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Periodontal disease in dogs: how are their gums affected?

Close up of a dog mouth with tooth and gum advice © Pixabay

Periodontal disease in dogs is the most common clinical condition in older pets. Nonetheless, it is completely preventable and curable. Learn about prevention tips.

By Daniel Mar

Periodontal disease in dogs is a disease that affects millions of pets around the world. Right now, it is one of the most common diseases in dogs. Dogs can easily get this disease because many dog owners don’t pay proper attention to dental care.

As food particles and bacteria are allowed to accumulate along the dog’s gum line, it can form plaque which in time transforms to calculus. This always causes gum irritation, bleeding among other diseases later discussed. That is why it is very important to prevent periodontitis in dogs.

Learn the basics of periodontal disease in dogs

Periodontal disease has its beginnings when bacteria in the dog’s mouth form plaque. This adheres to the surface of the teeth

With the passing of time, minerals found in the saliva harden the plaque into calculus, commonly known as tartar. Once it is formed, it firmly attaches to the dog's teeth. This is not per se the problem, rather what you don’t see, meaning the tartar that builds up below the gums! Indeed, the real problem is the calculus that spreads under the gum line. T

he bacteria that made up this sub-gingival plaque poses a lot of damage to the supporting tissues around the tooth. In time, periodontal disease in dogs is developed. The first sign of this disease will be the weakening of teeth. Likewise, bacteria under the gum line will secrete toxins, which can lead to permanent tissue damage if untreated.

Lastly, this disease can trick the immune system. When white blood cells try to destroy their ‘bacterial enemies’, chemicals released by these cells cause damage to the supporting tissues of the tooth! Therefore, instead of fixing the problem, it actually worsens the disease.

Causes of periodontal disease in dogs

The appearance of periodontal disease is a gradual process as previously explained. A variety of factors cause periodontal disease in dogs. In dogs, the most common causes are the Streptococcus and Actinomyces bacteria.

Overall, periodontal disease in dogs includes gingivitis and periodontitis. These diseases can have plenty of effects like oral cavity damage, loss of gum tissue and bone, development of a fistula, fractures of the jaw and bone infection (osteomyelitis).

Certain dog breeds do have a genetic predisposition to periodontal disease. Many small breed dogs like Dachshunds and Chihuahuas are especially prone to periodontal disease in dogs.

Symptoms of periodontal disease in dogs

The signs of periodontal disease can vary according to the severity of the disease. Usually, the first symptom of periodontal disease in dogs is halitosis or bad breath.

Contrary to common belief, dogs should not have bad breath! In fact, this is a sign of a dental disease. As this disease progresses, so does oral pain. As time passes, your dog will not be able to chew food.

Also, they can lose total interest in chew toys. Another common symptom is excessive salivation or drooling.

Sometimes, saliva has blood because gums are bleeding. Afterwards, you can notice gingivitis (reddening of the gums). At last, as periodontal disease advances, teeth will become loose. Vets grade periodontal disease in dogs from one to four (grades of severity):

  • I: only gingivitis is present.
  • II, III and IV: Periodontitis (loss of bone and soft tissue around teeth) is present.
  • IV: loss of more than half of the tooth's supportive structures can be seen.

Take note that in some cases of advanced periodontitis in dogs, the gum tissue will recede and the actual roots of the teeth can be seen.

Diagnosing periodontal disease in dogs

The diagnosis of periodontal disease in dogs usually involves several procedures. X-rays are very important because up to 60% of the symptoms are hidden by the gum line. Especially during the early stages, radiographic imaging will show loss of density and sharpness of the root socket margin. In more advanced stages, you can see a complete loss of bone support around the root.

Treatment of periodontal disease in dogs


Professional dental cleaning and home care can prevent periodontal disease in dogs. However, once your dog gets periodontal disease, there is no cure.

Nonetheless, no matter the grade of periodontal disease, the first important step is a professional dental cleaning. This procedure needs general anaesthesia. After your dog's teeth are clean, you have to maintain it at home.

Home dental care is vital to keep the periodontal disease in dogs at bay. You have to perform daily brushing with an ‘enzymatic toothpaste’ made especially for dogs. An alternative to daily brushing is to apply toothpaste to the dog's teeth on daily basis.

Additionally, there are food and water additives that can slow down the build-up of plaque and tartar. Periodontal disease in dogs is serious and quite common.

Try to prevent it by maintaining a good dental care! Once your dog gets it, it doesn’t have a cure.