You do everything to keep your furry family member happy and healthy. You give monthly medications to prevent flea and tick infestation, and you religiously give heartworm preventive to keep him from acquiring life-threatening heartworm disease. You schedule annual wellness exams, and you keep him up-to-date on his vaccines. Your pet is as healthy as a horse.

Or is he? 

Could you be overlooking a source of chronic pain and inflammation? If your pet is older than 3, the answer is probably “Yes.” Research shows that more than 80% of dogs and cats over age 3 have periodontal disease, which can be a source of chronic pain and inflammation. However, many pet owners unknowingly overlook this condition.

When did you last flip up your pet’s lip and take a good look at his teeth and gums? Granted, this may be easier said than done for some pets—every cat on the planet, for instance—but if your pet lets you, you should check him out, because oral health is vital to your pet’s overall health.

Periodontal disease in pets

The numbers don’t lie—again, 80% of cats and dogs over age 3 have periodontal disease. This may be shocking, but when did you last brush your pet’s teeth? Humans are expected to brush their teeth twice a day, in addition to visiting the dentist for a professional cleaning twice a year, so it should be no surprise that pets who do not brush their teeth or visit a dentist would have dental disease. In fact, periodontal disease is the most common medical condition seen in small animal veterinary clinics.

Periodontal disease occurs when plaque builds up on teeth, above and below the gumline. If left unchecked, the bacteria in the plaque mix with the mineral salts in your pet’s food to produce tartar, the hard, tannish-brown build-up on your pet’s teeth near the gumline. The bacteria in the tartar produce toxins that cause inflammation, called gingivitis, to your pet’s gums. Normal gum tissue is usually pink, with a smooth, thin, knife-like edge where the tissue meets the tooth. When gingivitis is present, the gums bleed easily, so if you’re noticing blood after your pet chews on toys or you brush his teeth, he likely has gingivitis. 

As gingivitis progresses, your pet’s gums will become increasingly red and thickened, and halitosis (i.e., bad breath) will quickly follow. Halitosis, which is almost always caused by periodontal disease, is often a pet owner’s first complaint. Unless your pet has ingested something stinky recently, a dental exam is in order, because if left unchecked, the toxins produced by the bacteria growing in the plaque on your pet’s teeth will begin to affect the tissues below the gumline and and destroy the periodontal ligament, resulting in loose teeth and eventual tooth loss. 

Cats, in particular, are prone to a couple of diseases not seen in dogs: odontoclastic lesions (i.e., reabsorption of the tooth enamel, which exposes the exquisitely sensitive tooth pulp) and stomatitis (i.e., inflammation of the gums and mouth tissue). Both conditions are extremely painful and should be addressed immediately by our team

Consequences of periodontal disease in pets

Periodontal disease that is allowed to progress can cause not only tooth loss, but also other local (i.e., dental) and systemic (i.e., whole body) problems, including:

Dental consequences:

  • Oro-nasal fistulas
  • Tooth-root abscesses
  • Pathologic jaw fractures
  • Osteomyelitis (i.e., the presence of dead, infected bone)

Systemic consequences:

  • Decreased liver and kidney function
  • Increased insulin resistance
  • Exacerbation of some cardiac conditions

Your pet’s dental problems are often an unrecognized source of pain, although many pet owners report that after a dental cleaning and treatment of periodontal disease, if needed, their pets act like puppies or kittens again. If your pet is older than 3 and hasn’t had a professional dental cleaning, call or email us now to schedule his dental exam.