Alternatives to brushing a dog’s teeth

Note: I received store credit and free products from 1-800PetMeds in exchange for writing about the company. 1-800PetMeds is not responsible for the content of this post, which includes Amazon affiliate links.

Do you brush your dog’s teeth? Like, ever?

If you brush your dog’s teeth even once a month, then you’re doing better than I am with my dog Ace.

I’m just not motivated to brush his teeth. I’ve done so probably five times in seven years.

Ace’s vet has always said my dog’s teeth look relatively clean, especially considering he will be 8 years old in March. His chompers are white, but he’s beginning to have some visible tarter buildup on his canines and molars.

I know the majority of pet owners are like me. We love our pets and want them to be healthy, but frankly we’re just not going to brush their teeth. Like, at all.

“We love our pets and want them to be healthy, but frankly we’re just not going to brush their teeth. “

So instead of lecturing you on something I don’t do, I thought I’d suggest a few alternatives to tooth brushing. These do not necessarily replace the benefits of daily brushing, but they are better than nothing.

Alternatives to brushing your dog’s teeth

1. Provide your dog with something to chew on.

This is my number one suggestion, although you do have to be somewhat careful about what you give your dog to chew. Every dog has a different chewing style, and it’s impossible for me to make recommendations appropriate for all dogs.

One of the safest options is a rubber Kong-type toy (aff link). I like to recommend these if you need something to occupy your dog when he’s left home alone.

For my own dog, Nylabones are another great option, but you have to be careful with any chew toy. Nylabones are very dense and could potentially crack a dog’s teeth, but they seem to work for Ace. He loves them!

Ace also gets raw chicken and turkey bones in his diet, which he doesn’t exactly chew on but he at least crunches them up. (Don’t give your dog cooked bones.)

“Every dog has a different chewing style …”

Some dog owners choose to give their dogs raw pork and beef bones for chewing. You do have to be somewhat careful about feeding larger bones, because you don’t want the dog to crack his teeth or attempt to swallow large, non-edible pieces.

Just know your dog, consult with a vet if you are not sure and make sure to supervise.

2. Dental wipes for dogs and cats.

1-800PetMeds sent me a product called Super Dental Wipes for dogs and cats.

Each wipe is mint flavored and helps clean your pet’s teeth in order to help prevent plaque and tarter buildup, according to 1-800PetMeds. The active ingredient chlorhexidine is what kills the bacteria

These are great for pet owners like me who would like to do something to clean the pet’s teeth but are not motivated enough to actually brush the teeth. The wipes are easy to use because you just wipe the teeth and gums vs. brushing them with a brush and toothpaste.

Ace is pretty tolerant and puts up with having his teeth wiped. They’ve been a nice option for us so far.

3. Dental care solution to add to a dog’s water.

Be Fresh for dogs and cats1-800PetMeds sent a product called Be Fresh Dental Care Solution.

This is a water solution you can add to your pet’s drinking water to help maintain healthy teeth and gums, according to 1-800PetMeds. It can be used for dogs and cats, and the chloride dioxide is what kills the bacteria.

I’ve been adding about 1 teaspoon of the solution to each of my dog and cats’ water bowls each morning, although the directions say you can add a teaspoon to every 8 ounces of water. Like the bottle says, my animals don’t seem to notice a difference in taste.

I’m a little hesitant about adding extra chemicals to their water, so this is a product I don’t plan to use long term. As with all products, each pet owner has to weigh the pros and cons and make the best decision for his or her pets.

4. A finger toothbrush for dogs and cats.

1-800PetMeds sent me a finger toothbrush, which is a small brush that fits on the end of your finger. It can be used to gently brush debris from your dog’s teeth and doesn’t necessarily have to be used with toothpaste.

If you’re trying to get your dog used to having his teeth brushed, most trainers will recommend you start out by touching his teeth with your fingers. A finger toothbrush could be used once your dog is already used to having his teeth touched. Most dogs will tolerate a finger toothbrush better than they will an actual toothbrush.

