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Periodontal (Dental) Disease in Dogs and Cats

By Linda Cole

Like us, dogs and cats have a variety of diseases and conditions we need to be on the lookout for. The American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) says 80% of dogs and 70% of cats will show signs of periodontal disease by the time they turn three years old. Proper dental care is as important for our dogs and cats as it is for us. To bring awareness to the importance of dental care for pets, the AVDS has declared February as National Pet Dental Health Month. Periodontal disease is one of the most common for pets, and it can be a serious problem if left untreated.

What is periodontal disease?

It's a buildup of tartar, also called calculus, and untreated gingivitis which causes damage to the ligaments and other tissue that holds the teeth in place. In the very early stages of the disease, cleaning the teeth and prevention will likely be enough to prevent more damage and save the teeth. By the time the disease has progressed to a moderate condition, however, permanent damage has already been done to the teeth. Periodontal disease isn't always easy to see or diagnose, and even vets can miss it during regular checkups.

The word “periodontal” means the tissue (peri) around the tooth (dontal) that keeps the tooth in its socket. Periodontal disease can affect the ligaments and cementum (a layer of calcified tissue covering the root of a tooth) that hold the teeth in place, and if they are damaged by disease, then the tooth becomes loose and can fall out.

What causes periodontal disease?

We keep our teeth and gums healthy by brushing every day, but since dogs and cats can't brush, plaque builds up on their teeth. Plaque is made up of sticky bacteria that eventually hardens into tartar if it's not removed by brushing. A buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth can then cause decay and sore gums. Inflammation of the gums, gingivitis, happens when bacteria gets between the tooth and gum. A sign of gingivitis is swelling and redness around the edge of the gum. Once dental disease develops, it may already be too late to correct the damage.

The dangers of periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is linked to heart, lung and kidney disease, and bladder infections. The bacteria buildup can cause life threatening conditions for pets by damaging their vital organs. Pets that are most at risk of serious health issues caused by periodontal disease are those with compromised immune systems, such as cats suffering from Feline Leukemia or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, pets with diabetes, hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease, and older pets. Pets can also suffer chronic pain, loss of smell, aggression, skin problems and even death if periodontal disease is left untreated.

Signs of periodontal disease

Bad breath, bleeding gums, pawing at the mouth, a change in their appetite, eating or chewing habits, weight loss, not wanting to be touched around the face or mouth, swollen cheeks, tooth loss, change in behavior, runny nose, excessive or abnormal drooling, sneezing, yellow or brown teeth can all signal periodontal disease.

What to do if your pet has periodontal disease

Periodontal disease can be serious depending on the level of severity. If you think your pet has gum disease, the best place to start is by scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian. A vet can evaluate how far along the disease is with x-rays and an oral examination.

How to prevent periodontal disease

The best way to control a buildup of tartar and help prevent periodontal disease is by brushing your pet's teeth every day with toothpaste made specifically for pets. Human toothpaste should never be used on pets because it's not supposed to be ingested. Dogs and cats may need to have their teeth cleaned at the vets at least once a year, but it's better to schedule an oral exam every six months to make sure their teeth and gums are healthy. Diet is important, and hard food is better than softer food. CANIDAE kibble can supply your pet with their daily nutritional needs and help keep their teeth clean, along with regular brushing and regular dental exams. The crunchy texture of the CANIDAE Snap Biscuit® dog treats can also help scrape away plaque and tartar.

For more tips on oral health for pets, read “February is National Pet Dental Health Month.”

Photo by Simone Saccomanno

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