I Admit I Don’t Brush My Dog’s Teeth
Yup, you read that right – I. Do. Not. Brush. My. Dog’s. Teeth.
I’ve received a lot of flack for this statement.
I’ve heard things like:
- “You’re lazy”
- “You’re selfish”
- “You obviously don’t care about your dogs”
- “Your dog is going to die” (yes, seriously).
If people really knew me though, and how spoiled and well taken care of my dogs are, I don’t think they would say that. \
But it got me thinking… am I the only one that doesn’t brush my dog’s teeth?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, only 1% of dog owners brush pet’s teeth regularly.
That means there are a whole lot of people out there also not brushing their dog’s teeth.
UPDATED: January 1, 2023
A thorough dental cleaning under anesthesia, and brushing your dog’s teeth, is considered the “gold standard” by veterinarians for maintaining your pup’s oral health.
I am not claiming that there is a direct replacement for that.
However, some people don’t brush their dog’s teeth or choose not to put their dogs under anesthesia for health or personal reasons.
I wanted to share my experience with alternate methods that are better than doing nothing at all.
I’m a passionate dog Mom, not a veterinarian.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links (Amazon Associate or other programs we participate in). As an affiliate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
It’s Not That I Don’t Care About My Dog’s Dental Health
Yeah, I know that a build up of plaque and tartar can lead do gum disease, missing teeth, and illness.
Look, I love my dogs but I know myself good enough to know that brushing their teeth just isn’t going to happen. I’ve tried.
I bought a finger toothbrush before thinking it would be a less threatening way to brush my dog’s teeth.
That lasted about once.
Both dogs absolutely hated it.
I didn’t enjoy it much either and I didn’t have the time or patience to “get them used to it”.
I’ve tried several different ways to brush my dog’s teeth and none were successful.
I’ve bough a small dog toothbrush with liver flavored toothpaste.
There was no way my dog was letting me stick something like that in her mouth, even with a liver “treat” on the end.
I bought sprays and gels with “active enzymes” but the struggle with prying open strong Doxie jaws while trying to shoot the stuff into their mouth always resulted with more goop on me than in them.
Think Something About Mary crossed with The Exorcist. (You know my dramatization isn’t too far off if you have a Dachshund)
I do pay attention to my dog’s teeth though.
I get how important a pet’s dental health is.
But there have been studies on the effectiveness of different methods to clean a dog’s teeth and this one found that natural chews reduced oral bacteria by 60% (compared to brushing, which was only 70% effective).
This is further proof to me that doing something for my dog’s oral health is better than nothing and, in fact, brushing is not the only way to keep your dog’s teeth clean and improve oral health.
Below, I share the two things I do to help keep my dog’s teeth and gums healthy.
Our Home Routine for Cleaner Teeth
After some research and testing, I found a little at-home teeth cleaning routine that works for us.
Step 1: soften the plaque
The first step in the routine is to sprinkle Plaque Off on Summit and Gretel’s food daily.
This softens the plaque on my dog’s teeth so that it scrapes off easier when they chew on things.
While the description of how PlaqueOff, specifically, works is vague on the website, it has to do with enzymes in the kelp breaking down the bacterial biofilm that causes dental plaque and the calculus we know as tartar.
It gets the plaque soft enough that sometimes I can scrape a bit off with my fingernail when we are snuggling on the couch.
While Plaque Off softens the tartar, I find it doesn’t remove it (although I’ve heard some people claim that it did for their dog).
Warning: Kelp contains iodine so, while extra iodine is good for some dogs, check with your vet first if your dog has any health issues that may be negatively affected by supplemental iodine.
Step 2: mechanically remove the plaque
To actually remove the plaque, I need to give my dogs something abrasive to chew on every day.
I tried giving them raw, meaty bones.
I’d heard people rave about them – that chewing on the bones every day keep their dog’s teeth sparkly white.
That didn’t work for us though.
I tried both chicken and turkey necks but Gretel literally tried to gulp them down whole like a snake.
I tried rib bones but Summit and Gretel bit off whole chunks and swallowed them, which made me concerned about a potential intestinal blockage.
I tried raw chicken feet and chicken drumsticks but I felt the calories in each piece was too high for 10-lb dogs.
I tried giving my dogs antlers with not much success. My dogs had zero interest in chewing on plain ol’ antlers.
Plus I had heard stories of dog’s breaking their tooth on an antler or, worse, the antler splintering and a shard piercing their dog’s gums.
I tried softening the antlers to make them more enticing.
How do you soften deer antlers for a dog you ask? It’s easy.
I soaked them in low-sodium chicken broth, or bone broth, for 24-48 hours.
Not only did that make them a bit softer for chewing, it infused them with an extra bit of flavor.
However, my dogs still lost interest in the antlers fast so I moved on to something else.
I went back to giving them a bully stick, or other natural chew, to chew on for 5-10 minutes every day.
I know they like the taste and, as long as they are supervised, I feel they are safe chewing on them.
Occasionally, for an extra treat and health boost, I dip the end of the chew in organic coconut oil.
Coconut oil can help keep a dog’s gums and teeth healthy because it has natural anti-bacterial properties (some DIY dog toothpaste recipes use coconut oil as a base).