OK, now be honest, do you brush your dog’s teeth?

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  1. Sarah & Lola on February 4, 2014

    I would if I could….well, with Lola anyways. She sees the finger brush or the regular (dog) toothbrush come out and she KNOWS. She is a heavy chewer though, so he’s relying on that. I am also hesitant to use the water additives. Rio I can, but he just barely got his adult dog teeth – but time to start!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 4, 2014

      Ace runs off when he sees me coming with the nail clippers! 🙂 He hasn’t quite learned to avoid the toothbrush, which goes to show how often I brush his teeth.

      • DogTrainingSecrets on February 5, 2014

        I have the same thing with the clippers. He knows where i keep them and every time i reach to the cupboard he flees 🙂 Even if i get a pen or something else.
        About brushing, once i saw a commercial about dog’s teeth brushing stick and i wanted to try them out. First they were like magic trick. Teeth smelled freshly and they also were relatively white until they got infected 🙁 I went to my vet and the doctor wanted to kill me for giving that sh*t to my dog:D
        Then doc recommended to use wooden sticks instead which are !free! so i did it and it works great. Here is a little tip from me: Use natural products/items 😀

  2. Rebekah on February 5, 2014

    I have never brushed my dogs’ teeth. Their raw diet keeps them in good shape. I did receive a toothbrush and toothpaste designed for dogs, and am considering trying it out.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 5, 2014

      If you try it out, you’ll have to let me know how it goes!

  3. Kimberley Paderson on February 5, 2014

    My dog HATES when I brush her teeth. I would actually do it more of I could. I have a little luck with her top teeth, but she barely lets met get to her bottom teeth. I’ve tried the finger brush & a regular toothbrush. I am going to look into using the dental wipes because maybe she will be more tolerant of them. I also recently bought tarter control treats & try to give her one a day. Nail clipping is a also an issue with us. I had to give up on doing it myself. She could be dead asleep on the couch and the second she senses those clippers forget it! She now goes to PetSmart for that! 🙂

  4. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 5, 2014

    Yes, you might want to try the dental wipes. They are pretty easy. I never thought I would be one of those people who couldn’t trim her own dog’s nails, but I’m starting to dread clipping Ace’s nails. I’m probably going to ask the vet to do it next time we’re there.

  5. H&I on February 5, 2014

    I brush my dog’s teeth every night before bedtime after I brush my own. He’s not much of a chewer. If he was maybe I would reduce the brushing to every other day. He had quite a lot of tartar and red gums when we adopted him. After a year or so of diligent brushing with enzymatic toothpaste his teeth looked good and his gums get slightly red only occasionally. He doesn’t love getting his teeth brushed, but given the correlation between dental health and general health I feel it has to be done, even if it means working up a sweat to get it done. Another reason I do it is to avoid having him undergo general anesthesia for a cleaning at the vet. And maybe also it has just a teeny bit to do with my obsession with my own dental health. LOL.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 6, 2014

      Good for you! This will pay off in the long run. You’re definitely doing a better job than I am with my pets’ teeth.

  6. Robin on February 5, 2014

    Ha! I brush Pete and Molly’s teeth almost every night! They sit and wait for me to do it. With Pete I use the finger brush and Molly I use a doggy toothbrush.

  7. AuntSue on February 5, 2014

    Nope – not gonna happen. But as a bedtime snack my dogs get either a Dentastix or a Greenie. They never let me forget it either. I adopted a 7 year old rat terrier in May. Her breath was awful and she had a lot of tarter. I switched her food from Beneful (yuck) to Nutro Lamb and Brown Rice and started the bedtime Dentastix. When I took her to the Vet, he said the tarter was falling off in chunks. She also chews on an old Nylabone or a piece of deer antler sometimes. She is not a big chewer. Her breath is so much better.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 6, 2014

      Good to know that in some cases diet can help remove the tarter. I’ve fed my cats a cheap food most of their lives and I’m sure that’s why one of them has some unhealthy teeth now that he’s 11.

