By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Cats and dogs often have periodontal disease. This is the condition where plaque bacteria affect the bone and gum tissues that support the teeth.
In the early stages it is called gingivitis and shows up as reddened, swollen gums that are sensitive. This early stage is reversible with proper dental cleaning and is preventable with follow-up home care by the owner.
If this stage is left to develop further, it becomes periodontitis. This is inflammation deeper into the mouth along the roots. Again, the culprit is oral bacteria in a film that attaches to the tooth and roots. At this stage there are irreversible changes happening in the pet’s mouth and in its internal organs.
A study in December 2014 by the American Veterinary Dental Society showed that by 3 years of age, 70 percent of cats and 80 percent of dogs had developed periodontal disease. This makes it the most common disease seen in dogs and cats.
The health consequences of this infection are significant. Plaque bacteria gain access to the bloodstream and over time can cause permanent damage to the liver and kidneys. Heart valves can also be colonized by bacteria from the mouth. Popular small breed dogs are affected even more than bigger dogs since their gum tissues make up a larger percentage of their body size.
Proper treatment of periodontal disease involves communication. Owners should realize that since the condition develops gradually, pets have time to get used to the discomfort. Dogs and cats will still eat and drink despite significant dental disease, though they may start to prefer softer foods.
Once owners are educated about the condition and benefits of treating it, their pets will be scheduled for a dental cleaning and treatment under anesthesia. Only when pets are asleep can the veterinarian and technicians probe all aspects of the teeth and gums and take dental X-rays to assess roots and bone health.
The owner will want to provide home care such as dental chews, diets, and even brushing teeth. If periodontitis is found, depending on its level, some teeth may have to be removed. Others may be saved, though they may have irreversible changes.
Education is key, and early intervention with regular teeth cleanings will provide your pet the best chance at living a full life with a pain-free mouth.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.