Periodontal disease is a common yet often overlooked condition that affects most pets at some point in their life. This disease is about more than bad breath and can have serious implications for your pet’s overall health. Our team at Westerville Veterinary Clinic cares about your pet’s oral health, and we’re sharing the details about this serious—but preventable—condition. 

What is periodontal disease in pets?

Periodontal disease is a progressive and inflammatory condition caused by bacteria in the mouth that affects teeth’s supporting structures—primarily the gums and the supporting bone—resulting in pain, infection, and inflammation, and ultimately in bone and tooth loss. Periodontal disease begins with plaque accumulation. Plaque is a bacterial film that mixes with saliva and food particles and sticks to the teeth. When plaque is not removed, the substance hardens into tartar, further irritating the gumline. This irritation can lead to gingivitis, characterized by red, swollen, and sometimes bleeding gums.

What are periodontal disease signs in pets?

Pets’ earliest periodontal disease signs can be challenging to identify because most damage lies below the gumline. Other signs often aren’t present until the disease is advanced. Because disease signs are easy to miss, you need to establish a preventive dental care routine that includes regular examinations and professional cleanings for your puppy or kitten. Pets with late-stage disease may instinctively hide their pain or show subtle signs, such as:

  • Halitosis — Bad breath is the most common dental disease sign. Periodontal bacteria produce bad-smelling compounds that cause your pet’s breath to smell bad.
  • Excessive drooling — Mouth irritation caused by periodontal bacteria can result in excessive drooling.
  • Bleeding — Inflamed gingiva often bleeds, especially when your pet chews. You may notice blood on your pet’s food bowl or chew toys.
  • Discolored teeth — Diseased teeth are often discolored, and if you lift their lip, you may notice your pet’s teeth aren’t white.
  • Abnormal behavior — Pets experiencing oral pain may exhibit behavioral changes such as decreased appetite and social interaction, or uncharacteristic irritability or aggression.

What are the stages of periodontal disease in pets?

Early periodontal disease is extremely difficult for a pet owner to detect. Periodontal disease is staged as follows:

  • Grade 1 — Gingivitis is considered first-stage periodontal disease. Infection causes gingival inflammation, but no supporting tooth structures have yet been lost.
  • Grade 2 — As the bacteria invade under the gumline, teeth’s supporting structures are damaged. Periodontal disease is rated as Grade 2 when the damage involves less than 25% of the supporting structures.
  • Grade 3 — Periodontal disease is rated as Grade 3 when 25% to 50% of teeth’s supporting structures are lost.
  • Grade 4 — Periodontal disease is rated as Grade 4 when greater than 50% of teeth’s supporting structures are lost. Teeth in this stage typically can’t be salvaged and require extraction.

How is periodontal disease treated in pets?

Periodontal disease treatment depends on the condition’s severity and involves a multifaceted approach, focusing on professional dental care and at-home maintenance. Dental care’s cornerstone is a professional dental cleaning performed by a veterinarian. This procedure—done while the pet is under anesthesia for safety and comfort—involves scaling to remove plaque and tartar from above and below the gumline, followed by polishing to smooth the teeth surfaces. For advanced dental disease cases in which the gums have significantly receded, bone has been lost, or teeth are loose, extractions may be necessary to remove severely affected teeth and resolve infection. 

Can periodontal disease in pets be prevented?

The best approach to periodontal disease prevention is regular professional veterinary dental cleanings. In addition, your pet’s daily at-home dental care should consist of:

  • Toothbrushing — Brushing your pet’s teeth daily removes plaque before the substance hardens into tartar. A quick scrub helps decrease oral bacteria and minimize dental disease risk.
  • Approved dental health products — Dental health products included on the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s accepted product list are proven to reduce plaque and tartar accumulation, and effectively battle dental disease. We carry many dental home care products in our hospital, and you can also check our online pharmacy. 
  • Appropriate chews and toys — Extremely hard chew toys can damage your pet’s teeth, so avoid bones, antlers, and hooves. Sticks and tennis balls can also be harmful to your pet’s oral health.

A comprehensive professional veterinary dental care plan and at-home care routine can protect your pet from periodontal disease’s damaging effects and ensure your pet’s teeth stay healthy and pain-free. If you have questions about your furry pal’s oral health or need to schedule your pet’s professional dental cleaning, contact our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team.