Anyone who’s ever suffered with the stress and discomfort of toothache or problems with their gums will empathise with the poor dog who, after all, has only got his mouth as a means to pick things up, communicate, eat and even play – when all is not well with their teeth.
Dog gum disease is a more serious health problem than many people are aware of. Gum disease in dogs can quite easily be prevented in the first place, which means us dog owners should pay enough attention to what’s going on in our dog’s mouth to spot the signs and early symptoms of dog gum disease.
Why is canine gum disease so serious?
Bad breath isn't the most serious problem in the world, but heart disease is. Bad breath and heart disease are linked and your dog's gums could provide the first warning signs. That's why you need to read this guide.
Spotting The Signs of Gum Problems in Dogs
Are Your Dog’s Gums Are Turning Very Pale In Colour? Be Warned, It Could Be Serious…
Dermatologists place a high value on paleness because the less sun you get, the lower your risk for skin cancer. Veterinarians, however, have always preferred the colour pink – at least when they are looking at your dog's gums. When the gums change from bubble-gum pink to pale, oxygen is probably in short supply, and there is an internal problem that needs to be taken care of.
Healthy Dog Gums
Pale gums usually mean that a dog doesn’t have enough red blood cells, a condition called anaemia.
anaemia is serious because red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. When there aren’t enough of them, oxygen levels fall, and dogs get weak and tired.
Dog worms/parasites are one of the most common causes of anaemia. Dogs and cats produce just enough red blood cells to stay healthy. When fleas, hookworms, or other blood-sucking parasites are drinking their fill, there may not be enough blood to go around. Pale gums may be a sign of internal bleeding, resulting from ulcers or even cancer.
Internal bleeding that goes on long enough can also cause anaemia.
The light-coloured gums can also be caused by a serious condition called autoimmune haemolytic anaemia, in which the immune system mistakenly destroys red blood cells. This type of anaemia may be hereditary, with cocker spaniels, Shetland sheepdogs, collies, English springer spaniels, Old English sheepdogs, Irish setters, and poodles having the highest risk.
Finally, anaemia may be a side effect of medications. Drugs such as estrogen, chloramphenicol (an antibiotic), and phenylbutazone (taken for pain) may inhibit the blood marrow from producing red blood cells. Dogs that are taking aspirin for pain will sometimes develop ulcers and internal bleeding.
Pale gums don’t always mean that your dog has anaemia. After a serious accident, for example, blood pressure can fall to dangerously low levels because the heart is so busy pumping blood to vital organs that it neglects more-distant regions like the gums, toes, or the tips of the ears. This drop in blood pressure and the resulting pale gums mean that a dog is going into shock and needs emergency care.
Giving dogs a balanced diet will help them recover from many forms of anaemia. Your vet may recommend putting your dog on a prescription diet that is high in minerals, protein, and vitamins. Don’t give dogs iron supplements without your veterinarian’s advice because they can be toxic.
Even though anaemia can be dangerous, it is usually not that difficult to restore the red blood cells to healthful levels. dogs that are plagued by fleas, for example, will often recover within three to four days once you get rid of the little pests. Since anaemia can make dogs very weak, however, it is a good idea to avoid flea dips, powders, or other strong medications.
Bad Breath in Dogs: Could Gum Disease Be The Problem?
If your dog has bad breath, your dog's gums could be the culprit. Have your dog checked by a veterinarian specialist as bad breath can be the earliest – and most easy to detect – early warn sign of canine gum disease.
Foul Breath, Plaque, & Gingivitis: All of these become more common in older dogs, especially if you have not taken care to keep your dog’s teeth clean throughout his life.
Regular dental checkups may be necessary to ensure that any serious problems are quickly treated but by regularly brushing your dog’s teeth you can actively avoid problems in the first place.
Bad Breath: Can it Actually KILL Your Dog?
Freelance author R Drysdale has a sorry story to relate regarding the seriousness of keeping your dog’s teeth in tip top condition. He writes:
I know that it’s important to cure bad breath in my dog when it occurs because I once lost a dog to periodontal disease, which often accompanies tartar buildup and foul breath in dogs. You see, tartar buildup on a dogs teeth fosters the growth of odour producing and potential harmful bacteria.