  8. Carl Hutchins on February 6, 2014

    Coco and I express our thanks for this very informative piece. I have a doggie brush and paste. It tastes yuk. No wonder past fellows didn’t like it.

    Our vets are good folks. But, push teeth cleaning. I know it is an income stream for them as well as the dentists that push t for humans. For canines, I have two issues. Anesthesia to get ones teeth cleaned. Over the top to me, it is asignificant risk. And, removal of nature’s top coat. Once scraped, it’s gone and the teeth are more and more susceptible to plaque. So, for canines. kibble, not that canned goop. And, a good bone to gnaw on. I’ve shed away from cooked chicken bones. But, recently, coco went dumpster diving and got homself a few. Wow, but ok. Any others will be disposed of diferently. A coule of ribs from the Xmas prime rib dinner were hits with him.
    And porck chops, if the rib is intact and not sawn. Same for a Tbone steak. At one time, i could get a “soup bone”, an entire foreleg from a calf. OK for an outside chew. Macho the big pit bull did love ’em. The smaller guys did, but were kinda overwhelmed. I’ve not tried for Coco. Inbetween the 15 pound poodle and the sixty pound Macho with the super powerful jaws. 29 pound Coco’s are
    comeansurate it seems. He can clean a bone perfectly.
    He doesn’t go for chew toys, he wants the real thing. Not a foofoo dog, a real dog. Neat!!

    Coco sends his regards to Ace.


    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 6, 2014

      Yeah, I hear you on the professional dental cleanings. One of my cats has some painful looking teeth and we are probably going to do the professional cleaning. Not cheap, and the vets always suggest the procedure casually as though $400 (minimum) is no big deal. I expect it will cost $800 when you add in xrays, extractions, pain meds, etc.

  9. Paul W on February 6, 2014

    We don’t brush, but we do have the vet clean their teeth once a year. Our smaller dogs get some build up, but our Dingo has white perfect teeth. The vet said it can be genetics as well as chewing and other factors that can cause build up. I never thought genetics would have a role in clean teeth.

  10. Dawn on February 6, 2014

    Sephi always had good teeth and so does Maya. So I never bothered to brush my dogs’ teeth until I got Pierson. Even though he likes to chew on stuff too, there is just something about him (genetics, the way his mouth is shaped, or something) that makes his teeth collect plaque. So yes, I do brush his teeth regularly. I use Tropiclean, which says you don’t have to brush. But I brush anyway.

  11. Ruckus the Eskie on February 6, 2014

    These are great alternatives! I brush daily or every other day for the most part but I can see that it will be difficult to do so in other pups. You should link your posts to Thoughtless Thursdays! They are quite informative and useful. I even appreciate non relevant random posts too! 😉

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 6, 2014

      OK I’ll have to join in one of these Thursdays 🙂

  12. Ashlee on February 6, 2014

    I brush my dog’s teeth, maybe once a week. Sometimes more if I remember. She’s a pretty heavy chewer – we give her antlers and a variety of toys to chew on and she was still getting some buildup after the vet cleaned her teeth when we first adopted her. I would like to avoid another teeth cleaning due to the cost and the fact that I don’t want her to go under anesthesia unless she is actually having surgery.

    So, I decided to give brushing a try. It took me a while – maybe a few weeks – to build up to getting her to sit long enough to get her whole mouth done. The first day was just her getting to see everything and getting to lick some toothpaste. 🙂 I don’t know that she actually loves me sticking my fingers and tooth brush in her mouth, but she tolerates it. Probably because I let her lick the toothbrush at the end. 🙂

    Also, I use a soft people toothbrush. I tried using a dog brush, but I feel like the people one does a better job, and it does it faster.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 6, 2014

      I like what you are doing – good advice for the rest of us.