A watercolor painting of a dog with gum disease next to a bowl of food.

Gum Disease in Dogs: Exploring Canine Periodontal Health

What is it?

Periodontal disease in dogs is a condition that affects the tissues surrounding the teeth, including the gums, ligaments, and bones. This condition is caused by the buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth, which can lead to infection and inflammation. Over time, periodontal disease can cause tooth loss and other health problems.

How is it Treated?

The treatment of periodontal disease in dogs typically involves a professional dental cleaning under anesthesia. This consists of the removal of plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth, as well as the treatment of any underlying infections or inflammation. In addition to preventing further development of periodontal disease, regular at-home dental care, such as tooth brushing and dental chews or treats, is recommended.

Breed Predispositions

Chihuahua Pomeranian Toy Poodle Yorkshire Terrier Maltese Dachshund Shetland Sheepdog Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Greyhound Afghan Hound


Sarah had always been proud of her dog, Cooper, a handsome and energetic Border Collie with a radiant smile. However, she recently noticed that his breath was increasingly foul, and his once pearly white teeth were now discolored and covered in plaque. Knowing the importance of dental health, Sarah wasted no time in taking Cooper to their family veterinarian for an examination. The vet’s diagnosis was clear: Cooper was suffering from periodontal disease, a common yet potentially severe oral health problem in dogs.

Periodontal disease, often called gum disease, is a common disease in dogs that leads to inflammation and injury to the soft tissue and bone that support a dog’s teeth. This disease is typically triggered by an accumulation of plaque and tartar below the gum line on the tooth’s surface, which can cause an infection. If left untreated, this infection can spread to other parts of the mouth, eventually leading to tooth loss and more severe health conditions.

The American Academy of Periodontology describes periodontal disease as a chronic inflammatory condition that impacts the structures tasked with supporting the teeth, highlighting its role in overall health. It is estimated that periodontal disease, common in dogs, affects approximately 80% of dogs aged three and over. This suggests that most dogs, even those that show signs of periodontal disease, don’t escape their grip at some point.

Types of Periodontal Disease in Dogs

There are three types of periodontal disease: gingivitis, periodontitis, and apical periodontitis.

  1. Gingivitis is milder than periodontitis, and it causes redness and swelling of the gums and makes regular tooth brushing difficult. Gingivitis usually starts with plaque buildup under the gumline. Over time, bacteria multiply and form tartar, causing the gums to become inflamed. With gingivitis, there is no bone loss or tooth attachment.
  2. Periodontitis is often called adult periodontitis because it typically develops during adulthood. Deep pockets between teeth and gums, loose teeth, and bone loss characterized loss. Periodontitis is caused by bacterial infections that destroy the soft tissues and bones supporting teeth.
  3. Apical periodontitis is much rarer than other periodontal diseases. It happens when infected teeth spread into the tooth’s root canal system. Apical periodontitis can occur in people with healthy gums and regular dental hygiene. However, it can cause chronic pain and can damage the jawbone.

Causes of Gum Disease in Dogs

The primary cause of dog periodontal disease is the accumulation of bacteria in the dog’s oral cavity. These bacteria merge with saliva and food remnants, forming a sticky plaque that clings to the dog’s tooth. As time progresses, this plaque solidifies into tartar, a tough substance that adheres to the teeth, potentially advancing under the gum line.

This area becomes a hospitable environment for further bacterial growth. The presence of bacteria, plaque, and tartar aggravates the gums and nearby tissues, instigating inflammation or gingivitis, marking where periodontal disease begins.

periodontal disease in dogs

Numerous factors can shape the onset and intensity of dog periodontal disease. These factors include age, breed, diet, oral hygiene, and excessive grooming habits. For example, as dog’s age, they become more susceptible to gum disease, especially if oral hygiene is not consistently practiced. In addition, specific breeds, particularly smaller ones or those with crowded teeth, are more prone to periodontal disease due to their mouth structure. Dietary habits are another key component; a diet primarily composed of soft or wet food might promote plaque and tartar formation, given these food types stick to the teeth more readily than dry kibble.

