Gum diseases in dogs: the complete guide
Taking care of the dog’s teeth is the primary part of the dog care and grooming process. However, oral care in dogs is probably the most neglected as well. Signs of gum diseases in dogs starts to appear by the age of two years. Gum diseases in dogs not only harm the tooth and gums of the dog, it can also harm the kidney, heart as well as the liver of the dog. Gum diseases are easily preventable if proper oral care measures are observed.
Gum disease in dogs is the most common medical issue observed in adult dogs. This occurs in about 80% of the canine population who are over three years of age. Gum disease in dogs is the weakening of the gums and subsequent loss of teeth support. Gum diseases can lead to erosion of the gums, bad breath, bone loss, loss of teeth as well as chronic pain.
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What are the symptoms of gum diseases in dogs?
The unfortunate part about gum diseases in dogs is that there is no obvious sign of the problem during the initial stages. By the time the dog guardians realize that their dog is suffering from gum disease, the disease has already progress to the advanced stages. The primary signs and symptoms of gum diseases in dogs are:
- Redness or bleeding of the gums
- Difficulty in eating
- Loss of appetite
- Antisocial behavior or irritability
- Loss of tooth or missing teeth
- Bad breath
- Presence of blood in the water bowl or on the chew toys.
What are the stages of gum disease in dogs?
The gum disease starts with gingivitis and progresses to periodontitis in dogs.
Gingivitis in dogs
Gingiva is another name for gums. The initial stages of gum diseases involve only gingivitis. Gingivitis is inflammation of the dog’s gums. During this stage, the gums look more red than usual, are swollen and bleed very easily.
If you observe that your dog’s gum looks slightly redder than normal at the point where the tooth meets the gum, it is a sign that your dog has gingivitis.
During this stage, the disease is reversible. With proper care, your dog’s gums can go back to normal coloration and the swelling can go down. I will be covering the details regarding care during gingivitis further down in this article, so keep reading.
Periodontitis in dogs
Periodontitis is the next stage of gum disease. This is more severe compared to gingivitis. There is severe inflammation of the structures that support the teeth. If periodontitis is allowed to progress, it can lead to loss of the bone as well as the tooth becoming infected, damaged or falling out.
Gum disease in dogs can be primarily divided into four different stages. Stage I where there is only mild redness in the gums and slight inflammation on the gum region where it attaches to the teeth to stage IV where 40 to 50% bone loss is observed along with severe tartar accumulation and rescission of the gums. You can find out more details about the stages of gum diseases in the article periodontitis in dogs.
What are the causes behind gum diseases in dogs?
Gum disease begins with the formation of plaques. Plaque forms when the food and saliva combines with the bacteria present in the dog’s mouth. Plaques tend to coat the teeth. Within a couple of days, the plaque present on the teeth combines with minerals and forms tartar. Tartar is the hardened form of the plaque.
The immune system of your dog tries to fight the bacteria in the plaque. The influx of the immune cells like white blood cells, macrophages and monocytes into the gums of your dog to fight the plaque is what causes the redness of the gums. However, the tartar is not easily removed. It continues to build up. Eventually, the tartar starts to pry the gums away from your dog’s teeth.
This leads to formation of open pockets between the gums and teeth providing more space for the bacteria to multiply. Following this, there may be formation of abscesses and destruction of the tissue. The final stage is when the tooth starts to become loose and the bone around it starts to deteriorate.
The factors which primarily contribute to the development of gum diseases in dogs include:
Presence of bacteria
Recent study has indicated that most of the bacteria associated with periodontitis and gingivitis are the Pseudomonas species, Porphyromonas cangingivalis, Actinomycetes and Desulfomicrobium bacteria.
Chewing habits of the dog:
Chewing of fibrous food should keep your dog’s teeth clean. However, guardians who feed their pups very soft food, risk their pups developing bacteria in the mouth since soft food tends to stick around in the teeth as compared to dry food.
A lot of dogs have been observed to be in the habit of chewing sticks, bones or stones either due to the boredom or due to their guardians allowing them to play with it. These types of chewing habits can lead to the formation of wound in gums, scratches or broken teeth which will eventually weaken the teeth and the region surrounding them.
This will allow bacteria to gain easy access to damaged areas putting your dog at a higher risk of gum disease.
Poor quality of diet
Dogs require a balanced, quality as well as complete diet for maintaining good health as well as healthy teeth. Providing dogs food which contain sugar is not good for their teeth. Dogs who are given treats or human foods which are high in sugar are predisposed towards the risk of gum diseases. Furthermore, dogs who are given poor diet which lacks minerals and vitamins are at higher risk of gum disease as well.
