How to Clean Your Pet's Teeth at Home

As we discussed in previous articles, at home dental care is a huge part of making sure your pet is healthy. There are lots of products out there that claim to help with your pet's teeth but which one is the best? Thankfully, amidst all the claims, there is a source that will tell you which products are actually proven to work. The Veterinary Oral Health Council or VOHC, has taken a look at all of the products out there and determined which ones actually work and put them altogether on a list to make your choices easier. In this article, we will look at a few good choices and a couple not so great choices for keeping your pet's teeth healthy and happy.


The best thing and most optimal care for your pet's teeth is brushing. This has been the theme throughout all of these articles and is what the VOHC recommends as the most effective care. Just like for us, brushing removes plaque and wipes away the bacteria that cause issues. By brushing daily, you are eliminating the main source of dental disease. Just like us, use small circles on the outer surfaces of the teeth using gentle pressure. Focus on all aspects of the teeth and get as far back onto the molars as your pet will let you. While we use toothpaste with fluoride, this substance is harmful when swallowed. Just like children, our pets don't know they can't swallow the toothpaste so never use "human" tooth paste on your pet. Always use pet-safe toothpaste to avoid this problem. VOHC recommends Essential healthymouth gel and brush, Petsmile by Supersmile and CET toothpaste to name a few as great toothpaste recommendations. The toothbrush can be a human toothbrush if you prefer or a finger toothbrush available at pet stores. An ADA-compliant soft bristle brush that you can get at any store is a good choice for a regular toothbrush. For cats, you can also use a cotton ball to apply the toothpaste and brush which is sometimes easier for their small mouths. Brushing every day is the best way to prevent dental problems in your pet.

Dental Diets

Some pets don't always behave for us for brushing. They may not hold still, open their mouth, or might even become aggressive when you try. Thankfully, there are alternatives if brushing is not an option for your pet. Dental diets can be a good choice as a daily alternative to brushing. Pets like the taste and they can be quite effective. Not all dental diets, however, are created equal. It is important to discuss with your veterinarian which diet may be the best option for your pet and your lifestyle. You must still feed your pet to their ideal weight and make sure they are getting proper nutrition. It is important to make sure the diet is a complete diet or maintenance diet for your pet. If they are a puppy, discuss with your veterinarian options for younger animals as most dental diets are designed for adults. VOHC recommends a few diets when it comes to caring for your pet's mouth. Hill's Science Diet t/d is a prescription diet that is only available through your veterinarian. This diet has large pieces that require your pet to chew and act as a "toothbrush" by scraping the teeth as they chew to break up plaque and tartar that is present. It comes in small bites, large bites and feline varieties to best suit your pet.


Some pets may be picky about the type of food they eat or a dental diet may not fit into your budget or meet your pet's dietary needs, that's ok there are other options! There are MANY dental treats that are out there that can be supplemented into your pet's diet to help take care of their teeth. While these are not as effective as brushing, they will certainly help. These treats should be given daily to be the most effective. Some treats encourage chewing to help scrap off tartar and plaque while others have an enzyme added to naturally break down plaque and the chewing action takes care of tartar. Treats also contain calories, so if you are watching your pet's weight it is important to talk to your veterinarian about how to change their diet to make sure they are not getting too many calories when you add in treats. The VOHC has lots of treats that they recommend but there are even more that are out there. It is important when you look at any "dental treat" to look for the VOHC approval seal which should be somewhere on the front of the package. If you don't see the seal, don't buy it! It means the VOHC has determined that this product may not work as well as it claims. A few examples of treats that we recommend would be Tartar Shield Soft Rawhides which come in small, medium, large and extra-large, Greenies for dogs and cats, Checkups, CET chews and Milk-Bone Brushing Treats.

Water Additives and Wipes

There are other products as well that can be added into water as well as wipes that can be used on the teeth. Water additives often have an enzyme in them to break down plaque on the teeth. These products such as Essential Healthymouth anti-plaque water additive, will typically only do plaque so a product like a treat or food would still be recommended to help with tartar. Dental wipes often contain the same enzyme and some have enough abrasive action to help with tartar as well. Brushing is still the most effective thing you can do.

What's not ok for my pet?

We've talked about some great options to help the mouth but let's talk about some options that seem like a great idea but aren't always great for reasons we don't think about it. One of the biggest products we run into that cause more harm than good are bones. Bones are extremely hard and while they do encourage chewing and have an abrasive action, they put your pet at risk for problems such as broken teeth and mouth injuries. These complications can result in mouth pain, a decrease in eating due to pain and sometimes will result in broken teeth that need to be extracted. Bones can splinter, when they are chewed on, causing choking, mouth bleeding or infections due to wounds. There are also gastro-intestinal issues that can be caused by bones. They can also cause intestinal blockage by getting stuck. This can require surgery to remove the bone fragments, constipation, intestinal bleeding and other complications. There are more risks than benefits to using bones and this includes Nylabones and other extremely hard toys. If your pet is heavy chewer, you may want to consider some alternatives that will satiate their need to chew while not causing damage. Kong toys, puzzle toys, rubber balls and VOHC approved rawhides are some better options.

At home care when it comes to your pet's mouth is possible with the right tools. Always stick to VOHC approved products to make sure you are keeping their mouth healthy while keeping them safe at the same time. To learn more about the VOHC and to find a complete list of products they recommend, please visit

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