Gum disease in dogs has been linked in a new study to the occurrence of canine heart disease.
The study, conducted by Dr. Larry Glickman at Purdue, examined the records of nearly 60,000 dogs with some stage of periodontal disease and about 60,000 without, and revealed a correlation between gum and heart maladies.
"Our data show a clear statistical link between gum disease and heart disease in dogs," says Glickman.
The correlation was even stronger when it came to endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart valves, Glickman says. In the dogs with no periodontal disease, about 0.01 percent were diagnosed with endocarditis, compared to 0.15 percent of the Stage 3 periodontal disease dogs.
"For many candidates for heart disease, you're not talking about a single cause," says Glickman. "But it clearly speaks to more emphasis on dental care."
Research on the gum disease-heart disease connection in dogs is the result of similar studies with humans.
Those studies suggest that people with periodontal disease are twice as likely to have coronary artery disease and other heart conditions, than people with healthy gums.
This is an especially important area of study in dogs because 75 percent of canine companions have gum disease by the time they reach middle age.
How Your Dog Gets Gum Disease
Gum disease starts with plaque which is not removed from your dog’s teeth and gums.
Whenever your pup eats, bits of food and bacteria collect around the gum line and form plaque. If this plaque isn’t removed, within a few days it hardens into tartar, which adheres to your dog’s teeth.
Tartar irritates the gums and results in inflammation, called gingivitis. Your dog’s gums will turn from a healthy pink color to red, and you may notice some bad breath.
If the tartar isn’t removed it will accumulate under your dog’s gums, eventually pulling the gums away from the teeth and creating small open spaces, or pockets, which are collection points for even more bacteria.
If the problem progresses to this point, your dog has developed irreversible periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can cause pain, abscess, infection, loose teeth and even bone loss.
How quickly plaque, tartar and gum disease develop in your dog’s mouth depends on a number of factors including his age, overall health, diet, breed, genetics, and the care his teeth receive from both you and your veterinarian.
How Gum Disease Leads to Heart Disease
While studies clearly show a significant link between periodontal disease and heart disease in both humans and dogs, exactly how one leads to the other isn’t yet well understood.
Researchers suspect, however, that the culprit is bacteria in the mouth which enters the bloodstream. Mouth tissue, known as oral mucosa, is rich with blood vessels which hasten the speed at which bacteria can enter your dog’s bloodstream and travel throughout her body.
If your dog has periodontal disease, the surface of her gums is weakened and compromised. The breakdown of gum tissue is the door through which mouth bacteria enters her bloodstream.
If your pup’s immune system doesn’t kill off the bacteria circulating in her blood, it can reach her heart and infect it. The Purdue study points to a strong correlation between gum disease and endocarditis, an inflammation (infection) of the heart’s valves or inner lining.
Another way gum disease may lead to heart problems involves certain strains of oral bacteria. Some types of bacteria found in your dog’s mouth produce sticky proteins which can adhere to the walls of her arteries.
As this bacteria builds up, it thickens the walls of the arteries. This narrowing of the passageway through the arteries is closely associated with heart disease.
Bacteria are also known to promote the formation of blood clots which can damage the heart. Studies have shown that oral bacteria, once launched into the bloodstream, seem able to survive attacks by the immune system.
What to Do If You’re Worried Your Dog Has Heart Disease
It’s an unfortunate fact that heart disease is common in dogs. Up to 15 percent of young dogs have heart problems, and over half of aged dogs have heart disease.
Left untreated, heart disease can result in heart failure. Signs of a serious condition can include:
- Reluctance to exercise or play
- Tiredness, lethargy
- Breathlessness or trouble breathing
- Collapsing or fainting
If you’re concerned about your dog’s heart health, ask your veterinarian to help you assess your pet’s risk factors for heart disease.
If your vet determines there’s cause for concern, he’ll perform a thorough physical exam and order blood and other tests as necessary for a diagnosis.
A Clean Mouth = A Clean Bill of Health for Your Pet
A study conducted by the American Animal Health Association (AAHA) indicates that about two-thirds of pet owners don’t provide basic dental care for their companion animals.
This statistic closely correlates with the fact that 80 percent of dogs show significant oral disease by age three, and three quarters of all middle-aged dogs have irreversible gum disease.
I suspect part of the reason for the problem is awareness. Many pet owners are simply unaware of how important dental care is to their dog’s overall health.
And many dog parents also incorrectly assume that an annual cleaning by a veterinarian is all their pup needs to maintain good dental health.
Another reason for lack of home dental care for pets is the perceived level of difficulty of the task.
The fact is, though, that with a bit of training, the right tools, patience and consistency, most pet owners can learn how to control the plaque in their dog’s mouth in just minutes a day.
Controlling plaque before it turns to tartar is the key to preventing gum disease – yours and your pup’s.
Why wait another day to begin a home dental care program for your beloved companion?
If you start today, a month from now you and your dog will be trained and comfortable with your new daily routine. Your pup will have fresh breath and nice white teeth, and you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re doing everything possible for your furry companion.
Visit the AAHA’s HealthyPet.com site for some excellent tips on how to get started with home dental care for your dog. You’ll find links there to additional information and even an instructional video (designed for cats, but applicable to dogs as well).
Other Ways to Keep Your Dog’s Mouth Healthy
- The best way to insure your pup’s overall good health is to feed him a species appropriate, raw diet. Feeding your dog the food he was designed by nature to eat benefits every square inch of him, inside and out, including his teeth.
As your dog chews the bones in his raw diet, they help to scrape away plaque on his teeth. The cartilage, ligaments and tendons your pup encounters act as a natural dental floss. The tough, stringy consistency of this material rubs against and around each entire tooth, side to side, front and back, and down and around the gum line.
- Regular oral exams performed by your veterinarian are part of any good dental hygiene program for your pet. Your vet will alert you to any existing or potential problems with your dog’s mouth. At my hospital, I often point out teeth that need extra attention, even with raw bones and a species-appropriate diet. All teeth don’t accumulate plaque and tartar at the same rate. Identifying the teeth that need a little extra work can really make a big difference in reducing the frequency and necessity of professional scaling. Your vet will also recommend a professional cleaning under anesthesia, if necessary.
With the right diet, recreational chew toys and regular home dental care, you should be able to reduce the frequency of professional cleanings for your dog. Dental work can be expensive, and as with any medical procedure, it carries inherent risks.
- A fully digestible, high quality dental dog chew will help control plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth. The effect is similar to chewing raw bones, but safer for powerful chewers or dogs that have had restorative dental work done, and can’t chew raw bones.
- Remember that a high-quality dental dog bone will not contain wheat, gluten, soy or corn; saturated or trans fat; added sugar or salt; animal byproducts (gelatin, animal glycerin); chemical preservatives; artificial flavors or colors.
Never doubt the power you have to dramatically improve and maintain your dog’s health and reduce her risk of heart disease and other serious illnesses through diet, exercise, a home dental care program and regular wellness exams.
Your pup needs your help to live a long and healthy life.