Pet Periodontal Disease: Understanding, Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Pet ownership is a joyful and fulfilling experience, bringing companionship and happiness to millions of households worldwide. However, with the joy of having pets comes the responsibility of ensuring their well-being, including their oral health. Pet periodontal disease, a common yet often overlooked condition, can have severe implications for the overall health of our furry friends. This blog aims to shed light on periodontal disease in pets, exploring what it is, how it is caused, why pets are susceptible to it, and what symptoms to watch out for, as well as providing valuable prevention tips to keep your pet’s mouth healthy.

What is Pet Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is a serious condition affecting the structures surrounding the teeth, including the gums, periodontal ligaments, and alveolar bones. It begins with the accumulation of plaque—a sticky film of bacteria—on the teeth. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can irritate and inflame the gums, leading to gingivitis. If gingivitis is left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis, where the inflammation extends deeper, damaging the supporting structures of the teeth. In advanced stages, periodontal disease can cause tooth loss, severe pain, and systemic health issues.

Periodontal disease is not just a human affliction; it affects pets too. Dogs and cats are particularly prone to this condition, with studies suggesting that over 80% of dogs and 70% of cats over the age of three suffer from some form of periodontal disease. This high prevalence underscores the importance of regular dental care and early intervention.

How is Pet Periodontal Disease Caused?

The primary cause of periodontal disease in pets is the accumulation of bacteria in the mouth. Here is a detailed look at the process:

1) Plaque Formation: After eating, food particles and saliva combine to form a sticky film called plaque on the teeth. This film is teeming with bacteria, which feed on the sugars and starches present in food.

2) Tartar Build-Up: If plaque is not removed through regular brushing or professional cleaning, it hardens into tartar (calculus) within 24 to 48 hours. Tartar adheres firmly to the teeth and can only be removed by a veterinary professional.

3) Gingivitis: The bacteria in plaque and tartar produce toxins that irritate the gums, causing them to become red, swollen, and prone to bleeding. This early stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis.

4) Periodontitis: If gingivitis is not treated, the infection can spread below the gumline, affecting the supporting structures of the teeth, including the periodontal ligament and alveolar bone. This stage is known as periodontitis and can lead to the formation of pockets between the teeth and gums, which become breeding grounds for more bacteria.

5) Advanced Periodontal Disease: In the most severe cases, the destruction of the supporting structures results in tooth loss. Additionally, bacteria from the infected gums can enter the bloodstream, potentially causing damage to internal organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys.

Why Do Pets Get Periodontal Disease?

Several factors contribute to the development of periodontal disease in pets, including:

1) Poor Oral Hygiene: The most significant risk factor is inadequate dental care. Without regular brushing and professional cleanings, plaque and tartar can accumulate quickly.

2) Diet: Pets fed primarily on soft, moist foods are more prone to periodontal disease as these foods tend to stick to the teeth, promoting plaque formation. Conversely, dry kibble can help reduce plaque build-up by mechanically scraping the teeth.

3) Breed and Size: Certain breeds, particularly small and toy breeds, are more susceptible to periodontal disease due to the crowding of their teeth. Breeds with short snouts (brachycephalic breeds) like Bulldogs and Pugs also have a higher risk due to their unique dental structures.

4) Age: Older pets are more likely to develop periodontal disease as the effects of long-term plaque and tartar accumulation take their toll.

5) Genetics: Some pets are genetically predisposed to periodontal disease, regardless of their oral hygiene practices.

6) Other Health Conditions: Pets with underlying health conditions such as diabetes or immune system disorders are at a higher risk as these conditions can impair the body’s ability to fight infections.

Symptoms and Prevention of Pet Periodontal Disease


Recognizing the symptoms of periodontal disease in pets is crucial for early intervention. Here are some signs to watch out for:

1) Bad Breath: One of the earliest and most noticeable signs is halitosis or bad breath. Persistent bad breath often indicates bacterial activity in the mouth.

2) Red, Swollen Gums: Healthy gums should be pink and firm. Red, swollen, or bleeding gums are signs of gingivitis.

3) Tartar Build-Up: Visible tartar on the teeth, especially near the gumline, is a clear indication of poor oral hygiene.

4) Difficulty Eating: Pets with periodontal disease may experience pain while eating, leading to a decreased appetite or reluctance to chew on hard food or toys.

5) Loose or Missing Teeth: Advanced periodontal disease can cause teeth to become loose or fall out.

6) Pawing at the Mouth: Pets in discomfort may paw at their mouth or show signs of pain when their mouth is touched.

7) Drooling: Excessive drooling, especially if accompanied by blood, can be a sign of oral health issues.

8) Behavioral Changes: Pets in pain may become irritable, lethargic, or withdrawn.


Preventing periodontal disease in pets involves a combination of home care and professional veterinary services. Here are some strategies to keep your pet’s mouth healthy:

1) Regular Brushing: Brushing your pet’s teeth daily is the most effective way to prevent plaque build-up. Use a toothbrush and toothpaste specifically designed for pets, as human toothpaste can be harmful.

2) Dental Chews and Toys: Providing dental chews and toys can help reduce plaque and tartar accumulation. These products are designed to clean teeth mechanically as pets chew on them.

3) Diet: Feeding your pet a balanced diet that includes dry kibble can help keep their teeth cleaner. Some special dental diets are formulated to promote oral health.

4) Regular Veterinary Check-Ups: Routine veterinary check-ups are essential for early detection and treatment of periodontal disease. Your vet can provide professional cleanings and assess your pet’s oral health.

5) Dental Treatments: Veterinary dental treatments, such as scaling and polishing, can remove plaque and tartar that home care cannot. These treatments should be done regularly, as recommended by your vet.

6) Water Additives: Some water additives are designed to reduce plaque and tartar build-up. These additives can be an easy way to help maintain your pet’s oral hygiene.

7) Antibacterial Gels: Applying antibacterial gels to your pet’s gums can help control bacterial growth and prevent infection.


Pet periodontal disease is a prevalent condition that can significantly impact your pet’s quality of life if left untreated. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and preventive measures is crucial for maintaining your pet’s oral and overall health. Regular dental care, including brushing, appropriate diet, and professional veterinary check-ups, can help prevent periodontal disease and ensure that your furry friend enjoys a happy, healthy life. Remember, a little effort in maintaining your pet’s dental hygiene can go a long way in preventing serious health issues down the line. So, make pet dental care a priority and give your pet the gift of a healthy smile.