The dog’s overall health and immune status can also dictate the progress of the periodontal disease. For instance, dogs suffering from immune-mediated diseases or conditions that hamper the body’s ability to resist infections may be more vulnerable to a severe or swift advancement of periodontal disease. Likewise, dogs with chronic conditions like diabetes could face an elevated risk of periodontal disease due to changes in gum blood flow and shifts in oral bacteria. These factors combined emphasize the necessity of routine veterinary care and good oral hygiene practices, such as giving your dog regular teeth cleanings.

Studies reveal that almost 90 percent of dogs will develop some form of periodontitis by age two. This common dental disease is one reason we must prioritize our furry friends’ dental health as early as possible to prevent periodontal disease. In severe cases, unchecked periodontal disease can cause jaw fractures and problems for dogs with organ conditions, highlighting its potentially far-reaching effects.

Stage 1: Gingivitis

During the initial stage of periodontal disease in dogs, the signs and symptoms are typically mild. They may encompass bad breath and inflamed gums, contributing to a dog’s reluctance to consume hard foods. However, the outlook is positive at this stage, with proper dental care and frequent cleaning to eradicate plaque and tartar, ensuring your dog’s mouth remains healthy.

Stage 2: Early Periodontitis

At the onset of periodontitis, there is amplified inflammation and gum erosion. Signs of this stage may include bad breath, visible tartar, drooling, and possible alterations in eating or chewing patterns. However, the prognosis is still favorable, with professional dental cleanings and care necessary to maintain good oral health.

Stage 3: Moderate Periodontitis

As we progress to the intermediate periodontitis stage, symptoms intensify. These include persistent bad breath, evident tartar, gum recession, and bleeding gums. Dogs may also demonstrate discomfort, such as pawing at their mouth or difficulty eating. At this juncture, the prognosis becomes more cautious as irreversible damage might have already occurred, but professional dental treatments can help manage the disease in your dogs.

Stage 4: Advanced Periodontitis

The final stage of periodontal disease, severe periodontitis, manifests through pronounced bad breath, rampant tartar, gum erosion, loose or missing teeth, and significant discomfort, which may lead to changes in behavior. Sadly, the prognosis is poor, as considerable and irreversible dental damage has transpired. Nonetheless, regular veterinary care can help manage pain and decelerate the progression of this common disease.”

Diagnosis of Periodontal Disease in Dogs

Diagnosing periodontal disease in dogs entails a blend of physical evaluation and dental diagnostic techniques.

Initially, veterinarians will conduct a comprehensive physical examination of the dog, incorporating a meticulous assessment of the dog’s mouth and teeth. Next, the vet will scout for indications of periodontal diseases, such as red and inflamed gums, bad breath, tartar accumulation, loose or missing teeth, and any sign of discomfort in the dog. Identifying periodontal disease present at this stage can help prevent the need for emergency care later on.

However, additional diagnostic procedures are often necessary to gain a complete picture, as many changes transpire beneath the gum line where they are not instantly visible. These can encompass dental radiographs (X-rays) to evaluate the state of the dog’s teeth and the supporting bone structures beneath the gum line.

These dental radiographs can disclose the existence of periodontal pockets (spaces between the tooth and gum tissue), loss of bone surrounding the teeth, and the overall health of the tooth roots. These elements aid the veterinarian in accurately staging the periodontal disease and deciding the most suitable treatment plan, considering the state of the periodontal tissues.

In certain scenarios, a veterinarian might also carry out periodontal probing. This procedure involves using a unique tool to measure the depth of the gum pockets around a tooth. A deeper pocket could signify a more severe form of the disease.

Blood tests can also help evaluate the dog’s overall health and ascertain if an infection has spread beyond the mouth, vital in more advanced stages of periodontal disease.

It’s crucial to note that a thorough dental examination and X-rays are typically performed under general anesthesia. This practice ensures the dog’s comfort while maintaining the procedure’s safety and effectiveness.