Poor state of the immune system
Dogs who suffer from immunodeficiency diseases, cancer or dogs who have weak immune systems are at higher risk of developing gum diseases. If the immune system is weak, the bacteria in your dog’s mouth cannot be eliminated easily. This allows the bacteria to multiply at a fast pace and cause problems especially if there is already a lot of tartar and plaque present in your dog’s mouth.
Breeds who are brachycephalic
Brachycephalic breeds or breeds who have short nose and flat face like Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers etc. are more prone to developing gum diseases. These breeds generally have malocclusions (the top and bottom teeth do not overlap normally) and overcrowding of the teeth. This makes it easier for the debris and food to get caught in the crevices leading to easier plaque formation.
Other aspects which can predispose dogs towards gum diseases:
- General health of the pup
- Age of the dog
- The grooming habits the Guardian
- dental hygiene
Diagnosis of gum diseases
If you’re suspecting that your dog might be suffering from any kind of gum disease or if you’re concerned and want to prevent gum disease in your dog, take him or her to the vet for a thorough oral examination.
Your vet will ask you a few questions about your dog’s chewing and eating habits, whether you suspect your dog might be suffering from any gum disease and why and finally if you have observed any symptoms of the same.
A brief physical examination will tell your vet if there is a presence of inflamed gums or tartar buildup in your dog’s mouth. A full examination of your dog’s mouth will be conducted under general anesthesia. If your vet is suspecting that your dog might be suffering from any kind of gum disease, he or she will recommend a dental prophy. Dental prophy is a procedure which will allow your vet to examine the gums and teeth of your dog in detail under anesthesia.
To avoid repeated sedation of the dog, your vet may ask for permission to conduct the examination as well as any kind of treatment that might be needed at the same time when the dog is under anesthesia.
Dental examination procedure
When your vet conducts a detailed examination of your dog’s teeth under anesthesia, your pup’s gums and teeth will be cleaned, scaled as well as polished. Following this, the periodontal probe will be put in between the gum line and each of the tooth to measure the depths of periodontal pockets if any are present.
If your vet observes the presence of more than 3 mm distance between the gum line and the tooth, it is an indication of the presence of periodontal abnormality.
Since 60% of periodontitis in dogs occur below the gum line, dental x-rays can act as an invaluable tool to identify the deterioration as well as the bone loss.
How are gum diseases treated in case of dogs?
If your veterinarian suspects the presence of the gum disease in your dog, he or she will schedule an appointment for dental prophy followed by surgery or any kind of extractions if needed.
The above-mentioned procedures are conducted under general anesthesia. Therefore, pre-anesthetic blood tests are needed to assure that your pup will not be harmed by the administration of the anesthesia.
Whether your vet will prescribe administration of antibiotics before the dental procedure will depend on the stage of the disease. Prior antibiotics may be administered to prevent the bacterial spread during the dental procedure.
As I mentioned earlier, a complete oral examination is possible only under anesthesia. Once the oral examination is complete, your veterinarian will create a treatment plan. This is the time when your veterinarian will know if there is any need for a tooth extraction or of alternative treatments are needed. Following this, the necessary treatment will be conducted under the same anesthesia.
Treatment depending on the stage of the disease
If the periodontitis is at stage I or stage II, a dental cleaning might do the job. A dental cleaning above and below the gum line will remove all the plaque. An ultrasonic scaler will be used to remove the tartar. Following this, the crevices on the teeth surface will be polished. This will prevent any bacterial accumulation on the teeth and minimize the risk of plaque buildup.
Those who are suffering from stage III or IV of periodontal disease in dogs, will need more treatment. After the cleaning and scaling steps are done, the veterinarian will conduct probing and dental x-ray to understand the level of damage present. Depending on the condition and the damage, different course of action may be undertaken by your vet. A few of these are as follows:
Planing and sub gingival curettage:
This is primarily used to remove the tartar, diseased tissue as well as smoothen out the surface of the root.
This is conducted when there is a lot of damage to the gums. Gingivectomy refers to the removal of the disease gingival i.e. gums.
This procedure opens of the dog’s tooth to expose the tooth root underneath. This is followed by a deep cleaning and treatment at the level of tooth root. The vet will administer slow-release antibiotics, bone growth stimulants as well as sealants to promote the reattachment and healing of the gums of the tooth.
