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What Are the Signs of Periodontal Disease in Dogs?

Posted by Mary Ida Young on
What Are the Signs of Periodontal Disease in Dogs?

It might surprise you to learn, but just like you, your dog can suffer from periodontal disease. Canine periodontitis is a bacterial infection raging rampant inside your dog’s mouth. It is an insidious disease that is largely silent (especially at onset) but extremely destructive if left unchecked. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the disease, many dog parents may not even notice the signs and symptoms at first. When you do begin to notice something is amiss, most often it is in an advanced stage with significant damage already present.

Once it reaches an advanced stage, periodontal disease in dogs can be chronically painful. It can erode your dog's gums, contribute to missing and broken teeth, and cause significant bone loss. Dog periodontal disease progresses through four stages, beginning with plaque build-up and mild inflammation. From there it turns into gum disease (or gingivitis), and as time goes on can progress into mild periodontal disease. If the disease isn’t treated right away, mild can evolve into severe periodontal disease, which is when you will begin to notice your dog losing teeth and experiencing bone loss. According to some sources, your dog’s risk factors for periodontal disease increase by 20% for every year that passes. Four out of five dogs will show evidence of gum disease at age three and beyond.

What Is Gum (Periodontal) Disease?

Gum disease is a bacterial infection that leads to severe decay. It must be treated right away, or your dog will be at risk for many other health issues. When a dog suffers from periodontal disease, the supporting structures of his teeth become weak and eroded from a build-up of plaque and tarter. The disease eventually results in bone loss and tooth loss, along with many other nasty and uncomfortable symptoms and related health problems. Your furry friend’s risk for kidney, liver, and heart disease increases exponentially if he suffers from periodontal disease. Heart disease is especially a big concern, as it has been shown to be linked to periodontal disease in dogs. This is because bacteria in your dog’s mouth will enter your canine’s blood stream and attach itself to the arteries surrounding the heart, creating build-up and interfering with healthy heart function. The sad thing is that dog dental disease is quite preventable with proper care and a fastidious oral hygiene routine. However, many dog parents are not consistent in caring for their dog’s teeth, so many dogs suffer from gum disease needlessly.

Signs of Periodontal Disease in Dogs

As stated, it can sometimes be easy to miss the onset of dog periodontal disease until it has reached a more advanced state. Once past that initial stage however, some signs and symptoms to be on the alert for are: ¥ Red and/or bleeding gums ¥ Loosened teeth ¥ Stinky breath ¥ Issues with picking up food ¥ Mouth bumps or lumps ¥ Saliva that looks bloody ¥ Saliva that looks ‘ropey’ ¥ Mouth chewing (often on one side) ¥ ‘Head shyness’ (when your dog ‘shies’ away from you touching their head) ¥ Noises when your dog yawns or eats ¥ Nasal discharge and sneezing ¥ Discolored enamel (yellow or brown) ¥ Loss of appetite ¥ Trouble chewing (food, bones and chew toys) ¥ Weight loss ¥ Anti-social behavior ¥ Irritable behavior ¥ Depressed behavior ¥ Pawing at the mouth ¥ Pus around the teeth ¥ Blood in their water bowl or on their chew toys ¥ Digestive and stomach problems can sometimes also be an issue

Risk Factors of Dog Dental Disease

Risk factors for periodontal disease is often related to breed and genetics. Smaller dogs are more prone to gum disease simply because they have smaller mouths with less space. This causes their teeth to crowd together, making them difficult to keep clean. Although any dog can suffer from periodontal disease, the breeds that appear to be genetically predisposed to gum disease are:

  • Shetland Sheepdogs 
  • Maltese 
  • Papillion 
  • Yorkshire Terriers 
  • Standard Toy Poodles 
  • Pomeranians 
  • Dachshunds 
  • Havanese 
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Diet can also play a role in whether your pooch will develop gum disease. Your dog's age and general health will contribute, as well as his tooth alignment. Tooth alignment is related to breed. Again, smaller dogs will suffer from improper tooth placement and crowding. Grooming habits can contribute to gum disease, chewing behaviors can play a role, and obviously, your dog’s overall dental hygiene is a big indicator of whether your pooch will eventually develop periodontal disease.

Stages of Periodontal Disease in Dogs

Stage 1

Unfortunately, stage one of dog periodontal disease is easily missed. Sometimes bad breath may be the only discernible sign. You also may see mild inflammation and redness along the gum line. This stage is called gingivitis.

Stage 2

In stage two of gum disease, your dog’s vet may notice little pockets between the gums and the teeth called periodontal pockets. When your vet finds these pockets, she will measure them. If they are more than 3mm’s deep, they are considered abnormal and treatment needs to begin immediately.

Stage 3

In stage three of periodontal disease, your dog’s vet will look for periodontal pockets that measure more than 5mm’s deep. It is in stage three that bone loss begins to occur, which is why you want to address this condition before it reaches this stage, if possible.

