Periodontal Disease in Dogs

A close and friendly interaction between a veterinarian in teal scrubs and a happy golden retriever. The vet is smiling and speaking to the dog, who is looking back with a relaxed, open-mouthed expression, tongue out, in a well-lit veterinary clinic setting.
Periodontal disease, commonly referred to as gum disease, is one of the the most common diseases in dogs. Whereas humans are susceptible to tooth decay, dogs are at risk of periodontitis. According to recent studies, almost 90% of dogs will have developed some form of periodontal disease by the time they reach 2 years of age. It is a more severe disease that involves inflammation of the periodontal ligament and alveolar bone. It can lead to devastating health problems, so it is crucial that you recognise the early signs and symptoms.

This guide will provide information on identifying, treating, and preventing periodontal disease in dogs by outlining its various stages. Dogs are susceptible to periodontal disease, which is caused by bacteria in the mouth that can damage the gums, bone, and other structures supporting the teeth.

Gum disease in dogs often goes unnoticed until it's quite advanced, so preventive dental care should be started as soon as possible. Starting your dog on preventative dental care at a young age is essential to keep the disease from becoming worse and causing harm.

If your dog develops periodontal disease, it's important to seek veterinary care immediately. Early treatment can slow the symptoms and prevent the infection from getting worse.

What are the symptoms of periodontal disease?

Dogs with periodontal disease can experience a variety of symptoms. Some of the outward signs of periodontal disease in dogs include the following:

  • bad breath
  • dental plaque
  • loose teeth
  • excessive drooling 
  • bleeding or swollen gums
  • painful chewing
  • discolored teeth and tooth surfaces 
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • loss of appetite
  • chronic pain
  • weight loss

If left untreated, periodontitis can cause tooth loss, infection, pain, and eventually lead to other health problems such as diabetes or heart disease. Fortunately, there are many ways you can help your dog avoid this painful condition.

A close-up of a dog's open mouth, showing signs of dental disease with visible tartar buildup on the teeth and inflamed gums. The image highlights the need for dental care in pets.

What can cause periodontal disease?

Just like humans, dogs have bacteria in their mouth which, if not brushed away, can accumulate and eventually develop into plaque on the smooth surface of their teeth. The bacterial plaque can bond with other minerals and harden within as little as two to three days. It is the bacteria in plaque that causes periodontal disease. A hard layer called calculus then forms on the teeth, making it more difficult to scrape the plaque away.The immune system will use white blood cells to fight this buildup of bacteria, causing inflammatory responses such as swollen gums, bad breath, and more obvious signs of gum disease. Diet and poor nutrition can factor into whether your dog will develop periodontal disease, as do environmental contributors such as grooming habits. If your pooch regularly licks themselves, they could be more likely to develop mouth problems such as periodontitis. Pups with crowded teeth are also more susceptible to gum disease. You can help fight the risk by keeping on top of your dog's oral hygiene, grooming, and toy cleanliness. By tackling the possibility of periodontitis you can help prevent the onset of systemic disease.

Can all dog breeds be affected by periodontal disease?

Studies in primary care veterinary settings have suggested that small and toy dog breeds as well as brachycephalic breeds (dogs with shortened snouts) are among those more prone to the disease.

However, dogs of brachycephalic breeds-such as Pug, Collie, Yorkshire Terrier, Chihuahua and Boxer are not guaranteed to develop periodontitis. As with all dogs, the risk can be managed by looking after your dog's oral hygiene.

How can you spot the signs and symptoms of periodontal disease?

Canine periodontitis can result in an overall decline in systemic health. Your dog may be affected by gum infections, bone loss, tooth root abscesses and, if left untreated over time, the loss of teeth and other serious health problems such as major organ failure.

These potential health complications are why it is so important to consult a vet as soon as you notice signs of periodontal disease. Your vet can perform a check to assess your dog's mouth. If up to 50% of tooth support loss has occurred, they will diagnose moderate periodontitis. If your dog's teeth have not been checked in a while, they may have serious periodontitis with 50% or more bone loss. Your vet may also take dental x-rays or use instruments to check it.

If your pet's teeth cannot be salvaged due to infection, bone loss, or pain, your veterinarian might suggest removing them.

What sort of treatment is available for periodontal disease?

If your dog is showing signs of periodontal disease, contact your vet straight away. If the disease is a mild case of gingivitis, maintaining good oral health can be a simple solution to get your dog fighting fit.

In cases where your dog's disease has entered the secondary stages, treatment is a bit more complex. In these more severe situations, the damage cannot be reversed and may lead to tooth extraction. You can stop periodontitis from getting worse by regularly checking and cleaning your dog's teeth.

As with any disease, prevention is always better than cure.

The same methods used for treating gum disease in humans - an oral exam and proper dental care from a qualified dentist - can help dogs with periodontal disease.

Having your dog go through anesthesia is the best way to give your vet a thorough look in their mouth and check areas beneath and above the gumline. This also allows them to evaluate pocket depth and tooth exposure. This also allows the vet to completely examine the mouth and check for periodontal pocket depth and tooth exposure. The vet may take X-rays during the oral exam to detect any broken, loose, or infected teeth.

How much does periodontal treatment cost?

The cost of treating periodontal disease depends on what dental procedures your dog needs. The various steps such as teeth cleanings, blood work, and scans can incur small costs that all add up.

What does periodontal treatment include?

A cheerful veterinarian in blue scrubs and a smiling dog sitting on an exam table engage with a female pet owner in a vet clinic. The friendly atmosphere suggests a positive consultation experience, highlighting the importance of regular veterinary check-ups for pets.

