All About Gum Disease in Cats & Dogs

Gum disease is a common issue among both cats and dogs. After all, they can't brush their teeth after every meal like humans do. Well, like humans should, anyway! Both dogs and cats lose their baby teeth and then have a set of "adult" teeth that need care and maintenance, just like in humans.

Vet Cleaning Dog's Teeth With Toothbrush
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Symptoms of gum disease

Gum disease, which is formally called periodontal disease, is definitely more likely as a pet gets older, but it's not just a senior pet problem. The Animal Medical Center of Wyoming says that by the time they reach the age of 3, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some form of gum disease.

In dogs, Banfield Pet Hospital says to look out for changes in appetite which could mean they have tooth pain when they try to eat. Stinky breath and red, swollen gums are early signs of gum disease. Yellow and brown, loose, or missing teeth are also symptoms. In cats, the symptoms are similar. Look out for drooling and turning their head to the side while eating.

Prevention of gum disease

Believe it or not, gum disease is the most common diagnosable condition in dogs and cats. It's also the most preventable. The best approach is to not wait until the problem is severe before seeking treatment. That could mean beginning to get your cat or dog used to the idea that you will brush their teeth on a regular basis.

Red Cat and toothbrush
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For dogs, some chew toys and treats are recommended to help remove plaque by "scrubbing" the surface of the dog's teeth as they chew. Since cats don't like chew toys as much, The Animal Medical Center of Wyoming says that the best way to prevent dental disease in cats is to brush their teeth. They recommend brushing your cat's teeth at least twice a week and brushing your dog's teeth at least three times a week. Talk to your veterinarian for recommendations of other products that can help, such as pet-safe toothpaste, dental wipes, and prescription mouthwashes.

Treatment of gum disease

Treatment of gum disease depends on how advanced the disease is, and is similar for both dogs and cats. According to Canna-Pet, there are four stages of gum disease which advance in seriousness. For the early stage 1, treatment consists of thorough and regular cleanings and brushings. If the disease has advanced to stage 2 or 3, the technician will clean the tooth and the gum tissue and tooth roots.

Stage 4 involves bone loss, and usually means removing the teeth. After that, there are some treatment options such as tooth replacement. Your veterinarian will want to keep your pets on a regular schedule for checkups and cleaning to make sure the problem does not come back.

Is gum disease contagious?

The American Academy of Periodontology explains that the issue of gum disease is caused by bacteria which causes an inflammatory reaction. While it doesn't "spread" the same way that a contagious disease does, in humans, the bacteria can be spread through saliva. So, in humans, sharing toothbrushes or eating utensils could spread bacteria from mouth to mouth. It is theoretically possible for bacteria to be spread between dogs and cats who like to groom each other, or by sharing chew toys.

dog with toothbrush in human hand
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When to see a vet

First steps in preventing gum disease in your dog or cat involves regular checkups by a vet, so get your dog used to seeing your vet on a regular basis. Your vet will want to do an annual checkup which means looking at your animal's teeth as well as other issues. If you notice any of the symptoms of gum disease, get your vet involved. Follow up with your vet on any post-treatment plan they give you.