Flip the lip Part 2: Dental care at home

I will tell you, and I will stand by it until the day I die, that dental cleanings are an extremely important and helpful measure in keeping your pet healthy. My teeth are white. My gums aren’t red. My teeth aren’t falling out of my head. And I still get cleanings twice a year. Visible disease is not the only sign your mouth needs care.

Every once in a while, someone will come in a few months after a cleaning and point out the fact that there is, again, some visible plaque. “How come?” they ask. “Why aren’t the teeth still pearly white?”

I reply, “Are you brushing them?” to which they usually reply “no.” I can’t stand morning breath, and that’s only 8 hours or so after the last brushing. If I went 8 weeks or more? Eeew.

When pets come to me for a cleaning, they are always sent home with some sort of home dental care product. I do this because it really, truly helps. It helps make the yearly cleanings a quick 30 minute procedure instead of a painful, drawn out affair with extractions and drills. No one likes that.

So to summarize: These are products I love as a complement to cleaning, not as a replacement. And with that:


1. Drinking water additive. This product by Glen Haven is as easy as can be- just add it to your pet’s drinking water and voila! This is the one I recommend to people who swear they can’t get near their pet’s mouth. (Side note: I’ve seen other brands that contain xylitol, so check the label.)

2. Enzymatic chews. These are rawhide chews that are coated with an enzyme that helps break down tartar. I’ve had very positive feedback from clients who have seen the difference firsthand. Brody thinks they are the greatest thing on Earth. Obviously not a good choice for people whose pets can’t eat rawhide, but I’ve learned they recently introduced a vegetarian version as well. Virbac also makes similar chews for cats.

3. Toothbrushing. This is really the gold standard in at-home dental care. We all know this, right? Raise your hand if you do it every day. Then give yourself a pat on the back. You are doing a tremendous job.

I know that realistically the vast majority of owners just don’t do this, which is why I included options 1, 2, and 4. That doesn’t mean we can’t all aspire to do this, though, right? Go buy a brush. ๐Ÿ™‚

4. Greenies.ย  I don’t know what it is about these weird little green toothbrush things, but dogs just love ’em. They work by mechanical abrasion- ie, your pet needs to chew them and not gulp them in order to get the benefits- but they are another great treat choice for many pets. There are cat greenies as well.

Every year there are new and fantastic products out there for home use, so if you have a favorite I didn’t mention, I’d love to hear it. I know someone will probably bring up the raw bones. I’m still researching and withholding an opinion either for or against, but as always feel free to comment with your thoughts!

Filed: Cats, Daily Life, Dogs, Health
  • Pikachu

    I do use # 1,2 & 3 . #3 is the hard one but I try as much as they will let me ๐Ÿ™‚
    Stanley is the gobbler in the family, sometimes I wonder if he even tatses his food LOL . He does gets a nylabone once in a while as well as the chews , at least he doesnt eat the nylabone so much and he does get more knawing action. Max & Charlie willl take the time to savor their chews so that works best for them.:-) I also use the X shaped Dentasticks. thanks so much for the great advice ๐Ÿ™‚

    • The gobblers are always the challenge! lol

  • Can you do a “flip the lip” post with cats? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It’s definitely something I should! I have to get some good cat mouth pics at work. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Sophie

    I have the water additive for my cats but I am not sure what else I can do except for the toothbrushing, which seems nearly impossible to do with them ๐Ÿ™
    Is there any tips for kitty dental care that work for very busy people?
    Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Have you tried the CET chews or the Greenies for cats?

      • Sophie

        Ive tried the CET chews but Digit (the cat with the dental problems who really need them) hates them, lol. I havent tried the greenies yet. Thanks a lot for the advice ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jeanne

    my cats like to drink out of the dog’s water bowl. will this additive for dogs hurt them?

    • It’s not recommended for cats, though I don’t know how much they would need to drink for it to be a problem. I should call the company and ask.

  • Jamie

    Very disappointed in the products you chose to feature. There are many other products that work great without using low quality ingredients that can cause harm to our pets.

