Periodontal Disease in Dogs: A Simplified Guide
You might think your dog's mouth doesn't need to be cleaned. After all, our furry friends have survived in the wild for generations without access to toothpaste. However, unclean doggy mouths can be susceptible to oral health problems. In fact, dogs are likely to show early evidence of periodontal disease by the time they are three years old, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Learn what causes this disease, how to spot it, and how you can help keep your pup's gums clean and healthy.
What Is Periodontal Disease in Dogs?
Also known as gum disease, periodontal disease is a bacterial infection that damages the tissue surrounding your dog's teeth. It can affect dogs of all breeds and sizes, but small dog breeds and breeds that are brachycephalic (meaning they have short snouts) are especially susceptible. Periodontal disease is treatable in its early stages but can lead to serious issues if unchecked, such as eroded gums or loss of teeth. This can become painful over time, which is why it's so important to make preventive dog dental care part of your pooch's routine.
Stages of Periodontal Disease
Gum disease takes hold in four distinct stages, each more destructive (and more noticeable) than the previous one:
Gingivitis in dogs is the first sign of periodontal disease. Over time, bacteria gradually build up on their gums. This debris forms plaque, which can harden into calcified deposits, or tartar, in just a few days. The infected gums eventually become irritated and inflamed, resulting in gingivitis.
If gingivitis is left untreated, your dog may experience receding gums, which occurs when the gums separate from the teeth. This is difficult to see with the naked eye, although your veterinarian may spot this sign during your dog's next visit. Slight jawbone loss can also occur during the second stage, and its deterioration continues as time goes on.
Bone loss becomes more severe in the third stage and gum recession becomes more pronounced. You may even notice some loose teeth as their connection to the gums continues to weaken. If your veterinarian identifies periodontal disease during this stage, they may need to pull one or more of your dog's teeth.
More than half of the connection between teeth and gums is lost in the final stage of periodontal disease. Your dog's tooth roots will begin to show, and some teeth may fall out completely. Your veterinarian may need to extract all teeth affected by gum disease once this stage is reached.
Even more serious issues can occur if periodontal disease gets to the final stage, such as a fractured jaw or abscessed tooth. In severe cases, oral bacteria can enter your dog's bloodstream and spread to their heart, liver, or kidneys, according to VCA Hospitals.
Signs of Periodontal Disease
Because the early stages of periodontal disease are so subtle, you might not recognize the disease until it has significantly impacted your dog's mouth. Check for these signs and contact your veterinarian if you notice them:
- Red or swollen gums
- Bad breath
- Bloody chew toys or water bowl
- Yellow or brown teeth
- Ropey saliva
- Bumps in the mouth
- Loose teeth
- Excessive drooling
Dogs who are feeling discomfort from periodontal disease may show it in less obvious ways. If your furry friend is only chewing with one side of their mouth, shows a noticeable loss of appetite, or has difficulty keeping food in their mouth as they chew, they may be experiencing symptoms.
Causes of Periodontal Disease
Your dog's daily routine plays an enormous role in their susceptibility to gum disease. Their diet can help prevent dental issues, as dogs naturally scrape plaque from their teeth by chewing on dry and crunchy foods. Feeding a steady diet of wet foods, on the other hand, won't offer the same teeth-cleaning opportunities. Without any additional dental supplementation, eating wet foods may allow plaque and tartar to build more rapidly.
Poor dental hygiene is another common precursor to periodontal disease in dogs. Failing to brush your dog's teeth regularly will let plaque and tartar develop, and you might not inspect their teeth often enough to notice any telltale signs of gingivitis in dogs.
How to Help Prevent and Manage Periodontal Disease
The best way to avoid complications from periodontal disease is to prevent it altogether. Here are the most effective ways to promote quality dental hygiene:
Establish a daily dental routine – You should treat your pup's mouth like your own and brush their teeth every day! Pick up dog-friendly toothpaste and a toothbrush, and start scrubbing. Some dog dental kits even come with a finger brush to help you clean those hard-to-reach places. You can also find a variety of dental sprays, foams, and liquids to supplement regular brushing.
Offer chew toys and dental treats – Just like dry food, dog chew toys scrape away plaque and tartar through chewing action. Many chew toys feature unique textures such as ridges or nubs for extra teeth-cleaning benefits. Dental chew treats and long-lasting natural chews like rawhide offer similar benefits, keeping mouths healthy and fresh.
Schedule an annual dental checkup – Your veterinarian can inspect your dog's teeth for signs of periodontal disease. Depending on what they see, they may recommend a professional dental cleaning with procedures such as x-rays or teeth polishing.
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Periodontal disease becomes harder to manage as it reaches its advanced stages, so it's critical to act right away if you spot early signs such as red or swollen gums. Your veterinarian will be your greatest resource for dental health, so seek their guidance for specific treatments if you suspect your dog has gum disease. Even if the disease has reached the second stage, professional care can help prevent it from getting to stages 3 or 4.
Prevention, Prevention, Prevention!
The most reliable way to stop periodontal disease in dogs is to promote a healthy dental schedule. With dedication and a little patience, you can master dog dental care and help keep your pup's teeth shiny for years to come!