Extraction of the tooth
If there is the presence of loose, cracked or dying teeth in your dog’s mouth, extraction is the best option.
Periodontitis in dogs causes irreversible damage. However, the treatment of periodontitis followed by proper preventive care in future can keep the disease from progressing. It will also keep your dog in excellent health and allow him or her to lead a long healthy life.
Prevention of gum disease in dogs
Gum diseases are preventable if the right kind of precautions are exercised:
Brush your dog’s teeth regularly
This is the golden standard in dog oral care. Regular brushing not only does the plaque and prevent tartar buildup in your dog’s mouth, it also allows you to look at your dog’s mouth closely and identify any tooth problem during the initial stages.
Topical medications are available which can be applied to the teeth and gums to prevent the buildup of tartar.
Water and food additives
There are commercial products available which can be added to the dog in order to prevent tartar buildup.
Dog dental chews:
There are commercial dental treats available in many shapes and sizes and flavors like hide chews, antlers, animal ears, dental sticks. You can also use raw vegetables like carrots for this purpose. If you decide to go for animal bones, be very careful as these can get broken and swallowed by your pup and cause intestinal obstruction.
Regular vet checkups
You should consult your veterinarian at least once a year for an annual dental checkup of your dog. This will help in identifying any potential gum diseases during the initial stages.
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What would happen if gum diseases are left untreated?
If left untreated, gum diseases will not only be extremely painful for your dog, they can also wreak havoc on your dog’s body.
Advanced periodontal disease in dogs causes destruction of the bone that supports teeth. This can lead to jaw fractures.
Abscesses in the tooth
Gum disease can cause tooth root abscesses. This can rupture the skin and create open wounds on the cheek or chin of your dog.
Oronasal fistulas are referred to the holes which form between the nasal passages and the mouth. These can develop as a result of not treating the periodontal disease your dog is suffering from. Dachshunds have been observed to be most prone to this disease. The primary symptoms include nasal discharge and chronic sneezing.
Even though there have not been any study done on dogs which would relate gum diseases with eye problems, many studies in humans have shown increased risk of cancers in people who suffer from gum diseases.
Increased risk of organ damage
Gum diseases can have harmful effect on the distant organs. The bacteria from the mouth migrate to the gut from where they can reach different body organs through the bloodstream.
Gum diseases in dogs have been known to increase the risk of liver and heart diseases.
Recovery of dogs from gum diseases
The recovery period will depend on the type of disease your dog has as well as the treatment that was administered. Follow-up appointments may be essential to assess if the healing is happening properly.
If any tooth extraction or surgery was involved, your dog will be administered antibiotics as well as pain medications for several weeks.
During this recovery period, give your dog a diet which is easily chewable. You can either give him or her a soft diet like chicken and rice or soak the kibbles in warm water, so that the kibbles are soft and easy to chew. Keep your dog away from hard chew toys for a period of 3 to 4 weeks to give the teeth and gums time to heal.
Periodontal diseases in dogs are not reversible. They can only be controlled at the early stages. Therefore, a proper oral care is the best way to keep the gums and teeth of your dog healthy.
Start with the brushing process early in life. This way your dog will get used to it and might even start to enjoy it. Remember to schedule annual dental cleanings with your veterinarian to keep the teeth in best shape.
Brush your dog’s teeth twice every day to minimize the accumulation of bacteria. Dog teeth brushing must be conducted with dog toothpaste only. Dog toothpastes are available at almost all pet stores and flavored so that your dog can enjoy the process of teeth brushing.
Teeth are the most important component in a dog’s body. It serves as an important part of their identity. Teeth problems are not the ones which should be ignored. This article is not meant to scare you. It is just to show the importance of teeth brushing and preventing gum diseases in the process of dog care. Gum diseases in dogs can lead to a variety of secondly diseases and thus should not be ignored. Gum diseases can lead to periodontitis in dogs which can easily prepared by regular dog teeth brushing. Remember to brush your dog’s teeth with a dog toothpaste and do not forget the annual vet appointment. Let us pledge to not be the type of dog guardians who ignore the most important part of the dog’s anatomy, the teeth.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The following are the symptoms of gum infection in dogs:
Redness in gums
Pawing at the mouth
Dog refusing to eat
Yes! The bacteria from the gums can migrate to the intestine of the dog from where it can get into the bloodstream and spread to different organs. It can eventually lead to multi organ diseases and death.
Yes! The bacteria from the gums can migrate to the intestine of the dog from where it can get into the bloodstream and spread to the liver triggering disease.
Yes, in severe cases.