Dog Toothbrushing Alternatives

Did you know that as many as 4 out of 5 dogs have significant oral health problems by the time they’re 3 years old? That means more than just bad breath. Neglected oral health can lead to not only mouth problems like abscesses and loose teeth but overall health problems including heart failure!

How dental health affects your dog’s overall health

Just like humans, dogs have a lot of bacteria in their mouths. Without proper dental care, that bacteria can build up under the gumline. Eventually, the bacteria can even enter the bloodstream and reach your dog’s kidneys, liver, and heart and cause life-threatening health problems.

Brushing your dog’s teeth may seem silly, but wouldn’t you feel awful if your dog died young from heart problems when simple dental care would have prevented that?

Tooth brushing is best

Dog Having Teeth brushed

Just like you brush your teeth every day, your dog would benefit from daily toothbrushing. The toothbrush helps stimulate your dog’s gums, while enzymes in dog-specific toothpaste (human toothpaste is toxic for dogs) help destroy harmful bacteria in his mouth.

If you’ve never brushed your dog’s teeth before, it isn’t too late to start. You’ll want to introduce toothbrushing to your dog slowly, so he has a chance to get used to it without being upset by a toothbrush being suddenly thrust in his mouth.

Start by just putting some toothpaste on your finger and letting your dog lick it so he can discover how tasty it is. Dog toothpaste comes in flavors like poultry, beef, and peanut butter, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to find a flavor your dog loves.

Next, use your finger to rub some toothpaste on your dog’s teeth. You’ll want to gently lift your dog’s upper lip so that you can reach the back teeth. Do this several times so your dog can get used to the sensation before you add a toothbrush.

Once your dog gets used to you lifting his upper lip and spreading the toothpaste on his teeth, you can switch to a soft toothbrush made for dogs or a finger toothbrush.

Always be sure to give your dog lots of love and praise after brushing his teeth. At first, you can reward him with a treat, but the enzymes in the toothpaste need time to work before you should give your dog treats, so try to switch to praise or playing after the first few times.

The best thing to do is to incorporate toothbrushing into your daily routine. Maybe every evening you sit down on your sofa and snuggle with your dog while you catch up on your favorite shows. Keep the toothbrush and toothpaste next to the sofa and brush his teeth while you’re snuggling, so it becomes a routine.

What if my dog hates toothbrushing?

Some dogs will never tolerate having a finger or toothbrush in their mouth, and that’s understandable. Luckily, there are a ton of products on the market to help maintain your dog’s oral health. You don’t have to pick just one; actually, the more of these things you can do for your dog, the better off he’ll be!

Let’s discuss the best and worst options to help care for your dog’s teeth and gums if they hate toothbrushing.

Dental wipes

Dental Wipe Example

If your dog tolerates you putting your finger in his mouth but won’t let you upgrade to a toothbrush, dental wipes may be a good option. A dental wipe will help you stimulate your dog’s gums better than you could with just your finger and is much less messy than putting toothpaste on your finger and rubbing it around your dog’s mouth.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Dental sprays

Dog Dental Spray Example

If you can’t get your fingers into your dog’s mouth at all, dental sprays are an option you may consider. Dental sprays not only give your dog great breath, but they contain enzymes to help battle plaque, tartar, and gingivitis. Sprays won’t stimulate your dog’s gums, but at least they’ll help reduce plaque and get rid of puppy breath.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Chew toys

Dog Tooth Brushing Toy

There are a ton of toys on the market that encourage your dog to chew. Chewing helps remove plaque and tartar as well as stimulating your dog’s gums. Look for soft rubber toys with interesting textures that can help scrub in between your dog’s teeth. If your dog isn’t a natural chewer, you can spread peanut butter or coconut oil on the toy to encourage them to chew.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

Dental treats

Greenies Dental Treats

What better way to clean your dog’s teeth than to give them a treat that helps clean their teeth as they chew it? There are plenty of dental treats to choose from, but Greenies have been the number one choice for many years, especially since they changed their formulation to prevent intestinal blockages that plagued the brand in their early years. Don’t forget to feed your dog a little bit less to account for the calories in dental treats, so he doesn’t gain weight.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Dog chews

