Dogs have been the butt of many jokes about bad breath. We all know many dogs have stinky breath and the culprit is often periodontal disease. Most pet owners don’t know much about this topic.
So how do dogs get this oral disease? Some dog owners wonder if periodontal disease is contagious in dogs. The answer is: NO. The most common form of periodontal disease in dogs is NOT contagious. However, there are some rare exceptions which we will delve into further.
I’m a veterinarian and I want to talk to you about periodontal disease in dogs. In this article, I’ll explain the causes, symptoms, treatments, and ways to prevent this significant source of pain for our pets.
- Periodontal disease in dogs is caused by bacterial plaque but it is not contagious to other animals.
- Poor oral health contributes to poor overall health in dogs.
- Periodontal disease can’t be reversed. However, you can stop its progression with veterinary treatment and home care.
What Is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is an oral condition affecting the tissues surrounding the teeth. Dogs’ dental structures are similar to ours. These tissues, called the periodontium, include:
- Gums (gingiva)
- Periodontal ligament
- Bone next to the tooth
Periodontal disease occurs when these tissues are unhealthy or inflamed. This can be due to immune responses, infections, or even oral cancer.
This is a very common problem in dogs. One study found 44-100% of dogs examined had periodontal disease when they were examined under anesthesia. (3)
The Most Common Cause of Periodontal Disease in Dogs
The leading cause of periodontal disease in dogs is bacterial plaque buildup. Plaque is a sticky film on teeth created when food residues combine with bacteria in the dog’s mouth.
It’s normal for a small amount of plaque to form on teeth. But over time, it thickens and allows harmful anaerobic bacteria to grow. Eventually, minerals in saliva transform this plaque into hard calculus — those brown chunks you might’ve noticed on a dog’s teeth.
The link between plaque and periodontal disease isn’t entirely clear to scientists. When there are more harmful bacteria than good ones, it causes inflammation. These bacteria, combined with the dog’s immune response, damage the surrounding tooth tissues.
Interestingly, some dogs might have a significant amount of plaque but show no signs of periodontal disease. It suggests that plaque isn’t the sole culprit. Factors like genetics, overall health, and diet also play a role in a dog’s oral health.
Less Common Causes of Mouth Lesions
While the primary periodontal disease isn’t contagious, other contagious diseases can affect the mouth. These could have a similar appearance to periodontal disease in some cases.
Some contagious agents causing oral lesions in dogs are:
- Distemper virus
- Viral warts
- Transmissible venereal tumor
It’s worth noting that infections like FIV, FeLV, and calicivirus, which lead to gum diseases in cats, don’t affect dogs.
Risk Factors for Canine Periodontal Disease
All dogs can get periodontal disease but certain populations have a higher risk. Poor oral care is the biggest risk factor. (3)
While oral care plays a role, genetics can also influence a dog’s susceptibility. Small breed dogs tend to be more susceptible to periodontitis compared to their medium and large breed counterparts. The graph above shows that dogs weighing 1-33 pounds were far more likely to have periodontal disease than dogs weighing over 90 pounds. (3)
A study from 2015 did discover a link between specific genes and a dog’s likelihood of developing the disease. (1) But the hereditary aspect of periodontal disease in dogs requires further research
How to Spot Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
Does your dog have periodontal disease?
While some dental issues are obvious, others might need special tools like X-rays to detect them. Here’s what to watch for at home:
- Swelling around the face
- Pus at the gum line
- Gums that bleed easily
- Excessive salivation, drooling
- Distress or vocalization when playing with chew toys
- Reluctance to eat or preference for soft food
- Difficulty holding onto food while eating
- Wobbly or absent teeth
- Unusual chewing patterns or favoring one side
- Persistent bad breath
- Receding gums
Remember, just because you don’t see these signs doesn’t mean your dog’s mouth is healthy. Vets can find hidden problems during dental check-ups, so regular visits are crucial.
The Stages of Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Periodontal disease stages are used to describe the severity of disease in a dog’s mouth. Accurate staging cannot be done unless the dog is under heavy sedation or anesthesia.
|0||Gum tissue and deep periodontal anatomy are completely normal.|
|1||Gums are inflamed, but there’s no loss of periodontal tissue attachment to the tooth.|
|2||There’s a 1-25% loss of tissue attachment to the tooth.|
|3||There’s a 26-50% loss of tissue attachment to the tooth.|
|4||A significant 51-99% loss of tissue attachment to the tooth is observed.|
Is There a Cure for Canine Periodontal Disease?
Unfortunately, there is no cure. Once periodontal disease sets in, it’s irreversible. However, you can halt its progression and manage the symptoms.
Identifying Affected Areas
The first step is to identify which parts of the periodontal tissues are affected. Your vet will look for gum detachment, bleeding, deep pockets around the tooth, tooth root abscesses and bone loss.
If a dog’s periodontium and teeth are significantly damaged by periodontal disease, removing the affected teeth may be necessary. Extraction helps alleviate pain and prevent further complications.
Professional Dental Cleaning
A thorough dental cleaning involves removing plaque and calculus both above and below the gum line. Antibiotics and other treatments may be used to aid the recovery of healthy tissues. This can only be done completely if the dog is under anesthesia.
How to Prevent Periodontal Disease in Dogs
Regular dental care is essential to prevent periodontal disease in dogs. Keeping your dog’s teeth healthy isn’t hard. Here are some key steps:
- Daily Tooth Brushing: Brushing your dog’s teeth daily helps to disrupt the formation of plaque. Use pet toothpaste or just water on the brush. Remember, plaque can harden into tartar in just a few days. Daily consistency is the key to success!
- Plaque Prevention: In addition to brushing, your vet may recommend plaque prevention products such as water additives, dental chews and the application of barrier sealants such as the one called OraVet®.
- Regular Vet Check-ups: Schedule a dental check-up with your veterinarian every 6-12 months. While the visible part of the teeth might appear healthy, issues can often hide beneath the gums.
- Professional Cleanings: Prioritize recommended dental cleanings. Concerns about anesthesia risks are understandable but they are mostly misconceptions. With the right protocol, most dogs can safely undergo anesthesia. Tell your vet your concerns and ask them to explain how they keep patients safe during dental procedures.
- Consider a Specialist: If your dog needs advanced dental care or has serious health issues, think about seeing a veterinary dental specialist. These experts handle challenging cases and are skilled in caring for at-risk dogs.
By maintaining a routine and being proactive, you can significantly reduce the risk of periodontal disease in your pet.
The Link Between Periodontal Disease and Overall Health
Many dogs can live for years with periodontal disease. It is rarely a direct cause of death in pet dogs. But did you know that periodontal disease can impact more than just your dog’s mouth?
The chronic inflammation and harmful bacteria associated with periodontal disease can make other health issues worse. It may increase the risk of complications with the heart, liver, and kidneys. (2)
Additionally, the oral discomfort may reduce a dog’s food intake, weakening their immune response.
Periodontal disease in dogs is more than just about bad breath. It’s a health concern that has repercussions on every aspect of their health.
Common periodontal disease in dogs is not contagious to other animals or humans. However, its implications are far-reaching, from their mouth to their heart, liver, and kidneys. Like with many diseases, prevention is always better than cure.
By brushing regularly, getting check-ups, and acting early, you can greatly improve your dog’s dental and overall health. Let’s prioritize our pups’ smiles not just for better breath but for a longer, healthier, and happier life.