By the age of three, most dogs and cats will develop periodontal disease – the most common of health conditions that threaten your pet’s health and overall happiness. Periodontal disease can adversely affect your pet in many ways, from their teeth to their gums to their heart and other organs. Luckily, it is entirely preventable. Here you’ll learn all you need to know about periodontal disease – what it is, where it comes from, how to spot it, and what you can do to prevent it.

What is it?

When dogs and cats eat, leftover food particles mix with their saliva, creating plaque on their teeth. Periodontal disease occurs after plaque buildup is combined with minerals in the saliva that turn it into tartar. When we brush our own teeth, we are able to tell just how much buildup exists – we can see it, but we can also feel it. Your pet will have a harder time being able to let you know what’s going on inside their mouths, and once the plaque and tartar spread underneath their gum line, it is much more difficult to spot. The key is catching it before it can get to that point. So how do we do that?

Recognizing the Symptoms

Periodontal disease can be hard to identify for the untrained eye. There are several symptoms, but the most easily recognizable is halitosis – or bad breath. Many people think of bad breath as something pretty inevitable, but it is generally a sign of an oral hygiene issue, including periodontal disease. Other symptoms to look out for are swollen or bleeding gums – you may spot blood on a favorite chew toy or in their water dish; asymmetrical chewing – if they’re not chewing on a certain side of their mouth, they may be trying to avoid pain; pawing at their face or an aversion to that favorite chew toy – they will likely stay away from harder toys or food to minimize any pain they will be feeling.

What Can Happen?

Periodontal disease can affect your pet in a multitude of ways. Once the plaque and tartar make their way underneath the gum line, the bacteria will begin a cycle of damage to the supporting tissue around the tooth, along with releasing toxins into the bloodstream. Once this stage begins, without treatment, several different ailments can ensue. These include the loss of teeth, tissue and gum damage, periodontitis – the loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth, fistulas – the development of a hole from the oral cavity into the nasal passages, nasal discharge, osteomyelitis – a disease that causes pain and weakness in the bone, death of bone tissue, and in some cases – jaw fractures. Without proper treatment, your pet’s own immune system will attempt to fight off the impending disease, sending white blood cells and inflammatory chemical signals to the periodontal space. Though it is their body’s natural reaction, because of the buildup of plaque and tartar, the chemicals released from the white blood cells will actually cause damage to the supporting tissues. Left untreated, periodontal disease is associated with damage to the internal organs – hearts, livers, and kidneys – of dogs and cats as they age.

How Do I Prevent This from Happening to My Pet?

Periodontal disease is entirely preventable. The best care is preventative care. The beginning stage is maintaining a solid foundation of good at-home oral hygiene. Create a regimen of daily teeth brushings for your pet, but make sure to only use toothpaste that is specifically made for dogs or cats. Toothpaste for humans can be toxic for your pets. If you’ve never brushed their teeth before, make sure to ease them into it, starting with toothpaste on your finger before moving to a brush so they have the chance to become accustomed to having a moving object in their mouth. Also popular are dental treats – available in a plethora of fun flavors! – though the treats shouldn’t be considered as stand-alone care. This will give your pet the chance to become accustomed to life-long care, as well as giving them the best chance of preventing periodontal disease or slowing down or even stopping the plaque buildup on the teeth. If your pet already has periodontal disease, good at-home care can greatly reduce the progression of the disease, sparing your pet some discomfort.

Just as important as the foundation of at-home care is an equally strong foundation of professional care. Cleanings can often relieve your pet of current pain and in some cases, can add years to their lives! Periodontal therapy and professional dental cleanings are crucial to the health of your pet. Pets should have a dental assessment yearly to see if any other steps need to be taken. Your pet’s dental professional will be able to tell you if a cleaning is needed or if your at-home care will suffice for the present time. If your pet has not had a dental checkup within the last year, we recommend giving us a call to schedule one.

Thanks for reading! By educating yourself on important health topics, you are taking a powerful step in keeping your pet safe, happy, and by your side. And as always, let us know if you need anything at all!

-The Lebanon Animal Hospital Team