Hidden in Your Companion’s Mouth – Debilitating Disease

Does your cat or dog companion seem grumpy? Have bad breath? Squirm when nuzzled around the ears or muzzle?

You and your animal friend may have a big problem – Periodontal Disease.


Caretakers Don’t Have X-Ray Vision

The majority of the pet companions who visit Salty Paws are diagnosed as having two health-threatening problems: periodontal disease and obesity. Spotting excess blubber on a pet is fairly easy. Not so with periodontal disease – an affliction that can wreak havoc on a pet’s teeth, gums, jaws, and even its snout. Much of the damage is done below the gum line and most pet caretakers won’t recognize the disease until it has gone into advanced (visible) stages. Even veterinarians must rely on x-rays to determine the extent of any periodontal disease damage.


Oral Health and Quality of Life

Many pet parents have known the pain of a toothache or have experienced the discomfort of gingivitis. Though our canine and feline charges are susceptible to tooth cavities, the larger threat is the pain and the unhealthy consequences of periodontal disease. Just as with humans, when the oral health of a cat or dog companion starts to decay, a decline in quality of life and general health isn’t far behind. We caretakers must understand periodontal disease, become aware of its debilitating consequences, and learn how to protect the oral health of our dependent companions.


Understanding Periodontal Disease

This isn’t pretty, but bear up. Bacteria in the mouth form a substance called plaque that sticks to tooth surfaces. Minerals in the saliva harden that plaque into a substance called tartar (dental calculus) that attaches firmly to the teeth. The tartar above the gum line can be quite obvious, but the disease doesn’t start there. Bacteria that have grown in the tarter and plaque under the gum line (sub-gingival) start to damage the supporting tissue of the teeth. Those bacteria secrete tissue-damaging toxins and they also stimulate the animal’s immune system.


Immune System In Overdrive

The immune systems causes white blood cells to move into the spaces between the tooth and the gum or the bone. Their purpose is to destroy the bacteria there, but the strong chemicals released by them during a periodontal onslaught can also damage the supporting tissue of the teeth. Indeed, when there is a severe build-up of plaque and tartar, along with the resultant bacteria accumulation, the immune response can kick into overdrive and actually worsen the problem by attacking healthy tissue.


Fear the Consequences

Painful gingivitis (reddening or inflammation of the gums) and health-threatening periodontitis (bone and tissue loss around the teeth) are the main components of periodontal disease. As the disease progresses, this loss becomes extreme. Fistulas or holes from the oral cavity into the nasal passages can form, causing nasal discharge. The jaw can be fractured easily when weakened by the disease. Bone infection (osteomyelititis) may set in. The unpleasant consequences of periodontal disease can include:

  • Fetid breath
  • Chronic mouth pain
  • Tooth loss
  • Weight loss
  • Pitiful demeanor
  • Unfriendly attitude (even with trusted human companions)


Teeth become wobbly in their sockets, making eating difficult and painful. Tooth loss becomes inevitable. Beware, even if the appetite seems fine, understand that dogs and cats are survivors and will be stoic in the face of pain rather than go without eating. Perhaps the scariest aspect of the disease is that the bacteria causing the trouble around the teeth can enter the bloodstream and cause potentially dangerous tissue changes in major organs, especially in older pets. Vital organs susceptible to damage include:

  • Liver
  • Heart
  • Kidneys
  • Lungs


Preventing and Alleviating Periodontal Disease

Now that you know the gory details, take a look at your pet’s mouth, especially the gums. If you suspect periodontal disease, get your pet to the vet as soon as possible. Even if the disease isn’t apparent, it’s important to schedule a dental health check-up that should include a thorough cleaning. Cats and smaller dogs, certain susceptible breeds such as Greyhounds, and senior pets may require dental checkups every six months. Larger pets may pass with annual dental health assessments.


Your veterinarian commonly requires x-rays to determine the extent of any damage from periodontal disease. A dental health checkup will usually include a thorough cleaning. These procedures require the administration of sedation or anesthesia. If periodontal disease is diagnosed, antibiotics and topical applications may be prescribed. If the damage is severe, oral surgery may be required to protect the health and life of the pet.


Today, veterinarians have state-of-the-art treatments including applications that help prevent periodontal disease for up to six months. These are applied after a cleaning. This is a good thing as most humans just don’t do very well when it comes to the daily maintenance of a pet’s oral hygiene. Veterinarians will also recommend prophylactic procedures such as brushing, making certain chew toys available, or providing prescription dental diets.


Save Your Pet and Your Money

Regularly checking the oral condition of our pups and kitties helps ensure their overall health and quality of life. These checkups should start early in the animal’s life. Some pet parents may consider dental care frivolous or too costly. They should consider the health and happiness of their companions compared to the small expense for necessary oral check-ups and cleanings. Not to mention that nipping oral health problems in animal pets early will keep them from taking a big bite out of human wallets later.




-B. Dirmeyer

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