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Health & Wellness

Pet Dental Health Month: periodontal disease research

Is there a better way to a pet’s heart than food? Our pals love chowing down — that’s why it’s important to keep their teeth clean and healthy so they can enjoy all the treats and meals to come. Periodontal disease is one of the most common health issues our dogs and cats can face — it negatively impacts your pet’s quality of life, and treating it can be expensive. Read on to learn more about periodontal disease, along with tips from Fetch’s team of veterinary experts on what symptoms to look out for and how to prevent and treat it. 

What is periodontal disease in dogs and cats?

Periodontal disease (also called gum disease) is a very common and painful condition, especially in pets. The term describes infection and inflammation in the tissues surrounding your pet’s teeth. This dental issue includes gingivitis, which is the inflammation of the gum. Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease and is reversible. But if left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis — the inflammation of the deeper structures around the tooth. 

In advanced periodontal disease, teeth sometimes either fall out on their own or need to be extracted. When this happens, your pet may need softened food but some can eat hard food without a problem.  In rare cases, an infection in the mouth can spread to other parts of your pet’s body through the bloodstream. The most commonly affected parts of the body are the heart, the kidneys and the liver. Periodontal disease also makes it difficult to manage other chronic medical conditions. If your pet starts acting lethargic, not eating well, vomiting, having breathing issues or any other notable change, they should be seen by a vet for diagnosis.

What causes periodontal disease?

  • Infection: Bacteria that normally live in the mouth in small numbers can overgrow and form into plaque which accumulates on the teeth and below the gumline. This results in inflammation and gum damage. 
  • Hygiene/care: Dogs who don’t have their teeth brushed regularly are more likely to have periodontal disease. 
  • Genetics/heredity: Some dogs may be predisposed to periodontal disease. In general, smaller breed dogs tend to have a higher risk.

What are symptoms of periodontal disease? 

  • Bad breath
  • Bright red gums, which will sometimes bleed
  • Brown tartar covering parts or all of the teeth
  • Hesitation to eat or a new preference for softer food
  • Avoiding chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Swelling in or around the mouth, including below the eye 
  • Trouble or pain opening the mouth
  • Lethargy (sluggish, unenergetic)
  • Some pets may not show any obvious outward signs

How to prevent pet periodontal disease

The best course of action is to make a treatment plan with your vet and be as proactive as possible to decrease the risks of complications. According to veterinary experts at Fetch, here are some things you can do to help with periodontal disease prevention:

  • Visit your veterinarian for annual health exams.
  • Set up routine dental care and cleaning for your pet.
  • Brush your pet’s teeth every day using toothpaste that is formulated for pets and recommended by your vet.
  • Feed your pet high-quality pet food. Some dogs benefit from diets that are formulated specifically as a “dental diet."
  • Offer Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) approved oral rinses, chews,  treats and other topical products for your pet to reduce plaque.

Common treatment for periodontal disease in dogs and cats

The first step in ensuring the health of your pet’s teeth is to treat tartar and periodontal disease early. If it gets too advanced, the effects may become irreversible. A more aggressive treatment approach will be needed if the disease progresses too far. The hallmark of periodontal disease treatment is a professional dental cleaning performed under anesthesia and typically includes:

  • Teeth scaling above and below the gum line to remove plaque and tartar
  • Tooth polishing which helps prevent future plaque and tartar buildup
  • Dental X-rays to evaluate the bone surrounding the teeth
  • Tooth extractions or other tooth treatments if necessary
  • Cold laser therapy to reduce pain and aid healing

Mild side effects of dental cleaning may include anesthesia reactions, coughing, bleeding, infection, inflammation and pain. Certain medications can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite or bloody stool. Some pain medications may also cause sedation. If you notice any changes in your pet's health or behavior after the procedure, consult your vet for guidance on alternative treatments and improving their well-being.

Periodontal disease is one of the most common diseases in dogs and cats, and treatment can be expensive. According to CareCredit, the average cost of treatment for dental disease or periodontitis is $768. Fetch Pet Insurance provides the most comprehensive coverage for unexpected vet bills. With Fetch, you can get paid back up to 90% of unexpected vet bills, including coverage for injury and disease in every adult tooth (not just the canines). 

Fetch also offers coverage for dental cleaning with Fetch Wellness, an add-on to Fetch Pet Insurance. With Fetch Wellness, you’ll be covered for the routine and preventive care that helps keep your pet healthy.

Dog breeds most prone to periodontal disease

Based on claims submitted to Fetch Pet Insurance, small and medium mixed-breed dogs are the most likely to need treatment for periodontal disease. Among specific breeds of dogs, Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, and Shih Tzus are the most prone to developing periodontal issues.

Source: Based on claims submitted to Fetch Pet Insurance for periodontal issues.

Data based on Fetch’s aggregated data does not reflect your individual pet's health. Always consult with your veterinarian about your specific pet.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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