Stage 4

Stage four is when you begin to see up to 40 to 50 percent bone loss in your dog’s mouth. Extensive tartar buildup will be evident, as well as a receding gum line.

Causes of Gum Disease in Dogs

Gum disease, at its core, is related to bacteria. When food, saliva, and bacteria all mix together, they form plaque. Plaque then coats your dog’s teeth in a sticky film. When this plaque sits for several days, usually around day two or three, it starts to combine with other minerals and turns into tartar. Once tartar builds up, your dog’s immune system steps in, trying to fight off the all the bacteria. This immune response is what causes the redness and inflammation in the gums and along the gum line. When your dog’s body is unable to fight off the bacteria contained in the plaque, it continues to set and calcify. As the tartar builds upon itself, it pushes the gums away from the teeth, creating little pockets between the teeth and gums that become a dream home for bacteria. Those little pockets create a ripe breeding ground for more bacteria, which eventually results in abscesses and destroys tissue and bone. This is the stage where your dog's teeth begin to break and become loose, and the bone erodes entirely. This stage can be quite painful for your pooch. Another complication that occurs when the disease has spread this far is destruction in the bones, as even the slightest pressure could fracture the jaw of a small dog.

Preventing Periodontal Disease in Dogs

Just like people, your dog needs to see a vet on a regular basis for routine cleanings and exams. Exams with x-rays are your best course for prevention, because x-rays allow your vet to see a more complete picture of what may be going on in your dog's mouth, especially below the gum line. Again, just like with people, daily brushing of your dog's teeth is vital. You already know that it is good for you, so why wouldn't it be equally as good for your furry friend? With some practice, some patience, and a little instruction from your vet, you can train your dog to allow you to brush hiss teeth without too much fuss. Just make sure you have the right tools. Remember that food quality is also important in preventing many health conditions, including periodontal disease. In the same way a poor or incomplete diet can affect your dog’s overall health, it can also impact your dog's teeth. Also, some vets may recommend foods that help scrub your dog's teeth as they eat. You can also give your dog special foods and treats that contain additives to prevent plaque from hardening. This is often called the ‘dental diet’. Another great way to help prevent gum disease in your pooch is to provide them with plenty of healthy dental treats, goodies, and safe toys for chewing every day. The best treats and toys you can give your furry friend are:

  • Daily superfood dental chews 
  • Little rubber toys you can hide treats inside of 
  • Rubber balls

Sometimes you can find treats that are treated with enzymes to help reduce the formation of tartar. Obviously, this is not to take the place of regular brushing, but it can be an enjoyable and helpful way to contribute to keeping your dog's teeth healthy. One thing to keep in mind is that even with your best efforts, depending on the breed, your pet could still develop periodontal disease, simply because it’s in his genes. In those cases, reducing the potential for decay is the best thing that you can do to keep your dog’s mouth as clean and healthy as possible. Another thing that is noteworthy—if you brush your dog's teeth daily on your own, you could find that professional cleanings aren’t necessary quite as often.

How to Treat Periodontal Disease in Dogs

Unfortunately, the damage caused by periodontal disease in dogs is irreversible. However, you can treat it and prevent future pain and decay by using the preventive methods recommended above. As far as treatments go, it can get costly. The stage of your dog’s teeth and the progression of the disease will determine what treatments are necessary.

Professional dental cleaning, including scaling and polishing is common if large amounts of plaque coat your dog's teeth. Most treatment procedures will require general anesthesia, so often blood work will be the first step. Antibiotics could be given as part of the overall treatment protocol before a procedure to help keep bacteria from spreading. Remember that a complete oral exam with x-rays and probing can only happen if you are willing to put your dog under anesthesia. The x-rays will help your vet determine the extent of the damage and what can be done to mitigate it, and whether there are any teeth that need to be extracted. Typically, all the exams and treatments needed will be done at the same time, so that your dog is only put under once.

Once a treatment plan is decided upon, your vet will thoroughly clean your fur kid's teeth, removing plaque both below and above the gum line, and removing tartar as well using a tool called an ultrasonic scaler. Then your vet will polish the surface of your dog’s teeth and fill in any crevices to prevent future bacteria and plaque from building up. Sometimes an antibiotic gel may be used. Once a dog is in stage three or four of gum disease, not only is cleaning and scaling necessary, but other treatment actions such as extraction, periodontal surgery or splinting, sub gingival curettage, and bone replacement procedures could become necessary.

Your vet may recommend or use sealants, as well as growth stimulants to promote regeneration of tissue, and slow-release antibiotics to help with healing. In the case of extractions, your vet will remove cracked, loose, or dying teeth to prevent the disease from spreading any further. Remember that it is up to you to keep your dog healthy and happy. With regular attention to your canine’s oral hygiene, there’s no reason for your dog to suffer from such a preventable disease as periodontal disease in dogs.


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