Treatment of Periodontal Disease in Dogs

The plan of action for treating periodontal disease in dogs fluctuates based on the stage of the disease. Here’s a look at how veterinary professionals typically tackle each phase:

Treatment of Periodontal Disease in Dogs

Addressing Stage 1 (Gingivitis)

At this stage, periodontal disease is still reversible. A veterinarian, aligned with the Veterinary Oral Health Council standards, will carry out a professional dental cleaning, which includes scaling (eradicating dental plaque and tartar) and polishing the pet’s teeth. Regular teeth cleaning and adherence to an endorsed dental hygiene routine at home, such as daily teeth brushing, are among the best treatment options to prevent disease progression. This is one of the pet care tips that can be easily implemented at home.

Managing Stage 2 (Early Periodontitis)

In addition to professional dental cleaning, the vet might employ subgingival scaling and root planing (also called deep cleaning) to eliminate plaque and tartar beneath the gum line, a method designed to address dental disease. They might also apply antibiotic gels to the gum pockets to exterminate bacteria and stimulate healing.

Approach for Stage 3 (Moderate Periodontitis)

At this point, the disease is more widespread and likely involves irreversible bone loss, marking a transition into stages 3 and 4 of periodontal disease. Along with dental and deep cleaning, periodontal surgery could be required to access and cleanse deeper pockets of infection. In some situations, veterinarians at the animal hospital may utilize regenerative procedures such as bone grafting or guided tissue regeneration. Furthermore, extractions might be essential for severely impacted teeth.

Intervention for Stage 4 (Advanced Periodontitis)

In this advanced stage, the disease causes substantial damage to the dog’s oral health, including significant bone loss. Extracting teeth often becomes necessary to alleviate pain and eradicate sources of ongoing infection. Following surgery, the proper treatment emphasizes pain management and control of secondary bacterial infections.

Regardless of the stage, veterinarians will underline the importance of continuous home care and regular veterinary dental check-ups to help manage the disease and prevent its progression. Additionally, the vet may advise special diets, dog food and chew toys, or dental treats that aid in cleaning the dog’s teeth and consistent tooth brushing.

Remember that early detection and intervention are vital in managing periodontal disease. If you observe any signs of oral discomfort in your dog or changes in eating behavior, consult a veterinarian immediately. These steps ensure gum disease is treated promptly with the best treatment available.

Consequences of Untreated Periodontal Disease in Dogs

Periodontal disease in dogs can lead to various complications if left untreated. These complications may include:

  1. Tooth loss: Advanced periodontal disease can destroy the tissues supporting the teeth, leading to loose or missing teeth.
  2. Oral pain: Inflamed gums and dental infections can cause significant pain and discomfort for dogs, making it difficult for them to eat, chew, and enjoy their meals.
  3. Gum infections: Bacterial infections associated with periodontal disease can spread to the gums, causing gingivitis and more severe gum infections.
  4. Abscesses: Pockets of pus may form in the gums or around the tooth roots, resulting in painful abscesses.
  5. Jawbone damage: Severe periodontal disease can affect the underlying jawbone, leading to bone loss and weakening of the jaw structure.
  6. Systemic health issues: The bacteria associated with periodontal disease can enter the bloodstream and potentially affect other organs, leading to systemic health problems such as heart, liver, or kidney disease.
  7. Bad breath: One of the common signs of periodontal disease is persistent bad breath (halitosis) caused by the accumulation of bacteria and decaying food particles in the mouth.

Prevention of Periodontal Disease in Dogs

Preventing periodontal disease in dogs requires home care and professional veterinary attention.

Consistent Tooth Brushing

One of the most effective strategies to prevent periodontal disease involves regular tooth brushing, specifically for dogs. This practice helps eliminate the plaque that can solidify into tartar and subsequently lead to periodontal disease. Employ a dog-friendly toothpaste and toothbrush, and strive to brush your dog’s teeth daily.

