Pet Periodontal Disease

Pet Periodontal Disease

Pet gum disease: Dog & cat periodontal disease

It creeps in slowly and unseen. Your pet's breath goes from neutral to smelly to foul, and soon you can't stand being near your cat or dog's mouth. It’s not just bad breath: it’s gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, and it can have a life-long impact on your dog or cat's health.

Pets benefit from dental checkups

It’s estimated that more than 80 percent of pets in the U.S. experience gum disease by age 3. Left untreated, abscesses and plaque buildup can turn into a costly visit to the veterinarian.

While February is National Pet Dental Month, anytime is a good time to schedule your pet for a Comprehensive Oral Health Evaluation and Treatment (COHAT) and ask any questions you have about dental health for your pet. Veterinary practices often promote these visits in February to encourage pet owners to make that important appointment.

Periodontal disease is more than just bad breath

Periodontal disease (also called gum disease) is the primary cause of tooth loss in pets. It’s caused by the buildup of food, plaque and tartar in the spaces between the gum and the lower part of the tooth. Often, this accumulation of bacteria leads to infection and inflammation, and if left untreated, pets can experience chronic pain and may need tooth extractions. It can also lead to bone loss; the structural bones in the jaw that support your pet's teeth may gradually break down.

Symptoms of dog or cat periodontal disease

It's not always possible to see the symptoms of gum disease until it is very advanced. You may not know how bad your pet's condition is until your vet performs a routine checkup or dental procedure and finds the clinical signs of the disease. Still, it's good to keep an eye out for any of the following symptoms:

  • Inflammation of the gums
  • Bleeding gums (especially while brushing or chewing)
  • Changes in the way your pet chews or eats
  • Bad breath

More serious symptoms could include loose or missing teeth and receding gum line. If you catch your pet's disease early, it could still be in its early stages, known widely as gingivitis. Gingivitis is a common disease, and it's more easily treatable than advanced periodontal disease. Once the gum disease advances and becomes persistent, the affected teeth will need to be removed to prevent its progression in most cases.

By taking simple preventive measures at home, pet parents may be able to keep their pets’ teeth in good shape and ensure that future COHAT appointments will not mean major dental surgery.

Open wide! Avoiding pet gum disease at home

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Veterinarians recommend regular tooth brushing for cats and dogs. Studies have shown that with regular brushing and oral hygiene maintenance, incidents of periodontal disease can be reduced significantly. The earlier you begin a dental routine in your pet’s life, the easier the ritual will become over time.

Older pets, especially those with advanced periodontal disease, will need dental care under general anesthesia to address all issues. Even younger pets in the advanced stages of periodontal disease will likely need to be anesthetized to complete necessary procedures.

Brushing your dog or cat's teeth will also help you regularly check their mouths for symptoms of possible gum disease. Ask your veterinarian for tips to learn the best way to clean your pet’s teeth at home.

You will need a few essential tools before you get started:

  • Thimble-style dental scrubber or pet toothbrush
  • Pet toothpaste (toothpaste for humans is harmful to pets as it can contain sweeteners that are toxic to dogs and cats)
  • Old towels (wrap your cat securely to prevent scratching)
  • Patience and time

Food and treats for pet gum health

Ask your veterinarian about the proper types of food recommended for your pet’s dental health. Dogs, with supervision, can benefit from chewy-style treats and toys like Kongs that help clean food buildup and plaque from their teeth. There are also treats designed for cats that can improve dental hygiene. Just remember: food and treats alone will not be as effective as brushing.

Pet insurance coverage

It’s important to enroll in a pet health insurance plan while your pet is young—before tooth and gum diseases develop. Because if oral disease is present at or before the time of enrollment, most conditions related to it will be excluded from coverage as pre-existing, no matter which pet insurer you choose. However, depending on the insurer, future dental diseases could be eligible—as long as they’re not related to an existing problem.

Learn more about Nationwide pet insurance plans and what’s covered.