Periodontal Disease in Dogs and Cats

Periodontal disease is the most common clinical disease that affects dogs and cats as young adults. Studies have shown that an alarming 70% of dogs and cats have some stage of periodontal disease by the age of 2 years old. The good news for our dogs and cats, in the early stages, periodontal disease is curable.

What is periodontal disease?

Initially, periodontal disease starts when the bacteria present on the teeth and its surrounding tissue, create a sticky substance that adheres to the tooth’s surface. The sticky substance is called plaque. In time, minerals present in the saliva solidify this plaque transforming it into dental calculus, otherwise referred to as tartar.

Typically tartar lies below the gum line in the space that is usually obstructed from our view. When the plaque and tartar spread under the gum line, bacteria residing in the plaque, release toxins that damage the tooth’s surrounding tissue (periodontium). The infection and inflammation of the periodontium is called periodontitis.

Why is it important to treat periodontal disease?

If periodontal disease is left untreated, the disease often leads to tooth loss. Periodontal disease is progressive over time and it is an infection. In addition, the bacteria can also adversely affect your pet’s immune system as it tries to combat the infection, which can bring about acute pain and discomfort for your dog or cat.

What are the stages of periodontal disease?

  • Stage 1: Gingivitis
    Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease and is caused by plaque buildup around the gum line which causes inflammation of the gums. If this plaque is not removed on the surface of the tooth daily, the plaque buildup will trap bacteria and cause gum disease. The infection causes inflammation of the gums called gingivitis. The gums (gingiva) become red and may even bleed during chewing or brushing.
  • Stage 2: Early Periodontitis
  • Early periodontitis, this stage occurs when there is a small amount of bone loss – less than 25% – visible on oral radiographs. You may notice inflammation of your dog or cat's gums, bad breath, and some visible plaque and tartar.
  • Stage 3: Moderate Periodontitis 
  • Moderate periodontitis, this stage occurs when 25-50% bone loss is visible on oral radiographs. Gums will be swollen and irritated, and probably bleed easily. There is loss of gum attachment to the tooth, forming areas known as periodontal pockets, the infection can spread into the supporting gum bone and damage it. As the bone is eroded, pain may cause a loss of appetite as well. You will likely notice more intense bad breath in dogs and cats. In cats, you may notice odor to their haircoat as cats groom their bodies with stinky saliva.
  • Stage 4: Advanced Periodontitis 
  • Advanced periodontitis, this stage occurs when insufficient supporting tissue surround the tooth, the tooth becomes loose and may develop an abscess or even fall out. There is no treatment that will keep a Stage 4 tooth healthy, and without extraction, these teeth will cause continued pain, inflammation, and can result in progressive periodontal disease of other teeth. Therefore, if any tooth has stage 4 periodontal disease, we recommend extraction as the only option.

How can you prevent periodontal disease in your dog or cat?

Periodontal disease can be prevented through home dental care, which includes daily brushing that would inhibit the build-up of plaque and calculus in the first place. Since you don’t know when the disease will set in, the second method of prevention is to ensure you regularly take your pet for a check up to your veterinarian. Even though we brush our teeth every day, we still go to the dentist to have an oral hygienist clean the unseen plaque from our teeth and below our gum line. Just like people, dogs and cats need their teeth cleaned routinely to ensure oral health and control periodontal disease.

Did you know that dental disease is one of the leading causes of heart and kidney disease in a pet?

In humans, there has been a clear link between periodontal disease and cardiac and kidney disease. In dogs and cats, a definite association has been shown in numerous studies between periodontal disease and heart and kidney disease. In fact, the greater the severity of periodontal disease, the greater the risk and severity of cardiac or kidney disease in dogs and cats.

These findings emphasize the importance of preventing periodontal disease before it starts and treating it when it is already present. A key point to remember is that dogs and cats with both heart or kidney disease and periodontal disease can still have their dental disease treated. Heart or kidney disease does not preclude a dog or cat from having their dental disease treated safely under anesthesia. In fact, these are the cases that need it the most! 

Why do we call "dentals" at Blue Oasis Pet Hospital by a different name called COHATs. COHATs are Complete Oral Health Assessment and Treatment.

Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment, which includes but is not limited to: intraoral radiographs teeth, complete oral exam and evaluation, tooth charting, complete dental cleaning, polishing, and any treatment deemed necessary and agreed upon by the owner.

Our cleaning procedure includes: ultrasonic scaling using CLS solution, hand scaling above and below the gum line with sterile and sharpened hand instruments, polishing using a new prophy angle and individual prophy paste for each pet, and charting.

Intraoral radiographs, or teeth x-rays, are necessary for accurate evaluation of the entire tooth. Cleaning and polishing the teeth are not enough to ensure that the tooth is healthy. We need to look below the gum line to see the root and supporting tooth structures.

When you go to the dentist for a normal exam, a common practice is to take x-rays to evaluate every tooth. Now we are doing the same for our pets. Our goal is to ensure optimal health for your pet’s mouth and body.

With digital dental x-ray, we are able to catch problems early before they cause your pet to lose teeth due to periodontal disease.

