Gum Disease: The Hidden, Painful Disease That Affects 70-80% of Adult Pets

Gum Disease in Pets

Story at-a-glance -

  • February is National Pet Dental Health Month. The purpose is to raise awareness among pet owners of the epidemic of poor dental health in dogs and cats. Did you know that about 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats over the age of 3 have oral disease?
  • Gum disease – periodontal disease – is the most common oral health problem for dogs and cats. The condition typically starts with inflammation of a single tooth, but left untreated, it can ultimately result in loose and missing teeth and significant bone loss.
  • Oral disease isn’t always confined to a pet’s mouth. Similar to human health, researchers have established a clear link between gum disease and heart disease in dogs. The culprit is thought to be bacteria in the mouth that enters the bloodstream through compromised gum tissue.
  • In cats, two relatively common and very painful oral diseases are tooth resorption and stomatitis. Older cats and dogs are at higher risk of oral disease than their younger counterparts – especially periodontal disease, tooth resorption and oral cancer.
  • Recommendations for keeping your pet’s mouth healthy include daily home care, feeding a species-appropriate raw diet, offering raw bones to gnaw on, performing regular home inspections of the oral cavity, and arranging for routine exams performed by your veterinarian.

By Dr. Becker

The most important thing you can do for your pet’s oral health is to perform routine home dental care throughout his life. Plaque forms on your dog’s or cat’s teeth within 24 hours, so daily brushing is what I recommend.

For help getting started brushing your kitty’s teeth, view my instructional video. A video for dog owners can be found here.

If your pet is highly resistant to having her teeth brushed, there are products available that when applied to the teeth go to work to break down plaque and tartar without brushing.

Other tips for keeping your pet's mouth healthy:

  • Feed a species appropriate, preferably raw diet. Giving your dog or cat the food her body was designed to eat sets the stage for vibrant good health. When your pet gnaws on raw meat, in particular, it acts as a kind of natural toothbrush. This is especially important for kitties, since they don't enjoy chew bones like their canine counterparts do. Raw fed animals have substantially less dental disease than their dry fed counterparts, but they can still develop problems in their mouth. Unfortunately, feeding great food alone is not always enough to prevent dental disease for the life of your raw fed pet.
  • Offer recreational raw bones. Offering your pet raw knucklebones to gnaw on can help remove tartar the old fashioned way -- by grinding it off through mechanical chewing. There are some rules to offering raw bones (not for pets with pancreatitis, diseases of the mouth, weak or fractured teeth, resource guarders, "gulpers," etc.) so ask your holistic vet if raw bones would be a good "toothbrush" for your dog. I recommend offering a raw bone about the same size as your pet's head to prevent tooth fractures. If your dog cannot or should not chew recreational raw bones, I recommend you offer a fully digestible, high quality dental dog chew.
  • Perform routine mouth inspections. Your pet should allow you to open his mouth, look inside, and feel around for loose teeth or unusual lumps or bumps on the tongue, under the tongue, along the gum line and on the roof of his mouth. After you do this a few times, you'll become sensitive to any changes that might occur from one inspection to the next. You should also make note of any differences in the smell of your pet's breath that aren't diet-related.
  • Arrange for regular oral exams performed by your veterinarian. He or she will alert you to any existing or potential problems in your pet's mouth, and recommend professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia, if necessary. Obviously, preventing professional intervention is the goal, so be proactive in caring for your pet's mouth.

+ Sources and References