One of the most common health condition we see in pets here at Belmont Animal Hospital is periodontal disease. In fact, by the age of three, the majority of dogs and cats will have signs of periodontal disease. This progressive disease is famously difficult for pet owners to spot. And it can have a range of ill effects on your pet’s health, comfort level, and even lifespan. But here’s the good news – it’s completely preventable! In fact, that’s exactly why we wrote this article. Below, you will gain invaluable information, such as the basics behind periodontal disease, understanding how it affects your dog or cat, and what symptoms to look out for. You will also learn about steps that you can take right away to protect your beloved companion!


Understanding the Basics

Your pet’s teeth accumulate plaque from eating – just like with people. If this plaque is not soon brushed away, minerals in your dog or cat’s saliva work to harden it into tartar (or “calculus”). This calculus will inevitably begin to creep below your pet’s gum line. Once here, it will accumulate and foster growth of bacteria. This bacteria begins to grow, replicate, and secrete toxins. These toxins have a range of harmful effects.


How this hurts your pet

The toxins work to erode surrounding tissue and bone structures in your pet’s mouth. When this occurs, your dog or cat’s immune system will be alerted to a foreign invader that is damaging their body, and will send white blood cells to fight the invader. This is, unfortunately, counterproductive, as chemicals released by the white blood cells further harm the tissue. The tissue and bone erosion progressively gets worse as time goes on and can even lead to tooth loss or jaw fractures. This entire process is very painful for pets. Periodontal disease can also cause dangerous secondary conditions. The same toxins will make their way into your dog or cat’s bloodstream and get circulated to vital organs. These vital organs (such as their heart, liver, and kidneys) will be damaged by the toxins. Over time, if left untreated, this can cause organ disease and even organ failure.


What symptoms should I look for?

  • Bad Breath (Halitosis). While this is often regarded as normal for pets, it is almost always caused by an underlying medical condition. It’s a hallmark of periodontal disease.
  • Gums that are inflamed, swollen, or bleeding. It’s difficult to see this in your pet’s mouth, so your best bet is to be vigilant around things they chew on, in, or drink out of. For example, look for traces of blood on their toys or in their food or water bowls.
  • Chewing on one side of their mouth. This is usually done in order to avoid painful chewing on their other side. It means there’s likely an underlying condition.
  • Rejecting hard toys and food. If your pet’s mouth’s supporting structures are damaged, it is difficult and painful for them to chew on hard things. Because of this, they may avoid their once enjoyed food and toys.
  • Pawing at their mouth. Your pet is instinctively trying to address their pain. If you see this behavior emerge, there is usually something wrong.


The plan from here

If you suspect your pet may be at risk of periodontal disease, just give us a call at (615) 383-1000. We will get your dog or cat scheduled for a dental assessment. This exam is necessary about once a year for most pets. Based on what we find, we will be able to let you know if your dog or cat would be helped by a cleaning and polishing appointment, or if at-home care is adequate.


Cleaning & Polishing

During a cleaning and polishing procedure, we remove all the plaque and calculus that has accumulated on your pet’s teeth. We take xrays of your pet’s teeth so that we can thoroughly clean below your pet’s gum line to get to the heart of where periodontal disease lurks and causes damage. Because periodontal disease is progressive, it is best to catch it early. The earlier you bring your pet in, the easier and less expensive it is to treat. And while it is difficult to fully reverse when it is advanced, nearly every pet will experience substantial and immediate benefits from a professional cleaning. It will significantly reduce the oral pain they feel and can even add years to their lives by your side!


When at Home

As we described earlier in the article, the first step to preventing periodontal disease is brushing away the plaque after meals. It’s important for you to establish a toothbrushing routine for your pet. We recommend once a day, but if that is unfeasible, then pick a routine you can stick to. This will keep your pet healthy, keep them from the pain of periodontal disease, and can add happy years to their lives.

Do not use regular toothpaste when brushing your pet’s teeth. Human toothpaste is often toxic to dogs and cats. You’ll want to find toothpaste specifically made for pets. If your pet isn’t used to having their teeth brushed, you’ll want to condition them to allow it. You can begin doing this by finding a wet treat they like and dipping your finger in it. Let your dog or cat sniff your finger, and then gently rub one of their teeth with it. Repeat this for another day or two. Then, put the treat on a toothbrush (one made for pets). Allow them to sniff it, and then gently rub it on a couple teeth, similar to how you did with your finger. After a couple days of doing this once per day, they should be ready to let you brush (with the special pet toothpaste). Brush the outside of your pet’s teeth at a 45-degree angle, moving back and forth a couple times on each tooth. Give them heaps of praise during the brushing because they’re being so good and helping you keep them happy and healthy!

This is an important topic to us because we care about you and your pets, and we know how much of a difference oral healthcare makes. If you have any questions about this or anything else, please give us a call – we are always here for you.