If these bacteria become too numerous, and the gums become inflamed, bacteria can invade tissue, even travel to other parts of the body and set up abscesses and other types of infection there. The dog I lost had a deep jaw abscess that was basically untreatable. If you dog has foul smelling breath, deal with it now.
Bad breath in dogs is more common in older dogs because the tartar builds up over the course of a lifetime unless you have the dogs teeth cleaned regularly.
Now, when I need to cure bad breath in my dog, I know what to do. the first step is a visit to the veterinarian to have the dog’s teeth examined.
A veterinarian can assess the condition of the dog’s teeth and confirm that this is where the odour is coming from (it’s important to rule out other health problems that can cause an odour on the breath). Your veterinarian can also advise you as to what steps you should take, based on the degree of tartar and periodontal disease.
I’ve found that it’s easier to prevent than to cure bad breath in my dog. The idea of brushing a dog’s teeth may seem ridiculous, but there are toothpastes on the market specifically designed for dogs and cats.
They come in pleasant meaty flavours that the animals love – you can slowly train your dog to tolerate a daily brushing with an enzyme toothpaste formulated to dissolve tartar. dog owners who start this routine when the animal is quite young can often avoid bad breath in dogs altogether.
Another way to fight tartar is to give a dog chew toys and bones to literally scrape the tartar off the teeth. Over the years, I’ve found that many of these aren’t very appealing to my dog and thus they don’t really work to cure bad breath in my dog, but recently, I discovered the “tartar buster.”
It’s a more or less spherical piece of bone about 3 inches in diameter. My dog loves tartar busters and they work miraculously well to scrape off tartar and clear up bad breath in dogs; in fact, I avoided a costly veterinarian procedure by buying a couple of tartar busters. As with any bone, watch your dog to be sure it doesn’t swallow large chunks while chewing on a tartar buster.
If all else fails, you veterinarian may recommend a cleaning under anaesthetic to remove heavy tartar.
This is expensive and it can be risky for older animals, but it is well worth it to avoid a serious and possibly life-threatening illness later on – bad breath in dogs is not just a cosmetic or social problem. After losing one faithful friend already, I’d be willing to go to considerable lengths to cure bad breath in my dog.
Gingivitis in Dogs
Gingivitis is inflammation of the gum causing them to become red and swollen, this condition is mostly caused by the buildup of plaque. Plaque is the result of when bacteria which is normally found in the mouth mixes with starches and proteins from the saliva, plaque is very gritty in nature and sticks to the teeth. This plaque later on tends to become tartar which accumulates near the gum line.
If gingivitis is left untreated it can lead to tooth. So how do you know if your dog has gingivitis? Well, the most visible sign is the redness of the gums and the swelling. Thereafter you will need to take your dog to the vet who will carry out diagnostic tests in order to pin down exactly what’s happening. The vet may need to use some sort of sedation or anaesthesia to carry out a thorough examination.
Complete dental charting and periodontal probing will be carried out in order to gauge the amount of damage caused to the oral cavity based on which a suitable treatment will be suggested.
A very similar method is used for human’s as well with the aid of a metal probe which is used examine the gums and the teeth.
The vet may also opt to carry out a dye test in which a red coloured dye is placed on the teeth. The plaque then in turn sucks up the dye allowing the amount of plaque to be seen easily.
Further tests may include a full blood count, serum biochemistry and urine analysis to gain a better understanding of the overall health of the dog especially if it is going to be sedated.
X-rays are also vital in order to evaluate your dog’s teeth, also most of the tooth structure is below the gums so without an x-ray its impossible to completely diagnose Periodontitis. The X-rays will also help in discovering serious problems like tooth root abscesses. Further more, a biopsy may also be required in severe gingivitis cases.
As a cure, ultrasonic scaling will be adopted which involves thorough cleaning above and below the gum line, and polishing the teeth will cure gingivitis and future occurrences.
