The most common health condition in dogs and cats is periodontal disease. In fact, by the age of 3, the majority of dogs and cats develop periodontal disease. It can be tricky to spot symptoms of the disease, and the condition can have a range of ill effects on your pet’s long term health and well-being. Fortunately, it is completely preventable! In this article, you’ll learn the basics of periodontal disease, how it affects your pet’s health, symptoms to look out for, and easy steps you can take right now to treat and prevent periodontal disease in your dog or cat!


The Basics


As pets eat, plaque accumulates on the surface of the teeth. If plaque is not soon removed, minerals in the pet’s saliva harden the plaque into tartar (or “calculus”). The problems begin when the tartar begins to spread beneath the gum line, as it will inevitably do if left untreated. This causes a fertile breeding ground for bacteria under the gum line, and the bacteria will start to secrete toxins in the nearby tissue and the pet’s bloodstream.


How it affects your pet


The toxins from the sub-gingival bacteria begin to erode the supporting tissue around the dog or cat’s tooth. The pet’s immune system will sense that there is a foreign invader, and it will send white blood cells to battle the invader. However, this actually harms the pet even more, as chemicals released by the white blood cells do further damage to the surrounding tissue. The result is loss of bone and gum tissue, which is very uncomfortable for your pet, and ultimately leads to tooth loss. It can even cause jaw fractures.

Troublingly, the toxins from the bacteria enter into the pet’s bloodstream. Once there, they can travel to your pet’s major organs – such as their heart, kidney or liver. Over time, the toxins can do serious damage to these organs, and will increase the probability that the pet develops heart, kidney or liver disease. These are life-threatening conditions that require advanced veterinary care.


Symptoms to watch for


  • Bad breath (or “halitosis”) is usually the most obvious symptom of periodontal disease. Many pet owners think halitosis is normal, but it is usually caused by an underlying medical condition.
  • Inflamed, swollen or bleeding gums is a common symptom of periodontal disease, but is usually hard for pet owners to spot. You may notice blood on chew toys or in food/water bowls.
  • Asymmetric chewing (chewing on one side of the mouth) often occurs as your pet attempts to relieve how uncomfortable it is to chew with areas of the mouth that are most affected.
  • Pawing at the face is a common symptom of oral pain, which is often caused by periodontal disease.
  • Avoidance of hard food/toys will often occur as the pet finds chewing on hard things painful due to erosion of tooth support structures.


Treatment & Prevention


The first step to take is to schedule a dental assessment for your dog or cat. Pets should have a dental assessment at least once a year. After this examination, we will be able to tell you if your pet should undergo a cleaning and polishing procedure, or if home care is enough for the present time.


Cleaning & Polishing

The cleaning and polishing procedure not only removes the visible plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth, it more importantly allows us to clean beneath the gum line. This is important because the tartar beneath the gum line is what causes the growth of unhealthy bacteria, which erodes your pet’s oral structures and spreads toxins to major body organs. Periodontal disease is much easier to reverse if it’s in its earlier stages, but either way, pets usually see immense and immediate benefit from a professional cleaning and polishing. It frees them from the silent pain of periodontal disease, and in many cases adds years onto their lives!


Home Care

Practicing good oral hygiene for your pet at home can make an incredible difference in their health and well-being. It is very important to brush your pet’s teeth. The best practice is once a day, but just make sure you stick to a routine you can follow. Make sure to only use toothpaste that is made specifically for your dog or cat, because human toothpaste can be toxic to pets. If you haven’t ever brushed your pet’s teeth before, you’ll want to first condition them to allow you to work with their mouth. Start by coating your finger with your pet’s favorite treat, allowing them to lick it, and then gently rub it on the outside of their teeth. After a couple days, progress to a pet-specific toothbrush with the same treat on it, and gently rub their teeth more. Then, your pet should allow you to begin brushing – remember, always praise your pet for this! Once ready, brush the outside of their teeth at a 45-degree angle to the gum line, moving back and forth a couple times on each tooth.

Some pets can also benefit from the use of dental chews and treats. Please consult with us to discover which ones are appropriate for your pet’s specific situation.