Specially Formulated Diets and Treats

Certain diets and treats have been uniquely created to assist in cleaning a dog’s teeth while they eat. These can supplement tooth brushing quite effectively. Additionally, dental diets and dog treats foster oral health by reducing plaque and tartar accumulation on the teeth. Here are a few examples:

  • Hill’s Prescription Diet t/d Dental Care for Dogs: This special kibble is engineered to resist breaking apart, thus scrubbing the surface of the teeth as the dog consumes it, helping to prevent plaque build-up.
  • Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Dental Dry Dog Food: This particular diet features specially designed kibble with a unique texture that promotes chewing and assists in reducing plaque and tartar formation.
  • Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Dental Chewz Dog Treats: These long-lasting, protein-rich, flavorful chews help diminish tartar accumulation for improved dental health.
  • Greenies Dental Dog Treats: Greenies are dental chews recommended by vets with a unique texture designed to combat plaque and tartar along the gum line.
  • Milk-Bone Brushing Chews: These daily dental treats are engineered to remove harmful plaque and tartar and carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance.
  • Whimzees Natural Grain-Free Dental Dog Treats: These vegetable-based treats feature a unique shape and texture to assist in removing plaque and tartar as the dog chews.
  • Pedigree Dentastix Dental Treats for Dogs: Dentastix is an X-shaped dental treatment that helps to reduce plaque and tartar build-up when incorporated into a daily oral care regimen.

Dental Toys

A broad range of toys on the market is designed to clean dogs’ teeth while playing. These toys can effectively promote dental hygiene in dogs resistant to tooth brushing. Here are a few examples:

  • Chew Toys: These toys, usually crafted from durable rubber or nylon, may feature grooves, bumps, or nubs that assist in cleaning the teeth and gums as the dog chews.
  • Dental Chews or Edible Dental Toys: These are toys that dogs can chew and consume. They are typically made from soft abrasive materials to help clean teeth, and some are formulated with enzymes or other components that promote dental health.
  • Dental Sticks: These resemble dental chews but are usually stick-shaped. They can be crafted from various materials, including edible substances like rawhide or vegetable-based compounds. Their chewing action can help clean a dog’s teeth.
  • Rope Toys: Some rope toys can assist in cleaning a dog’s teeth as the individual threads navigate the spaces between teeth.

Regular Veterinary Visits

Regular dental appointments with your vet are crucial as they can help identify early signs of disease. Additionally, your vet can recommend when professional dental cleaning is needed.

Professional Dental Cleanings

Professional dental cleanings under anesthesia represent the highest standard in preventive dental care. This procedure allows for a comprehensive cleaning above and below the gum line and aids in preventing periodontal disease progression.

Remember, these preventative steps aim to preserve your dog’s oral health, which may contribute to your pet’s overall health. As pet owners, it’s best to consult your vet about the most suitable dental care plan for your dog, including appropriate dog food and chew toys.

Frequently Asked Questions

The cost of treating canine periodontal disease can vary depending on various factors such as the severity of the disease, the specific treatments required, the location, and the veterinary clinic. Generally, the cost can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

While it’s important to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, there are some general steps you can take to help improve your dog’s gum health without relying solely on medication:

  • Regular dental care
  • Dental-friendly diet
  • Provide dental chew toys
  • Regular veterinary check-ups
  • Water additives or rinses
  1. Brush their teeth: Use a special toothbrush and toothpaste made for dogs to brush their teeth. Start slowly and do it regularly, ideally every day. Brushing helps get rid of plaque on their teeth.
  2. Use dental wipes or pads: If your dog doesn’t like toothbrushing, you can use special wipes or pads for cleaning teeth. First, wipe their teeth and gums to remove plaque.
  3. Give dental chews or toys: Offer your dog dental chews or toys designed to help clean teeth. These can include bones, chew toys, or special chews with a rough texture. As your dog chews on them, it helps scrape away plaque.
  4. Get professional dental cleaning: If your dog has a lot of plaque buildup, it’s best to see a vet for a professional dental cleaning. While under anesthesia, they will thoroughly clean your dog’s teeth, including below the gum line.

Remember to start early with dental care and make it a routine. This will help keep your dog’s teeth clean and prevent dental problems. If you have any questions or concerns, ask your vet for guidance.

Yes, periodontal disease can be painful for dogs. The disease affects the gums, teeth, and supporting structures of the teeth, leading to inflammation, infection, and tissue damage. As a result, dogs with periodontal disease may experience discomfort, pain, and sensitivity in their gums and teeth. In addition, they may have difficulty eating, show signs of oral discomfort such as pawing at the mouth or reluctance to chew on hard objects, and may have bad breath. 