Dog Chew Bully Stick

There is a wide variety of natural dog chews on the market today, and some are better than others. Look for natural products that have a little bit of give to them like bully sticks or gullet sticks.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Raw bones

Pile Of Raw Dog Bones

You’ve probably always heard that you shouldn’t give dogs cooked bones, and that’s true because they can splinter and injure your dog. Raw, meaty bones, on the other hand, are a great option to help clean your dog’s teeth naturally. Raw bones are soft enough not to splinter but tough enough to give your dog’s teeth and jaws a workout.

It’s important to note that raw bones may contain bacteria like salmonella. Dogs have different digestive systems and rarely fall ill from bacteria that may be found on raw bones. Humans, on the other hand, can become very ill, so it’s important to wash your hands and any surfaces a raw bone touches to prevent yourself or a family member from getting sick.

Be sure to choose bones that are an appropriate size for your dog. A femur will be too big for a small dog to chew one, while a large dog may choke on something as small as a chicken wing. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

Things to avoid

There are things on the market that are sold as ways to encourage chewing and claim to clean your dog’s teeth, but they are often more dangerous than they’re worth. Here are some examples of things you should avoid giving your dog.

Hard plastic bones

The hard plastic bones made famous by Nylabone are infamous for cracking dogs’ teeth. Look for something with more give, like a hard rubber Kong Extreme.

Cow hooves

They were quite popular for a while, but cow hooves can cause several different problems. For starters, they’re just the perfect shape to get stuck on the roof of your dog’s mouth or in their throat if they get overly enthusiastic. They can become quite jagged and harm your dog if they swallow big pieces.

Try bully sticks in different shapes like springs and rings for dogs who need more of a challenge than a straight bully stick may provide.


Antlers have become popular recently as a long-lasting chew for dogs, but they can chip teeth due to their hardness. If your dog just loves his antlers, go for split antlers rather than whole ones since the inside of the antler offers more give than the outside.

Dog bones

They’ve been the staple to keep dogs busy chewing for many years, but dog bones can not only crack teeth, but they can also splinter. If you aren’t paying attention, swallowed splinters can cause a lot of damage as they travel through your dog’s digestive tract. Try switching to raw soup bones instead.

A final note

It’s important to note that no matter how many dental health methods you employ, your dog will still need the occasional cleaning done by your vet, just as you need professional cleaning from your dentist. These cleanings involve putting your dog under anesthesia so the vet can scrape the plaque and tartar off your dog’s teeth, including under the gums.

Anesthesia-free dental cleanings have become all the rage lately since anesthesia does carry some risks. The problem with anesthesia-free dental cleanings, however, is that they only scrape the visible plaque and tartar off the surfaces of the teeth that can be seen. Since they don’t go under the gum line, bacteria, plaque, and tartar are still left behind that can cause a world of problems despite the fact that your dog’s teeth look nice.

In the end, it’s up to you to help keep your dog’s teeth healthy and prevent potentially-fatal health problems that can be caused by a lack of proper oral hygiene. Your dog depends on you to keep him healthy, and that includes his teeth.  

3 thoughts on “Dog Toothbrushing Alternatives”

  1. Excellent. Just just I wanted, a straight answer to my question which was: “I’m unable to get my older dog to let me brush his teeth, he get really stressed out. There’s a ton of stuff available and I give denta bones, what’s the options and what’s the best?” You covered it man. Saved me time which I appreciate very much.

  2. I use plaque off for my dogs. It neutralises saliva therefore prevents large plaque building up. I have west highland terriers who can stain their paws with licking and it definitely neutralises saliva as there is no staining. They are not keen on brushing but I do use a finger brush and beaphar toothpaste once a week. I don’t think I would bother with the expense of root canal, it never worked for me. My westies are on a raw food diet, have natural treats and at 5 years old do have sole decay. I had my first dental treatment at 26 so they are not doing too bad.


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