    • Hi Jamie,
      If you’ve read the blog for a while you know I am a proponent of high quality foods! I don’t feel these products in moderation are a bad thing, but as I said in the post I would love to hear the products you use and love too! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Tabitha

    What is the best way to introduce teeth brushing to cats (not kittens). I have a 4 year old cat who had build up on his back teeth. I would love to brush his teeth but need helpful hints on how to introduce this to him without it freaking him out.

    • The key is slow, slow, slow! Start with the cat getting used to being held and just having the mouth touched. Make sure to combine that with a yummy treat or some good belly rubs. Once that’s set, I’d start slowly introducing the brush a small bit at a time, just to get them used to having it in the mouth. Cats can be finicky creatures for sure- the key is patience and stopping before they get agitated.

      If anyone has other tips that worked well for them, feel free to share!

  • i’m going to have to try the water additive- and thanks for the tip about the xylitol additive. i will keep an eye out for that.
    ever since Fanny got her teeth cleaned last September, (and lost 2 more teeth and had to get a polyp removed) i’ve been brushing her teeth every night and she loves it! of course, she wants to eat the toothbrush but so far, we still have the brush intact (this is her 3rd toothbrush). ๐Ÿ™‚
    i also got a tip from my vet about using witch hazel pads to just wipe the teeth and gums of her mouth to freshen it up a bit too. not her favorite thing but she tolerates it bc she’ll get a treat afterwards.

    • I’ve heard that- I think a couple companies make flavored wipes too that might be more acceptable.

  • I brush two of my labs teeth every day but the third boy is a nightmare. I swear he thinks its a punishment. The other two head for the bathroom every morning when I go brush my teeth and they wait for their turn. The “other” one heads under the bed and will not come out.. So I try to catch him at odd times during the day but I admit to giving up many a time on him.

    My favorite brushes are just plain ole baby tooth brushes. I have tried all the fancy ones ( three sided ) but the baby ones work just fine for them. Although everyone always asks about the 3 baby toothbrushes in the bathroom On occassion when I haven’t been quite awake I have even used their tooth paste ( the liver is nasty ) so I recommend the mint flavor for dogs.. they like it and if you happen to get it by accident it’s not too bad. hehe

    • Oh….man that made my stomach roll a little. I can’t even smell the stuff! LOL

  • Tamara

    Just bought a Virbac toothbrush for cats but havn’t tried it yet! So far, the kitties will only eat the toothpaste (it is enzymatic). Does that help at all?

    • Any bit is better than nothing- though the mechanical action of the brushing is by far the most helpful part. That being said you are doing a really good job of acclimating them to the toothpaste, so good work!

  • I try to brush Pru’s teeth once a day (it winds up being more like every other). But I get her tons of the Zuke’s Z-Ridge dental chews to make up for my sometimes lax dental care. She likes the “original” flavor, but will sometimes go for the cranberry.

    I’m definitely going to look into the water additive as well. Do you know of any brand that is for dogs as well as cats? Even though my cats have their own water bowl, they still like to drink out of Pru’s.

    • I’ll do some looking around Ashley ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Something I should have done seeing as a person up thread said something along the same line. My bad ๐Ÿ™‚

  • We use a fingertip brush and doggy toothpaste, but not as often as we should… That water additive looks interesting!

    • Let me know if you try it! I’d love to hear more feedback. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Sara

    We’ve just gotten a quote back from our vet for a teeth cleaning for our cat. She said that it didn’t appear as if any extractions were needed, but that she definitely needed a solid cleaning. When she showed me, I felt so badly that I’d let it get that bad, the poor thing.

    My question is, once a cat’s mouth is plaque-infested, will daily toothbrushing help? (Barring any infections, of course.) I simply can’t afford the cleaning for a few months, but want to do my best to make sure it doesn’t get any worse (or in a happy sunshine and unicorns world, help it get better).

  • Roberta

    I have a new puppy & her name is Kai, she is Springer/lab & i use the rubber finger brushes & she lets me. It won’t be hard to do it when she gets older. I also have an older Springer/lab & she lets me brush her teeth to. Iam a dog groomer & I see all sorts of dogs with bath teeth & no teeth cuz they never brush. Remember to brush!! Roberta