Treatment for periodontal disease is likely to include the following care:

  • A complete set of dental radiographs
  • IV catheter and IV fluids
  • Pre-anesthesia blood work
  • Circulating warm air to ensure patient stays warm while under anesthesia
  • Endotracheal intubation, inhaled anesthetic and oxygen
  • Anesthesia monitoring
  • Scaling, polishing and lavage of gingival areas
  • Local anesthesia such as novocaine, if any extractions are needed
  • Pain medication during and after the procedure

In addition to treating periodontal disease, your veterinarian can also recommend preventive measures to help protect your dog against future infections. Some of these include regular dental cleanings, professional teeth cleaning, and administering fluoride treatments.

What steps can I take to avoid periodontal disease in my dog?

By being proactive, we can prevent gum disease in our pets, and if caught early enough, treat it successfully.

Prioritise oral hygiene

A close-up of a charming wire-haired terrier having its teeth brushed by a person, presumably a veterinarian, in a clinical setting. The dog's attention is caught off-camera, showcasing the importance of regular oral hygiene for pets.

The first step to preventing periodontal disease is to keep your dog's mouth healthy. This includes brushing their teeth regularly and prevent them from chewing on hard objects like bones. Taking care of your pooch's teeth is essential to their overall health, so begin brushing them as soon as they have all their adult teeth, around six months of age. If your dog does not enjoy the brushing process, check out our super helpful article Alternatives to Toothbrushing for Dogs. Without proper hygiene they can suffer from periodontitis, and in rare cases, this can be a potentially fatal condition.

So when it comes to your dog's oral health, don't ignore the early signs and carry out visual inspections often to try to detect early plaque and tartar build-up. Whatever you do, don't neglect their oral health and hygiene and don't put off treating it. Similar to us pup owners, our furry friends require regular dental appointments to keep up with oral hygiene and identify any trouble spots.

While visiting the vet, you will also have the chance to ask any questions you may have regarding at-home care. Your vet can also advise on how often your pet should come in for professional teeth cleanings, as dogs with oral issues may need to come more frequently.

You can prevent a decline in your dog's oral health between dental appointments by doing a daily tooth brushing to prevent bacteria and plaque from hardening on their teeth. There are many doggy toothpastes available to ensure your pet's pearly whites stay healthy.

To support daily brushing, you can treat your dog to a dental chew or a chew toy designed to address dental disease and reduce tartar development. Be aware, these are not replacements for canine teeth brushing and should only be used as an add-on to regular oral care. It's important to inspect your dog's mouth regularly. Signs such as inflamed gums, missing teeth or appetite changes should be a cause for concern and require immediate attention from your veterinarian.

This image is an infographic detailing the areas of a dog’s mouth prone to plaque buildup. On the left, a list of key points reads: “Incisors need extra brushing, as they miss out on bone-cleaning action. Plaque loves to linger along the gumline. Molars and premolars trap food, so plaque builds up. Behind the canines are plaque hotspots.” On the right, a diagram of a dog’s mouth is displayed with labeled parts: Incisors, Canines, Premolars, and Molars, on both the upper and lower jaws. The areas prone to plaque are highlighted. The background is white, with black text and colorful illustrations to distinguish each tooth type. The infographic is informative and visually guides pet owners on where to focus dental care efforts.

Review your dog's diet

You should be aware that certain foods may increase your dog's risk of periodontal disease. These snacks include rawhide chews, hard candy, ice cream, and hot dogs. It's best to avoid giving your dog these items if possible.

Although there is substantial published evidence linking dental health to factors such as bodyweight, it is thought that a what a dog eats is more important than their composition in reducing periodontal risk. A soft diet, made up of milder food such as chicken, rice, and bananas, is considered to increase the accumulation of dental plaque and in turn oral health issues.

To better protect your dog's oral hygiene, you can introduce to them a dental diet. A dental diet is a food plan that has been specially formulated to support your dog's teeth. Foods and supplements that can help to maintain your pooch's joint cartilage and bone density are thought to be some of the best options. Omega 3 is also a very beneficial supplement that will promote healing and strengthen your dog's immune system, there are excellent supplements available that contain high Omega 3, like for example Nannocholoropsis sp. for Dogs. 

A sleek advertisement banner for 'BORVO NUTRIENTS Nannochloropsis sp.', a microalgae supplement for dogs. A jar of the product is displayed on the left with key benefits listed on the right: 'Support mobility and joint health', 'Promote healthy skin & coat', and 'Reduce inflammation'. The company's logo, featuring an intricate blue tree, is prominently positioned on the right, against a dark background that provides a professional and medical feel.

You should also make sure your pup has a full fresh water bowl every day to avoid their mouth from becoming a breeding ground for bacteria.

If your dog still experiences severe symptoms despite following all of the above steps, you should see your veterinarian immediately. Your vet can perform a thorough examination and determine whether your dog needs antibiotics or surgery to repair damaged tissue.

In summary

While periodontal disease can play havoc with your dog's health, it can easily be prevented by prioritising your pooch's dental hygiene. If you notice any signs of periodontal disease in your dog, it's important to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. With the right diet, daily brushing (and other dental hygiene routines) and regular dental check-ups, you can help your pup maintain a healthy mouth and other more serious medical conditions that can arise as a result of periodental disease.

The important thing to remember is that, if you notice your pup showing any symptoms of periodontal disease, contact your vet straight away. Keep checking your dog's dental health you can do simple oral examinations at home, for example, visual examinations can be as simple as a quick look around your dog's mouth to check for any of the symptoms or signs mentioned above. If treated quickly, your pooch can fight the infection and get back to living a life full of adventures! 

A promotional banner for 'CANIDENT,' featuring a container of the product to the right, with bullet points stating the benefits: 'Reduce tartar,' 'Improve gum health,' and 'Freshen breath.' The brand logo, depicting a stylized dog, is on the left against a blue background with abstract patterns, conveying the dental health advantages of the product for dogs.