Yes, calories are still an issue with natural chews but my dogs don’t eat much of it in the 10 minutes I let them chew on it.
Where I Get Natural Chews for My Dogs
My favorite type of chews for my dogs are natural, single ingredient, and digestible.
These are some form of animal parts ranging from the relatively tame bully stick (made from bull penis) to the more “exotic” fur on cow ears or duck heads.
In addition to the teeth cleaning action, natural chews have other benefits such as adding protein to your dog’s diet, cleaning out the digestive tract (products with the fur still on), and providing minerals and nutrients such as vitamins and glucosamine.
One of my favorite places to get our natural chews is From Real Dog Box.
They deliver an all-natural and locally sourced selection to our doorstep monthly, which includes a variety of chews that range from easy to super chewer (which, let’s get real, is most doxies).
Real Dog Box is great if you are not sure which chews are right for your dog because they will send a different one each month for your dog to try.
If you want to take the overwhelm out of trying to find the healthiest chews to help keep your pup’s teeth clean, check them out.
Disclaimer: I was compensated for sharing Real Dog Box with you, but I only promote products I truly like.
What We Get Done Professionally: Anesthesia-Free Dog Teeth Cleaning
While the system above keeps my dog’s teeth clean enough that the vet hasn’t recommended a professional cleaning, it doesn’t keep one of my dog’s teeth pearly while (genetics plays a big role).
If my dog needed to have serious dental work done, I would pay to have them cleaned under anesthesia.
Anesthesia free dental cleaning is not a substitute for a full dental and X-rays under anesthesia, but can be a good alternative or supplement to an at-home dog teeth cleaning routine.
However, the thought of putting my 12-year old senior dog, Gretel, under anesthesia when the vet hasn’t said it is medically necessary, is a little unnerving.
I had heard about “anesthesia-free” teeth cleaning through a friend.
I researched it and found it did a good job cleaning a dog’s teeth but that it’s not as thorough as a deep cleaning with anesthesia.
Since I was just going for “mostly clean” (because, remember, I’m using this method in the place of brushing, which also only gets a dog’s teeth “mostly clean”), that was ok with me.
I also heard it was cheaper than cleaning under anesthesia – only $165 – BUT it is recommended that it be done twice a year… so it’s not that much cheaper, if at all.
Read: How Much Does It Cost to Get’s Your Dog’s Teeth Cleaned? (read the comments for reports from around the country)
Note: Anesthesia-free teeth cleaning is very controversial. To understand the arguments, and my thoughts on them, read my article Anesthesia-Free Teeth Cleaning is Not Evil.
I thought I would give anesthesia-free teeth cleaning a shot since Gretel had no existing tooth or gum problems.
If you try anesthesia-free teeth cleaning for your dog, it’s very important you use a certified dog dental technician or veterinarian.
All the Best Pet Care in Seattle has a doggy dentist technician, who is overseen by a veterinarian, that visits once a month and performs this anesthesia-free dental cleaning so I made an appointment.
Even though my Dachshund Gretel is generally anxious, the vet said she was relatively calm while cleaning her teeth (I wasn’t allowed in the room with her because he might keep looking at me and not relax).
When she came out of the back room she was all waggy tail and had sparkling white teeth.
I was happy with the results.
Here is the before and after so you can be the judge (pictures unedited except for the watermark).
Note: These pictures are of my first Dahcshund Chester, who also had the cleaning done several times. I wish these pics were better but it’s so hard to hold a camera and take a pic of a wiggly dog by youself.
How Are My Dog’s Teeth Doing?
Gretel, and my younger Dachshund Summit who is also on this cleaning routine, had a checkup of their teeth last year at the vet.
The vet was amazed at how clean Summit’s teeth were and that they looked healthy.
Gretel’s teeth have always been on the dirty side.
Poor genetics can make some dog’s teeth accumulate plaque despite efforts to keep their teeth clean and I think this is her issue.
Currently, my vet said our routine will be good enough for Gretel, but there is a chance she will need professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia later.
I’m positive that our home routine, and occasional anesthesia-free cleaning, is better than doing nothing.
In fact, I might argue that it’s just as – or almost as good as – brushing your dog’s teeth.
While brushing is the most recommended way to keep your dog’s teeth clean, it’s not the only way to do it.
The truth is, brushing is not perfect either.
The effectiveness depends on things like:
- How often you do it
- Whether you are able to reach both sides of your dog’s teeth, all of the way in the back
- What type of food your dog eats
I’ve received a lot of flack over the years for this article.
Some people have called me irresponsible.
I’ve been told that my brushless way of keeping my dog’s teeth clean doesn’t get under the gumline.
Guess what? Neither does brushing!
People have also pointed out that opting for anesthesia-free dental cleaning does not include X-rays, which is the only way to get the full picture of tooth and gum health.
I do understand this and it’s true.
However, I’m also confident that my tooth care routine is effective and, because I know the signs and I am hypervigilant, I have a really good chance of catching any tooth issues early.
And, as I said, personally, I am ok putting my dogs under anesthesia to get X-rays if our vet recommended it.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.