe he might even like what’s on the brush) you can start with the insides of his mouth. Start with the front of his mouth and add in a few teeth at a time, just like you did for the outsides.  Add in a few more teeth every time you reenter the mouth working your way to the back, keeping it positive. You want to start from the front to keep the desire to chew to a minimum. If you were to enter the mouth from the side by the big chewing teeth, he’d want to start snacking on the brush and could totally derail your efforts. (Dog Fig 7)

Once the training part is over, which could take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months, the brushing process shouldn’t take you more than about a minute or two to get around the whole mouth. As a bonus, if you make it into a routine and do it at the same time every day, say when you brush your own teeth, eventually your super intelligent canine will cue in on what you’re doing and ask for his teeth to be brushed, even if really he’s only waiting for that super special treat he gets only after brushing. (If your pup is being particularly stubborn, check out these 7 hacks to help with brushing.)

If you have questions about your dog specifically, call us to make an appointment if you’re in the area and we can work with your pup.