What Is Periodontal Disease and How Can I Protect My Pet?

February 17th, 2016 by Daniel Mudrick

Cats and dogs need regular dental care, just like us. Unfortunately, dental problems are the most commonly diagnosed health problems in pets – and by the time you notice something is wrong, the disease is already advanced.

That’s because our pets don’t usually show outward signs of oral disease until it has significantly progressed.

What Is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease is a completely preventable condition that starts when bacteria form plaque on the teeth. Once the bacteria spreads under the gum line, it damages the tissues supporting the tooth and eventually leads to tooth decay and loss. Periodontitis itself is the loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth.

And if that isn’t bad enough, it can lead to these painful outcomes for our cats and dogs:

  • Damage to and loss of the gum tissue around the tooth
  • Damage to and loss of the bone around the tooth
  • Formation of a fistula (hole) from the oral cavity to the nasal passage
  • Weakening of the jaw bone, increasing risk of jaw fracture
  • Bone infection (“osteomyelitis”)

Oral disease can also cause a myriad of health problems outside of the mouth. Bacteria gets into the bloodstream and can damage internal organs, causing conditions such as serious kidney infections, liver disease, lung disease, and especially heart valve disease.

Treatment of periodontal disease depends on how advanced it has become. Your vet may be able to save the teeth, but severely damaged teeth will need to be extracted. You would be shocked to see what shows under the gums when we use digital x-ray.

How Can I Prevent My Pet from Getting Oral Disease?

The best medicine is prevention. Once your pet’s condition advances, it becomes more complicated and expensive to treat, as well as more painful for your pet.

To keep your pet’s mouth and teeth healthy, we recommend:

  • Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth at home (click here for a “how-to brush your pet’s teeth” guide!)
  • Dental diets and chews
  • Safe dental toys (nothing hard like bones, antlers, etc.)
  • Regular dental cleanings (“scalings”) and inspections with your vet (your vet will clean and examine your pet’s teeth thoroughly, above and below the gum line with special equipment, and digital x-ray when needed – we strongly suggest preventive pet dental care, as you are limited in how much you can do yourself at home)
  • Regular check-ups with your vet (sometimes oral disease can be a symptom of an illness in another part of your pet’s body)

“After weight control, veterinarians are most likely to cite dental care as one of the most important things a pet owner can do to increase the length of a pet’s life, yet only 16% of pet owners say they’re interested in learning more about this topic.”

Here are a few of the earlier symptoms of periodontal disease (bacterial infection) you can watch for:

  • Bad breath
  • Inflamed, red gums / gingivitis
  • Bleeding gums
  • Tartar buildup
  • Differences in their eating or chewing (e.g. chewing on only one side of the mouth)
  • Loose teeth

If you notice any of these symptoms, make a pet dentistry appointment with your vet right away! By the time you notice oral symptoms, your pet may already be experiencing chronic mouth pain from the disease.

With proper dental care, your dogs and cats can have clean, healthy mouths, teeth, and gums! This keeps them happy, and prevents long-term health impacts and potentially serious complications.


Clarkson Village Animal Hospital provides full pet dentistry services. We also check your pet’s teeth during their annual checkup. Book your appointment now!

Are trips to the vet stressful for your kitty? Get our free tip sheet for transporting nervous and anxious cats.

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About Daniel Mudrick

I'm the owner and founder of Clarkson Village Animal Hospital, a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital that's open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Clarkson Village Animal Hospital has always been a dream of mine, and by caring for one patient at a time, the hospital has continued to grow. During those rare times when I'm not at the hospital, I'm at yoga, hiking, gardening, and spending time with my family. I also enjoy reading to stay current on the most recent advances in veterinary medicine.

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