You’d never go weeks without using a toothbrush—and neither should your pet. When left untreated, gum disease can cause bacterial infections, pain and even tooth loss. Here’s how to keep your pet’s pearlies in good condition.

By Ardenis Perez

Is Your Pet at Risk?

Because of tooth crowding and less bone mass, small-breed dogs (like Chihuahuas) and those with a shorter skull shape (like pugs and Boston terriers) are more prone to periodontal disease. Cats, on the other hand, are more susceptible to tooth resorption (breaking down of the teeth) and stomatitis (painful inflammation and ulceration of the oral cavity).

Schedule a Dentist Appointment

Dogs and cats should visit a veterinary dentist annually for an oral exam and routine cleaning, says Brook Niemiec, DVM. If your pet isn’t fond of at-home tooth brushing, they might need a professional dental cleaning more often.

Perfect Your Process

Brushing your pet’s teeth daily is ideal—and, admittedly, highly unlikely. Just three times a week can reduce plaque. Aim for gentle brush strokes against gums and the outer surfaces of the teeth. Try a soft-bristle toothbrush or a finger brush and a pet toothpaste—human toothpastes can contain xylitol or fluoride, and both are harmful to pets.

Start Them Young

Cleaning your pet’s teeth while they’re still a puppy or kitten creates a routine early on. “For adult pets, introduce tooth brushing in a positive and gradual way,” says Katherine Kling, DVM. Rewarding your dog or cat with a treat or playtime after daily sessions of licking toothpaste from a toothbrush can lead to real tooth brushing within a few weeks.

Choose Toys Carefully

“Hard nylon chew toys, marrow bones and other toys of similar density are often the culprit when dogs present with crown fractures,” says Kling. Opt for softer toys to prevent teeth from breaking, especially if your dog is known for being an avid chewer.

Offer Extra Oral Care

Dental chews may help with plaque, tartar and stinky breath (cue the “Hallelujah” chorus!). Look for products that are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council at vohc.org.

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