Concerns about COHATs and Oral Surgery

It is natural to be concerned when considering dental care or oral surgery for your dog or cat. These fears are due to the unfamiliar nature of the pet's problem. Anesthesia and surgery is particularly a difficult consideration for aged and dear companions.

The human-animal bond is different for each person. In most cases, it is very strong.There are times when family and friends may have a drastically different opinion on whether you should proceed with dental care or major oral surgery for your dog or cat. 

We will provide a dental or surgery consultation to help you through these feelings by providing accurate answers to all your questions from our clinical expertise. The best decisions can only be made with accurate information about the underlying problem and the treatment prognosis.

This is your opportunity to get the information you need to make good decisions.

Common questions owners ask

The answers are based on our clinical experience with animals having a variety of problems requiring major oral surgery.

1. Is anesthesia safe for my dog or cat?

We require pre-anesthetic lab work and ECG in all our patients undergoing dental anesthesia. We customize our anesthetic protocol to each individual. We have highly trained team members that have advanced training in dentistry. We utilize veterinary-specific high quality equipment to clean and polish teeth thoroughly, while reducing anesthesia time. We will walk you through our anesthesia safety protocols if you need to. We also invite you to stay with your pet to watch the team provide care.

2. Will the surgery cause pain and discomfort for my dog or cat?

Once you have decided to have oral surgery treatment for your dog or cat, pain prevention is considered very carefully. Please read the following to understand the best approach to manage pain.

The recognition of pain can be difficult for a several reasons. We know that animals try to hide pain from us as a natural protective instinct. We also fail to understand our animal's communication of pain.

Most pets that require major oral surgery have moderate to severe pain from their underlying problem such as: CUPS, feline stomatits and resorptive disease, Stage 3 or 4 periodontal disease, or oral tumors. Some conditions requiring major oral surgery are less painful such as the: dentigerous cysts.

Our team believes that any medical condition or surgical procedure that might be painful for humans, is definitely painful for dogs and cats.  It is our obligation to eliminate, or minimize pain for our patients!  We do this before, during and after surgical procedures using a "balanced" approach to analgesia.

In planning anesthesia for the surgery, the current pain status and the anticipated surgical procedure are considered when choosing pre-operative, intra-operative and post-operative pain medications. Every attempt is made to eliminate or minimize pain. Many clients have been impressed that their pets seem less painful very soon after major oral surgery. 

3. Will my dog or cat be able to eat, and how soon after surgery?

Most dogs and cats will be eating food within 6-12 hours after major oral surgery.  It is advised to feed small portions of food every few hours for the first 24 hours after surgery.

4. What will my dog or cat be able to eat, and how frequently do I feed them?

Sutures that dissolve are used for all our oral surgeries. We advise feeding canned food or moistened kibble after surgery for a period of 10-14 days. It may take time for your pet to adjust to changes created from the surgery when eating. It is usually helpful to encourage pets to eat from your hand after major oral surgery to get through the adjustment period. There will be some messes associated with salivation, lapping of food and water.

5. What will my dog or cat look like, and will there be disfigurement?

Your dog or cat's appearance after major oral surgery is often remarkably close to normal. When maxillary or mandibular canines are extracted, some patient's lips will fold inward and cheeks may look a bit suckened in. When all the teeth are removed from the mandible, then the lower jaw may appear narrowed or thin. More lip licking may be noted. 

In time, this may become less noticable. There may also be an increased flow of saliva after major oral surgery. Occasionally, some dogs or cats will have facial swelling which typically resolves without treatment within a few weeks.

6. What can I expect from surgery for my pet?

Expectations from surgery and the surgical prognosis are dependent on the procedure performed, and the underlying problem.  Most pets recover rapidly from major surgery within 24 to 48 hours. Many seem nearly unaffected other than mild sedation or varying behavioral changes from the pain relievers used.

7. Will I need to provide nursing care for my dog or cat?

Most pets do not require nursing care other than love, attention and hand feeding after major oral surgery.

8. What will the recovery period be?

The recovery period is usually two days or less. Complete healing of the oral cavity is normally takes 2-4 weeks

9. What will the surgery cost?

The cost of major oral surgery is based on several factors; the time to provide the care, materials, patient monitoring and technical help required. A treatment plan for dental care will be provided after consultation. If additional dental care is discovered during the COHAT procedure, a team member will reach out to explain the findings and plan to provide additional care needed, as well as cost.

10. Can I make payments for the surgery?

We enjoy being able to say yes, whenever possible. Payment plans are available though CareCredit

Blue Oasis Pet Hospital can perform advanced periodontal therapy and oral surgery should your pet need this care.

Dentistry and oral surgery has always been an area of special interest to Dr. Lucas. She has spent time mentoring the Blue Oasis Pet Hospital team to provide advanced dentistry and oral surgery. Blue Oasis Pet Hospital is an AAHA certified hospital and adheres to the AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.? Click Here for AAHA Dental Care Guidelines.

Should our team find more advanced disease that can not be treated under our care, we will refer you to My Pet's Dentist for more advanced boarded veterinary dental care.

Click Here to Schedule a appointment to have your dog or cat's dental disease evaluated.

Our video below follows our team as they provide a dental service: 

If you have any questions about our services, please contact us today at (615) 975-2583.