Pets experience periodontal disease more than any other condition—up to 90% of all pets develop some form of dental disease by age 3. By learning how to identify periodontal disease signs in your four-legged friend, you can intervene early in the disease process and help preserve your pet’s oral and overall health.

What is periodontal disease in pets?

Periodontal disease refers to an inflammatory condition that affects the tissues surrounding the teeth, including the gums, periodontal ligaments, and alveolar bone. The disease typically starts with an accumulation of plaque—a sticky bacterial film—on the teeth. If not removed through regular brushing, plaque can harden into tartar (i.e., dental calculus), which only a professional dental cleaning can remove.

The bacterial buildup leads to gingival inflammation and infection, with periodontal disease the final result. Left untreated, periodontal disease can progress, damaging the surrounding tissues and ultimately leading to tooth loss, tooth-root abscesses, and jawbone loss. Periodontal disease can also cause systemic infections when oral bacteria travel to the vital organs, such as the heart, liver, and kidneys.

What causes periodontal disease in pets?

Several factors contribute to periodontal disease development in pets, including:

  • Poor dental hygiene — Like people, pets require regular dental care to prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar. Without proper brushing or veterinary dental cleanings, bacteria can proliferate and lead to gum disease.
  • Diet — Bacteria can thrive in certain foods, especially those high in sugars and carbohydrates, and contribute to plaque formation. Additionally, some treats and chews can worsen rather than improve oral health. For example, too-hard chews can lead to enamel erosion or tooth fractures, so opt for treats that bear the seal of acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). Products bearing the VOHC seal have been proven efficient in reducing plaque and tartar accumulation.
  • Genetics — Some pets are more genetically predisposed to dental problems, including periodontal disease. Dachshunds, Yorkies, greyhounds, and brachycephalic breeds (e.g., bulldogs, pugs, Persian cats) are more likely to accumulate plaque and tartar more quickly than other breeds, because of their genetic predisposition and anatomical abnormalities. 
  • Age — As pets age, their periodontal disease risk increases. Older pets may be more susceptible, because of years of plaque buildup and natural wear and tear on the teeth and gums.
  • Health conditions — Certain health conditions can increase your pet’s likelihood of developing dental issues, or may accelerate periodontal disease progression. A pet who has feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline calicivirus, diabetes, kidney disease, or autoimmune disorder, is more likely to develop severe periodontal disease.

What are periodontal disease signs in pets?

Detecting periodontal disease early is crucial for preventing further damage and preserving your pet’s oral health. Watch for these common signs:

  • Halitosis — Persistent bad breath is often a sign of dental issues, including periodontal disease. A mild odor to your pet’s breath is typically normal, but foul breath can indicate bacterial proliferation and oral infection.
  • Red or inflamed gums — Healthy gums should be pink and firm. If they are red, swollen or bleeding along the gum line, that could indicate gingivitis.
  • Plaque and tartar buildup — Plaque is generally colorless, but can cast a yellow tint on the teeth if the buildup thickens enough. Once plaque mineralizes into tartar, you may spot yellow or brown deposits on the teeth.
  • Excessive drooling — Thick, ropey saliva can indicate your pet is experiencing oral pain, while their drool may be tinged with blood if their gingivitis is severe.
  • Loose or missing teeth — As periodontal disease advances, the structures supporting the teeth may become damaged, causing loose or missing teeth.
  • Reluctance to chew — Inflamed gums and loose teeth can make eating uncomfortable for your pet, so they may refuse to chew on hard food or treats. In some cases, pets will swallow their food whole to avoid chewing.
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth — If your pet has a diseased or damaged tooth, they may try to avoid contact while chewing by tilting their head, dropping food while eating, or chewing on one side of the mouth.
  • Pawing at the face — A pet experiencing oral pain may paw at their mouth or rub their face on the ground to ease the discomfort.
  • Behavior changes — Pets who are unwell or in pain can withdraw or become irritable. Your pet with dental pain may hiss, growl, swat, or snap if you touch their head or face.

Periodontal disease is a common—yet preventable—condition in pets. By prioritizing dental care and paying attention to your pet’s oral health, you can help prevent disease onset and ensure a happy, healthy smile and good quality of life for your furry friend.

If you suspect your pet is suffering from periodontal disease or another dental issue, don’t hesitate to consult with our Staples Mill Animal Hospital team. Give us a call to schedule an appointment.