Yes, Pets Do Get Periodontal Disease

It may come as a surprise, but periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in adult dogs and cats. Periodontal disease occurs when bacteria from the dog or cat’s mouth form on the teeth in a plaque. The plaque makes its way under the gumline and sets in motion a vicious cycle, which, if left undetected and untreated can eventually lead to tooth loss.

Dog jaw fracture due to periodontal disease

X-ray showing jaw fracture due to advanced periodontal disease.

The process is described by California Veterinary Dentist, Dr. Brook Niemiec, DAVDC. “The bacteria in the plaque beneath the gum line will secrete toxins. These toxins damage the periodontal tissues and can decrease the attachment. However, the bacteria will also elicit an inflammatory response from the animal’s gingival tissues. White blood cells and other inflammatory mediators will leak out of the periodontal tissues and into the periodontal space (between the gum or bone and the tooth). The white blood cells will release their enzymes to destroy the bacterial invaders, but will also damage the attachment of the tooth. As the disease progresses, the pocket will get deeper and deeper. This will weaken the bone in the area, and if it is in the lower jaw it can weaken it to the point of causing a  fracture. The end stage of this disease is tooth loss, however the disease has caused pain and problems for your pet well before this.”

Unfortunately, periodontal disease is difficult to detect in its early stages when it’s most treatable and often is missed due to lack of proper veterinary dental care. Because periodontal disease is beneath the gumline, other than possibly bad breath, there are really very few signs the disease is affecting your pet. According to Dr. Chris Visser, DAVDC, “There is a wide range in the appearance and severity of periodontal disease, which cannot be properly evaluated or treated without a full exam and veterinary dental x-rays while the pet is under anesthesia.”

This level of periodontal disease went undetected for years.

This level of damage is due to periodontal disease that went undetected for years.

You may think to yourself, “surely if my dog or cat had periodontal disease I would notice.” Unfortunately, because a dog or cat isn’t able to regularly & adequately brush their teeth the way we can or express any feelings of dental pain the way we can, periodontal disease can silently cause damage and pain beneath your pet’s gumline without you having any indication. By the time there are visible signs of periodontal disease, your pet is in severe pain and will require extensive treatment often involving teeth extractions and bone grafting.

So, what’s the good news about pet periodontal disease? It’s entirely preventable! When you take your dog or cat for regular veterinary dental exams and cleanings each year, they not only receive a complete dental cleaning that includes removing plaque from beneath the gumline, they also receive veterinary dental x-rays that give a full picture of any signs of disease or damage. If there are signs identified early, much less extensive periodontal therapies can be employed and save your pet and your wallet a great deal of pain later on.

Another common problem recently is a large number of groomers and other lay people selling anesthesia free dental care as a cheaper and safer option for pet dental care. Do NOT fall prey to these so called cleanings. Dr. Dale Kressin, DAVDC, reminds pet owners to, “Be very aware of the serious deficiencies and risks associated with any dental service performed without anesthesia. Owners may be led to believe their pet is healthy, while severe periodontal disease may be present.” Need evidence of risks of anesthesia free dental care? Colorado vet dentist Dr. Woodward, DAVDC, recently treated a dog, who after years of anesthesia free dental cleanings, ended up with such severe bone loss, 16 teeth required extraction.

As pet owners we are our pet’s greatest advocate and caring for our pet’s dental health is just as important as any of their other veterinary needs. An annual veterinary dental cleaning including veterinary dental radiographs is only way to prevent periodontal disease and more importantly save your pet a great deal of pain in the long run.




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