Gum Disease in Dogs: A Helpful Guide

When it comes to oral hygiene, it affects your dog’s teeth, as well as their overall health. According to research, canine dental disease is one of the most common problems dogs are afflicted with. In fact, failure to maintain your dog’s oral health can have far-reaching effects on his vital organs, including his heart, liver, kidneys and digestive system, and may even be linked to canine diabetes and cancer in dogs.  

Because there are no outward signs and symptoms of canine gum disease, it is often difficult for pet owners to detect anything is wrong, rendering this a ‘silent’ ailment that can wreak havoc on your dog’s mouth. If left untreated, advanced gum disease can lead to eroded gums, missing teeth, chronic pain, and even bone loss. However, you can manage your dog’s dental health by practicing regular oral hygiene along with annual veterinary check-ups. While total prevention may not be possible, you can at least slow down the process and protect your dog from further complications. This article will address canine oral health issues, including gum disease in dogs and how you can help prevent dental problems for your beloved pet.

Canine Gum Disease: Understanding The Causes

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is the most common dental condition found among adult dogs – in fact, it occurs five times more often in dogs than in people. Each time your dog eats, bacteria (along with food particles and saliva) forms a sticky film known as plaque over his teeth, just as it does in humans after a meal. And because bacteria is found everywhere on human and canine bodies, it is only a matter of time before it finds its way under your dog’s gums in the form of plaque, inevitably leading to gum disease.

Essentially, the bacteria in plaque is recognized as foreign by our immune systems in the case of both humans and our canine counterparts. Our bodies react by attacking the invading bacteria with white blood cells, which release enzymes that break down gum tissues. Due to the fact that dogs have a more alkaline mouth environment than their human counterparts, plaque formation occurs much more rapidly. In addition, most pets don’t have their teeth brushed daily, which gives plaque-forming bacteria the perfect environment to flourish. Unfortunately, this can lead to inflamed gums, destroyed tissues, pus formation in the cavities between the gum and the teeth, tartar build-up, loss of bone, and eventually tooth loss. Canine periodontal disease affects dogs of all ages, although it is more frequently observed in older animals.

Canine Periodontal Disease May be Caused By a Variety of Factors, Including:

  • Bacteria (most commonly Streptococcus and Actinomyces)
  • Poor nutrition
  • Toy breeds with crowded teeth
  • Dogs that overly groom themselves

Although genetics and breed type may play some part in canine periodontal disease, it is primarily due to the formation of bacteria (resulting from a lack of regular canine teeth brushing and plaque build-up) and poor diet. Some experts believe that dogs who are fed a natural, whole-food diet that includes chewy muscle meat, recreational bones and dog-formulated dietary supplements have healthier mouths and gums. In addition, you may wish to incorporate homeopathic treatments into your dog’s routine to maintain his oral hygiene and overall health. However, it is always best to consult your veterinarian before administering any type of remedy to your pet, as every dog has his own unique health requirements.

Recognizing The Symptoms Of Canine Periodontal Disease

As we’ve covered, canine gum disease is one of the leading silent diseases found in dogs, and unfortunately for pet parents and their pooches, shows no symptoms at all in the early stages. And because signs of gum disease are rarely recognized by the owner, the damage is already done by the time your dog is diagnosed with advanced-stage periodontal disease. At that point, your furry companion may be living with chronic pain, which animals hide instinctively to avoid showing signs of weakness.

Common Symptoms of Severe Gum Disease in Dogs May Include:

  • “Talking” or making noises when eating or yawning
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Blood in the water bowl or on chew toys
  • Bloody or ropey saliva
  • Bumps or lumps in the mouth
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Difficulties picking up food
  • Gingivitis (symptoms include redness and swelling of the gums)
  • Loose teeth (a sign of advanced periodontal disease)
  • Not wanting the head touched
  • Red or bleeding gums
  • Receding gums (a separation of the gums away from the teeth indicate gum disease)
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge (advanced gum disease in the upper teeth can destroy the bone between the nasal and oral cavity)

Although you may notice signs of gingivitis (indicated by red, swollen gums), many dog owners notice their pooch has bad breath. While this may be considered normal, experts explain it’s not, but most likely a result of canine dental disease. You may also observe a receding gum line in your dog; in advanced cases, the gum tissue has receded considerably, exposing the roots of the teeth. Other signs of advanced periodontal disease in dogs include bleeding when your dog chews (either on his food or a favorite chew toy, bone etc.) or when you’re probing his mouth or brushing his teeth.

Complications Of Gum Disease In Dogs

While periodontal disease may cause your dog a great deal of pain, it can also lead to serious health complications. If left unchecked, your pooch’s gum inflammation may put him at a higher risk for canine heart disease, liver disease, and kidney disease in dogs, while further research has indicated it can lead to canine diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Small dog breeds are especially at risk for jaw fracture and bone loss if they suffer from advanced periodontal disease. Explains Brett Beckman, a veterinary dentist practicing in Florida and Georgia, “The ultimate complication is one I see too commonly, and that is pathological jaw fracture.” Left untreated, gum disease can destroy bone over time to such a great extent that even a small amount of pressure can potentially fracture a small dog’s weakened jaw.