To stop gingivitis affecting your dog again you need to ensure that you brush your dog’s teeth every few days. Just as humans, dogs need their teeth brushed as well.
Don’t use normal human tooth paste but rather you can buy special tooth paste for dog’s which is poultry or meat flavoured.
Initially when you start brushing your dog’s teeth you may want to use a finger brush because your dog will not be used to having something go into his mouth in this manner, once your dog gets used to the idea of getting his teeth brushed then move on to a conventional brush because it’s only through the conventional brush that you can reach right at the back of the jaw.
Apart from brushing your dog’s teeth you may want to introduce him to some chews or bones which are very effective in stopping plaque build up and can also aid in the exercise of jaw muscles.
Pyorrhea in Dogs
This is a more advanced stage of periodontal disease. Infection of the bone that leads to tooth lose and bad breath allowing disease and infection to spread to the rest your dog’s body eventually infecting every organ.
Gum disease in dogs can not only make your dog’s life a misery, they can actually die from complications. Help your dog avoid gum disease by regular brushing, frequent vet checks and feeding them a healthy diet that’s good for their teeth and overall health. Canine gum disease is an overlooked yet potentially deadly dog health problem.
“The build up of plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth can lead not only to oral health problems like gum disease and tooth loss, but also the bacteria harboured in plaque can enter the bloodstream and may cause damage to major organs like heart, liver or kidney disease.”
The signs of poor oral health are:-
• Bad breath
• Sensitivity around the mouth
• Loss of appetite
• Difficulty chewing and eating
• Pawing at the mouth
• Loose or missing teeth
• Bleeding, inflamed or receding gums
• Tartar (creamy-brown hard coating on teeth)
Dog Dental Care: Mini-Guide
The first step in promoting good dog oral health is to have your dog thoroughly examined by a veterinary surgeon.
“It may be necessary for your dog’s teeth to be cleaned above and below the gum line to remove the build up of plaque and tartar. It is then recommended that an oral hygiene programme be started at home.”
How to Brush your Dog’s Teeth
Regular brushing of your dog’s teeth will help prevent poor oral health. This is easy to do and doesn’t take long:-
• Choose a time when both you and your dog are both feeling relaxed.
• For the first few days hold your dog as you would when dogting them, while gently stroking the outside of the cheeks with your finger. Do this daily for about a week.
• After your dog has become comfortable with this, the next step is to buy dog toothpaste, such as CET toothpaste which is especially designed for dogs, comes in poultry flavour and doesn’t need to be rinsed.
• DON’T use human toothpaste or baking soda as they contain ingredients which should not be swallowed.
• You also need to buy a dog toothbrush, such as CET finger brush or duel-ended brush. These are ultra soft and shaped to fit your dog’s mouth and teeth.
• When brushing is not practical, an antibacterial oral rinse or gel may be recommended, e.g. Logic oral hygiene gel.
• At first, place a small amount of toothpaste on your finger to let your dog sample the flavour.
• Next, introduce your dog to the dog toothbrush. Put a small amount of dog toothpaste on the brush, gently raise your dog’s upper lip and place the brush against the outer side of an upper tooth.
• With a slow, circular motion gently brush only that tooth and adjoining gum line.
• Each day gradually increase the number of teeth brushed trying to ensure you don’t go beyond your dog’s point of comfort.
• Build up to about 30 seconds of brushing per side.
• Always reward with lots of praise or a play session after each tooth brushing experience.
Diet also affects your dog’s oral health
Soft or sticky foods may contribute to plaque build up, so try and give your dog a dry food diet. Dry foods, like biscuits or the newly formulated abrasive diets are recommended as they can help remove plaque and food debris from the gum line where bacteria flourish.
Diets such as Hills T/D and CET chews are recommended and are helpful on the days you aren’t able to brush your dog’s teeth.
It should be emphasised that brushing is the only way to remove plaque and food debris from below the gum line.
If you follow an oral hygiene plan for your dog you’ll soon put a beautiful smile on their face and add years to their life.