Gum disease is very common in dogs. In fact, it is five times more likely to occur in dogs than in humans. Studies also show that more than 80 percent of dogs will have some form of gum disease by age three. And it’s not just what you see or smell that is alarming. The danger of gum disease can get deeper than that! Your pet depends so much on you, and it is only through you that they can stay away from health problems. Thus, knowing about the early signs of periodontal disease is something that every pet owner should know.
What is Periodontal Disease in Dogs?
Periodontal disease is a painful, inflammatory disease affecting the gums. It is caused by bacteria and food particles that accumulate in your dog’s mouth, particularly around the gum line, which later on turns into plaque. When combined with saliva and minerals, ‘calculus’ is formed. Over time, this irritates the gum and leads to inflammation, a condition also known as gingivitis.
The problem doesn’t end there. If not removed for an extended period of time, the calculus builds up under the gum, causing a space in between the gum and teeth, causing more bacteria to thrive and irritate the gum. Periodontal disease in dogs is irreversible. Apart from causing oral health problems, it can also lead to more serious conditions such as cavities, tissue destruction, and bone loss. Even worse, the inflammation and bacteria can reach your dog’s blood vessels, kidneys, heart, and brain.
What Causes Gum Disease in Dogs?
Just like us, our pets are also exposed to germs and bacteria of all sorts. No matter how you try to keep their environment clean, there will always be a danger of bacterial infection. Gum disease in dogs develops when their teeth and gums are constantly exposed to bacteria which they get almost immediately after feeding or when they are playing outside. The bacteria, along with food, saliva and other particles in the mouth form a sticky film called ‘plaque.’ And this is where all the worst things begin. When not cleaned, plaque turns into tartar.
The bacteria that thrive in the plaque triggers the inflammation of the gums. That is because the dog’s immune system recognizes it as something ‘foreign’ (the same thing happens in humans). Being a foreign invader, the dog’s body signals white blood cells to attack the plaque, producing enzymes that break the gum tissues. Later on, as the gums become even more inflamed, tissues are lost, and eventually, the bones underneath are damaged.
Unfortunately, most pet owners don’t notice that their dogs have the periodontal disease until it’s a little too late. More than tooth pain, this condition can cause a wide range of problems in your pet. Thus, knowing how to spot the warning signs is critical to saving your pet from this irreversible disease.
Dogs with periodontal disease can exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:
- Bad breath (this is often the first and most common symptom).
- Inflammation of the gums, along with bleeding.
- Gums that appear reddish.
- Receding gums. This is characterized by the separation of gums from the teeth.
- Sensitivity around the teeth.
- Pus that leaks.
- Loss of appetite.
- Pawing at the mouth.
- Trouble chewing.
- Nasal discharge and sneezing.
- Digestive problems.
- Loss of teeth (this happens in the advanced stage).
Progression of Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Learning about how the disease progresses is a great starting point to track your dog’s health and the risk of periodontal disease. Or, if he already has it, ensure that proper treatment is done on time. If your pooch has stopped eating and looks totally inactive, you have to seek urgent medical help. Vet care is expensive, and many people rely on emergency cash advance online for pet care.
Firstly, you will notice that your dog has bad breath. Of course, it isn’t a reliable indicator as sometimes, bad breath could be due to some food he just ate or chewing dirty objects. Once you notice an awful smell in your dog’s breath, check his gums. If you notice redness or inflammation, it’s most likely that your pet has gingivitis – the first stage of periodontal disease.
As the disease progresses, you will notice little pockets between the gums and teeth. You have to take your dog to the vet for further examination. Usually, the vet will measure the depth of the periodontal pockets. If they exceed 3mm in depth, treatment will have to be started. If the pockets go 5mm deep, the periodontal disease has gotten worse and starts to harm your dog’s health even further, leading to problems like bone loss. The later stage of the disease is characterized by heavy tartar buildup, along with the massive bone loss.
Another major consequence of periodontal disease is jaw fracture. As mentioned, gum disease can destroy the bones to an extent that even a minor pressure can cause fracture on a small dog’s weakened jaw.
The goal is to remove all bacteria before the gingivitis advances. Gingivitis can be cured. But the periodontal disease cannot be reversed.
How to Prevent Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Periodontal disease is a serious condition. But the good news is that it can be prevented. First and most important – keep your dog’s mouth clean. Brushing dogs teeth once per day will save you from the emotional and financial consequences of this disease. There are chews and water additives that will help maintain oral health in dogs (by preventing plaque) but only buy products recommended by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. Schedule a regular dental cleaning with your vet as well. This procedure involves having to put your dog under general anesthesia while the vet thoroughly cleans his teeth and gums. Dental cleaning in dogs should be done at least once a year.
Also, the quality of food you give to your pet is equally important. As poor diet affects your dog’s overall health, it nonetheless affects his mouth too. Some vets recommend food that could ‘scrub’ their teeth as they eat. Others recommend doing away from dry or fresh food (such as coarsely-minced products) and feed on raw, meaty bones instead.
Another tip is to give your dog safe chews and treats for daily chewing. Not only is it a fun habit for your pet but chewing on safe tooth-friendly products that are safe and aren’t hard to cause damage in his gums. Good toys include rubber balls and rawhide strips. Buy toys and chewing goodies only from trusted sellers or manufacturers. Hard treats like animal bones can cause bruises in your pet’s gums and could damage their teeth.
For dogs that have severe periodontal disease, it is important to avoid hard treats of any kind (as well as toys) to prevent fractures and broken teeth.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. Canine periodontitis is a serious bacterial infection which is regarded as a ‘silent’ killer. You won’t easily notice that it’s there (and is progressing) but it has extremely destructive effects on your pet. And once you notice something not right, it’s often too late. Once diagnosed, treatments will be based on its stage. By learning about the signs that your dog needs a vet, you can protect your furry companion from its serious health effects.