The conditions that lead up to periodontal disease take some
time to build up, but once the initial infections begin, the
disease can progress quickly. If allowed to advanced,
periodontal disease will cause an entire new set of problems
and health risks that could be fatal for your cat or dog. The
good news is you can most often avoid serious periodontal
disease by taking care of your pet’s teeth from a young age and
avoid these issues altogether.
Just as in humans, periodontal disease in cats and dogs is an
infection caused by bacteria in the mouth. The root of the
problem is poor oral hygiene. If bacteria isn’t washed away
from your pet’s teeth (through brushing or, in some instances,
chewing on appropriate toys and food) it leads to a buildup of
plaque and hard tartar on the surfaces of teeth around the
gums. Plaque releases toxins that damage bone and tissue
surrounding the teeth. In addition, this buildup in the mouth
stimulates an immune response that will help destroy the
bacteria, but, the same process that eradicates the bad
bacteria can damage the attachment of the tooth.
The rise of bacteria also leads to the development of deep
pockets between the teeth and the gums. These get deeper as
time passes. The oral pockets may also become infected, which
will cause your pet’s gums to soften and become mushy. The gums
will begin to recede, exposing more and more of each tooth in
an affected area of the mouth. Pus may ooze from these infected
gums as well. In this state, your pet’s breath may have a
fetid odor. Also, chewing can be
extremely painful for your pet, leading to malnutrition and
other health issues.
Tooth and Bone Loss
As the oral pockets deepen, they trap more bacteria and the
cycle continues. In the last stages of periodontal disease,
your pet will begin to lose teeth and may suffer jaw bone loss.
In some small breeds, there may also be fractures resulting
from these conditions.
Who’s At Risk?
Any dog or cat can develop periodontal disease, but small dogs
may have a greater risk because they usually don’t chew on toys
for play as often (which helps to fights plaque buildup). Small
dogs may also have more tooth crowding above the gum, which
promotes tartar buildup; this is especially an issue for
round-headed breeds such as Pugs,
Boston Terriers, Boxers, and Bulldogs.
Cats often face the same dental problems as small breed dogs.
Cats are also more likely to develop periodontal disease if
they only eat canned food that is soft versus dry food that can
require more chewing.
Symptoms of Periodontal Disease in Dogs and Cats
It’s estimated that 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats
show signs of oral disease by age three, although problems can
start at a much younger age. While there are several different
oral diseases that can affect your pet, periodontal disease is
the most common in dogs and cats. Also known as gum
disease can be extremely painful and debilitating. It
can also lead to serious health problems in other parts of the
body. To avoid complications, you should be aware of these key
symptoms, signs that your dog or cat may need
Animals are naturally predisposed try to mask pain (a trait
that’s important to survival in the wild but a disadvantage for
domesticated pets). This means that you may miss the earliest
symptoms of periodontal disease, pain or discomfort. Thus, your
pet may not whimper or cry when food or pressure irritates the
affected area in the mouth. You may notice, however, that a pet
only chews food on one side, refuses to eat, or drops food from
the mouths while trying to chew. You may also find that some
pets with periodontal disease, especially cats, will have an
aversion to hot or cold foods. If you see these signs, check
your pet’s gums for inflammation, bleeding, and sensitivity.
You may assume that it’s normal for pet breath to be a bit
foul. What’s known as “dog breath” or “cat breath,” though, is
usually a sign of dental disease. If you notice that pets have
bad breath even when they haven’t eaten anything that would
cause a bad smell to linger (garbage, feces, unusual food,
etc.), you should consider having a veterinarian evaluate your
Other Symptoms to Watch
The pain and inflammation associated with periodontal disease
can cause other changes
in your pet’s appearance and behavior, including:
- Bleeding along the gum line (especially after you brush
your pet’s teeth)
- Vomiting whole pieces of food that weren’t properly chewed
- Poor grooming in cats
- Lethargy and lack of playfulness
Without proper treatment and, in some cases, lifestyle changes,
your dog is at risk for tooth loss. Also, because periodontal
disease weakens bones in the mouth, pets may suffer a jaw
fracture. This is most likely to occur in small breed dogs of
advanced age. Pets with this condition are also at risk for
sepsis, an infection of the bloodstream that can be life
Studies are increasingly showing that poor oral hygiene can
impact a pet’s overall health. Periodontal disease may
contribute to infections of the heart, lungs, or
kidneys; cancer; arthritis;
and heart failure. It may also aggravate diabetes.
This information is for informational
purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the
professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your
veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been
verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.