Gingivitis and Periodontitis in Dogs and Cats

February is pet dental month, and not without reason. Dental health is one of the most overlooked areas by owners when it comes to the care of their pet. Dental problems can become irreversible when missed, and can progress to stages where the bacteria may migrate to liver, kidney, and heart, and cause potentially fatal problems in these organs. Last year, we wrote an article on pet dental health, which includes information such as how to keep your pet’s teeth clean. For this year’s pet dental month, we will have a closer look at two common dental problems seen in pets.

Plaque and Tartar

Before having a closer look at two common dental issues seen in pets, it’s useful to know what plaque and tartar are. When a pet eats, a sticky substance forms which is made from saliva, bacteria, and left over food particles. This sticky substance is called plaque, and will stick and build up on the teeth, and in the crevices between gum and teeth. When plaque is not removed, it can cause irritation and inflammation, and eventually will calcify, and become tartar. 

dog-teeth

Gingivitis

The first common dental problem seen in pets is gingivitis. We speak of gingivitis when the gums are mildly inflamed. A common reason for the inflammation is a bacterial infection from plaque bacteria on the teeth. Gingivitis can be reversed if the intervention to treat the problem is done in a timely manner. If gingivitis is left untreated, it will progressively get worse, and can develop into periodontitis. 

Some pets may not display any (obvious) signs of gingivitis, which causes this dental issue often to be missed by pet owners. Signs that may indicate gingivitis are:

  • Bad breath
  • Swollen and/or bleeding gums
  • Plaque & Tartar buildup on teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Drooling
  • Change in eating habits
  • Discomfort
  • Weight Loss
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Irritability
  • Lack of grooming

Any dog or cat can develop gingivitis, especially when they are fed a poor diet and lack oral hygiene care by their owner. However, some breeds are of higher risk due to the shape of their jaws which results in crowding teeth, for example the toy breeds in dogs, and brachycephalic breeds seen in cats and dogs, such as the Persian cat or French Bulldog. 

To determine if a pet has gingivitis, the vet will have a look in their mouth and make a judgement based on clinical signs. Once it’s determined a pet has gingivitis, blood and urine tests may be advised to see if there may be an underlying disease which could cause inflamed gums or oral tissues, such as seen in FeLV and FIV in cats. Dental X-rays are advised to determine if there is any damage to the supporting tooth structures and tooth roots, as these aren’t visible to the eye. 

Periodontitis

When gingivitis is left untreated, it will eventually develop into periodontitis. Periodontitis, also referred to as periodontal disease, is commonly seen in pets, and often only gets caught in the late stages when pets show significant symptoms. Periodontitis is serious, and can cause chronic pain in your cat or dog, and result in tooth loss, gum erosion, and bone loss. The bacteria in the mouth can travel through the bloodstream to major organs such as heart, liver, and kidneys, and cause potentially fatal organ problems such as endocarditis, which is a infection of the heart’s inner lining.

Symptoms of periodontitis may involve: 

  • Bad breath
  • Discoloured teeth
  • Bleeding gums and/or bloody saliva
  • The loss of teeth and/or loose teeth
  • Excessive drooling
  • Chewing of food on the non painful side
  • Irritability
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Weight loss

Treatment of Gingivitis & Periodontitis

Once gingivitis and/or periodontitis is diagnosed, a complete oral health assessment should be done, including a thorough cleaning of the teeth. With an ultrasonic scaling machine, the plaque and tartar needs to be removed, followed by the polishing of the teethes surface. This polishing is needed because the ultrasonic scaling machine will roughen up the surface of the teeth, making it easier for food particles and bacteria to cling to them. By polishing, the surface is made smooth again, making it harder for bacteria and food particles to get stuck on the teeth. Depending on the severity of the condition, restorative procedures or extractions may need to be done. Pain medication during and after the treatment might be needed depending on the severity of the condition.

Prevention

Gingivitis and periodontitis can be prevented by providing your pet with good oral hygiene and feeding them a proper diet. There are chews and toys that assist in keeping tartar and plaque in control. You can also brush your pet’s teeth. Check the teeth of your pet regularly, so problems can be detected in the early stages, and treated if required. Click here to read our article on Pet Dental Care.

Can the cleaning of my pet’s teeth be done without anaesthesia?

This is a question often asked by pet owners, mainly because of the fear of anaesthesia. One may be especially tempted if the teeth still look relatively well. The first point to keep in mind is that in some cases, pet’s have pearly white teeth, but the dental issues are only detected through x-ray. Some dental problems happen between the teeth or between gum and teeth, where they aren’t visible to the eye.

The second point being that you are never able to reach all areas required if a pet is not under anaesthesia. The molars and pockets between the gum and tooth, which is also known as gingival sulcus, are very hard, if not impossible, to properly clean when a pet is not under anesthesia. Any teeth cleaning that is done without anaesthesia, is incomplete, and almost always only involves the removing of the visible tartar and plaque.

To ensure the safety of your pet, the following steps are advised if they need treatment for dental problems under anaesthesia.

  • Pre-anesthesia blood work
  • IV catheter and IV fluids
  • A complete set of dental X-rays
  • Anaesthesia monitoring, including heart rate, breathing, temperature and oxygen saturation level.
  • Endotracheal intubation, through which oxygen and inhaled anaesthetic are supplied.

Conclusion

Dental problems are often missed by pet owners, and it’s not uncommon they get caught in the advanced stages. Due to being caught late, it can significantly impact the well-being of pets, and in some cases can be dangerous. By providing your pet with a proper diet, and good dental hygiene, dental problems can be prevented and problems can be detected in the early stages.

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