Treating Your Dog’s Gum Disease: What To Expect

Did you know that statistics have shown that more than 80% of dogs have some stage of periodontal disease by age 3? With such staggering numbers, it’s no wonder canine dentistry has become more widespread in recent years within the pet community. However, treating gum disease in dogs is dependent on the stage of advancement, though your dog must undergo an initial exam and X-rays to determine the presence (or absence) of canine gum disease. Although some pet parents may not be too keen on administering an X-ray to their beloved dog, it’s the only way to obtain an accurate prognosis of your dog’s dental condition, including his teeth and what’s going on below the gum line.

Below are the four stages of gum disease in dogs (including the corresponding canine dental procedures):

Stage 1: The first phase of canine gum disease is usually indicated by mild redness and/or inflammation of the gums, minus periodontal pockets between the tooth and gum. For this stage, a simple cleaning above and below the gum line is the only treatment required; unfortunately, most pet owners aren’t aware that their dog is experiencing any gum disease at this point. If you’re fortunate enough to catch your dog’s gum disease at this stage, begin a daily brushing regimen with an animal-safe toothpaste if you haven’t already, and consult your vet for additional treatment recommendations, which may include fluoride to control plaque and prevent attachment loss.

Stage 2: The second stage of gum disease in dogs occurs once periodontal pockets between the gum and tooth have developed, but before any significant bone involvement has taken place. At this stage, the gum tissue and root are cleaned, rinsed and treated with the application of an antibiotic gel to decrease the size of the pockets and rejuvenate periodontal tissues.

Stage 3: At this stage, gum disease is exemplified by periodontal pockets around the teeth that exceed 5 millimeters in depth, which is indicative of bone loss. In certain instances, a highly-skilled canine dental technician can expose the defect by opening up the gum flap and cleaning out the diseased tissue around the tooth root and bone. Additionally, special therapies may be administered to grow new tissue and bone.

Stage 4: When bone loss is over 50%, tooth extraction is the only treatment for this advanced stage of canine periodontal disease.

Follow-up treatment for your dog’s gum disease will primarily consist of routine dental care on your part and weekly, quarterly or half-yearly check-ups, depending on his age and periodontal condition (as well as other health issues, if any). Your dog’s prognosis will depend on how advanced the disease is; however, the most effective way to minimize the adverse effects of the disease is to get an early diagnosis, administer proper treatment and provide adequate therapy. Although it may not be possible in some cases to completely avoid gum disease, you can help maintain your pet’s optimal health by practicing regular tooth brushing and cleaning of your dog’s gums and mouth.

How To Prevent Gum Disease In Dogs

Although it may seem like a simple preventative measure, one of the most effective ways you can help prevent gum disease in your fur baby is by brushing his teeth regularly – just like humans, experts advise brushing your dog’s teeth twice a day. By incorporating a daily oral health regimen, you can help to minimize bacteria in your pet’s mouth, which improves his chances of plaque build-up and the subsequent health complications as outlined above.

Below are four general steps to follow to prevent canine gum disease in dogs:

# 1: Schedule regular veterinary appointments: To ensure your dog’s overall health and wellness, it’s important to bring your dog to the veterinarian for a general check-up on a regular basis. Your trusted vet will be able to determine if your dog is suffering from any type of canine health conditions or diseases, including periodontal issues. If your dog’s physician suspects any type of dental problem, he may recommend an oral exam, which includes the administration of X-rays under general anesthesia.

# 2: Get into the habit of brushing your dog’s teeth daily: In order to effectively maintain your pup’s oral hygiene, it’s essential to brush his teeth without fail twice a day. Although the task may seem daunting for some, it doesn’t have to be – with patience, the proper tools and professional guidance from your vet, most pet owners can successfully incorporate a dental routine into their dog’s daily schedule.

# 3: Find a diet that works for your dog: It can’t be stressed enough – quality nutrition from the very start is the building block to your canine companion’s health. Research has indicated that some pooches will benefit from “dental diets” that help to scrub their teeth as they chew – speak with your vet to determine the best diet for your four-legged friend.

# 4: Provide safe toys & treats to encourage chewing: Another great way to prevent gum disease for dogs is by offering him tooth-friendly treats and toys to chew on. In addition to providing hours of enjoyment, chewing exercises work your dog’s neck and shoulder muscles as well as his mouth which help to keep hhis teeth and gums healthy. Rubber balls, flexible rawhide strips and rubbery toys that can be used to hide treats are all safe options. Avoid objects that are too hard to prevent fractures and broken teeth, such as raw or cooked animal bones, cow and pig hooves, and nylon bones. Additionally, beware of hard rawhide, as it can lead to gastrointestinal problems if your dog swallows a large piece.

Summary

As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and your dog’s periodontal health is no exception. In the long run, maintaining your pooch’s oral health will not only protect him from gum disease and tooth decay, but profoundly impact his well-being, and ultimately his lifespan.

The best prevention is to maintain good oral hygiene and to regularly brush and clean your dog’s mouth and gums. Becoming an advocate for your fur baby’s health is a win-win – by staying proactive in his dental regimen, you can ensure his overall health and look forward to many happy years together!

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