Dental disease is the most common health issue affecting dogs and cats. Early stage problems include gingivitis, a condition in which teeth that haven’t been properly cleaned build up plaque, tartar, and disease-producing bacteria around the gum line.
Dog and cat gingivitis leads to inflammation around the gingiva (gums). While early stage gingivitis is uncomfortable for pets, it’s only the beginning. Left untreated, it turns into severe gingivitis and then periodontal disease, which can cause severe pain, bleeding, tooth loss, and bone loss in the mouth.
Most dogs and cats show signs of periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years old, according to the American Veterinary Dental Society.
But just because it’s common doesn’t mean that dental disease is something to be complacent about. Preventing advanced stage oral disease is essential to protecting your pet from major medical problems.
Here are five warning signs to watch for with gingivitis. If you notice these changes in your dog or cat, talk to your veterinarian about getting your pet a complete oral check up.
Doggy and kitty breath is not known to be of sweet fragrance. It’s perfectly normal for pets to have a bit of bad breath after chewing on garbage or if you’re struggling to get them to stop eating feces. There’s a difference, however, in food-related bad breath and gingivitis-related halitosis. If you notice your dog or cat has intolerably bad breath even when nothing “icky” is being consumed, the problem is likely related to a buildup of bacteria and plaque on the gingiva.
2. Swollen gums
Like people, canine and feline gums bulge around the root of each tooth. In cases of gingivitis, however, the gums become so irritated and inflamed that you can’t see a bump. Instead, the gums are more smooth with the formerly depressed areas swelling up around the infected area.
3. Discolored gums
In addition to being appropriately contoured, healthy gums maintain a consistent color. That may be a light pink or even black for your dog. Some breeds of dogs and cats have unusual looking gums including spotted tissue. Whatever it is, get used to what’s normal for your pet. Then check your dog or cat’s mouth regularly to see if there’s discoloration. In some instances of gingivitis, the gums will turn white; in others the gums will grow dark red.
4. Discharge from the gums
Discharge from the gums is a sign of late stage gingivitis and the beginnings of periodontal disease. While gingivitis can be reversed, periodontal disease leads to long term, irreversible damage such as bone loss and tooth decay.
5. Behavioral changes with eating and chew toys
Watch for changes in how pets chew and what they choose to put into their mouths. If your dog or cat shies away from hard food, it’s possible that inflammation is making it hard to chew. Chew toys that your pet loved to gnaw on may go untouched because it’s too painful to bite down.
Gingivitis is a clear warning sign that your dog or cat needs a more rigorous oral hygiene routine. As long as you take action, the symptoms should begin to disappear and your pet will be able to avoid further issues.
Pet parents should be sure to follow a weekly brushing regimen to combat gingivitis -- daily is better if you can manage it. Veterinarians also recommend that you have your dog or cat’s teeth professionally cleaned every 12 to 18 months depending on how severe the gingivitis is and how quickly tartar and plaque seem to accumulate on your pet’s teeth.
More on Pet Dental Health
How to Prevent Dental Problems in Cats
Prevent Dental Problems Before They Start
Signs of Strong Dental Health in Dogs