The development of periodontal disease in dogs can vary depending on various factors, such as the dog’s oral hygiene, genetics, diet, and overall health. In general, periodontal disease progresses gradually over time. It starts with accumulating plaque and tartar on the teeth, which can lead to gum inflammation (gingivitis). If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, where the infection and inflammation extend below the gumline, causing damage to the supporting structures of the teeth. The progression of periodontal disease can take several months to years, and regular dental care and professional cleanings are essential to prevent and slow down its development.

The survival of a dog with gum disease (periodontal disease) can vary depending on the severity of the condition, the dog’s overall health, and the effectiveness of treatment. Untreated gum disease can lead to various complications and health issues, including tooth loss, pain, oral infections, and the potentially spreading bacteria to other body parts. In severe cases, untreated gum disease can contribute to systemic health problems and may affect the dog’s quality of life. However, with proper dental care, including regular professional cleanings, at-home oral hygiene, and addressing any underlying health issues, the progression of gum disease can be slowed down or even halted, allowing the dog to live a healthier and longer life.

No, the periodontal disease itself is not contagious between dogs. However, the bacteria contributing to gum disease can be transferred between dogs through shared food bowls, toys, or direct contact. Therefore, it’s important to practice good hygiene and dental care for your dog to prevent the spread of bacteria and maintain oral health. 

Gum disease itself does not typically cause diarrhea in dogs. However, advanced stages of gum disease or oral infections can lead to systemic health issues if bacteria from the mouth enter the bloodstream and affect other organs. These systemic health problems can cause gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, but it does not directly result from gum disease. If your dog is experiencing diarrhea, it is best to consult a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.

Yes, dental disease in dogs can contribute to elevated liver enzymes. The oral bacteria associated with dental disease can enter the bloodstream and spread to other organs, including the liver. This can lead to inflammation and infection in the liver, resulting in elevated liver enzyme levels. Therefore, it’s important to address dental disease in dogs to maintain their overall health and prevent potential complications. Regular dental care, including professional cleanings and at-home dental hygiene practices, can help prevent dental disease and reduce the risk of related health issues.

The primary bacteria that contribute to periodontal disease in dogs is called Porphyromonas spp. Other bacteria, such as Prevotella spp., Fusobacterium spp., and Actinomycin spp., can also play a role in the development and progression of periodontal disease. These bacteria form plaque on the teeth, leading to inflammation and infection of the gums, destruction of the tooth’s supporting structures, and eventually periodontal disease. Regular dental care, including professional cleanings and at-home dental hygiene practices, can help control the growth of these bacteria and prevent periodontal disease in dogs.

The periodontal disease itself does not directly cause seizures in dogs. However, severe dental disease and associated oral infections can lead to systemic health issues and inflammation, contributing to or worsening existing conditions, including seizures. Therefore, addressing dental disease promptly and maintaining good oral hygiene in dogs to support their overall health and well-being is important. If your dog is experiencing seizures or any concerning symptoms, it is best to consult a veterinarian for a proper evaluation and diagnosis.

Yes, dental disease in dogs can have a genetic component. Certain breeds may be more prone to dental problems due to genetics. However, it’s important to note that diet, oral hygiene care, and overall health can also influence dental disease. Regular dental care and professional cleanings are crucial to maintaining good oral health in all dogs, regardless of their genetic predisposition.

Anesthesia-free dental cleanings are generally not recommended as the primary method of dental care for dogs. They only address the visible surfaces of the teeth and do not allow for a thorough examination or treatment of underlying dental issues. In addition, these cleanings can be stressful for the dog, potentially traumatic, and lack the safety of anesthesia. Professional dental cleanings performed under anesthesia are recommended for a comprehensive approach to dental care, including examination, thorough cleaning, and necessary treatments. Regular veterinary dental care and at-home oral hygiene are important for maintaining your dog’s oral health and preventing dental disease. Consult with your veterinarian for the best dental care plan for your dog.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this veterinary website is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a licensed veterinarian for any concerns or questions regarding the health and well-being of your pet. This website does not claim to cover every possible situation or provide exhaustive knowledge on the subjects presented. The owners and contributors of this website are not responsible for any harm or loss that may result from the use or misuse of the information provided herein.

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