Periodontal Disease in Dogs and Cats (Gum Disease)

Healthy gums and teeth

We commonly hear about periodontal disease but what actually is it and why is it so important to us and our pets? Read this article by dentistry expert Peter Southerden to find out more.

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is the commonest disease in dogs and cats. About 80% of dogs over three years of age in the UK suffer from periodontal disease. It is a bacterial disease affecting the gums and bone around teeth and is caused by plaque. Plaque is a soft, sticky, off-white deposit that accumulates on tooth surfaces after eating. It is a mixture of many different types of bacteria and proteins that are derived from saliva and food. Initially plaque can easily be removed by brushing but it calcifies and becomes hard after about 48 hours forming dental calculus or tartar. Dental calculus is grey or brown in colour and is difficult to remove.

periodontal disease in cats

Gingivitis or inflammation of the gums in a cat. Compare the red, inflamed gums to those in the normal healthy mouth shown above.

Bacteria and bacterial toxins from plaque damage the gum tissue causing inflammation. Inflammation of the gums is called gingivitis. In the early stages gingivitis is completely reversible by removing plaque from the tooth surfaces. This is best achieved by tooth brushing. Chews and special diets may also help. Often there are no obvious symptoms associated with gingivitis apart from reddening of the gums and slightly smelly breath (halitosis).

What happens if gingivitis isn’t treated properly?


Severe, advanced periodontitis in a dog. The orange tube in the patient’s mouth is an endotacheal tube which is placed for delivering anaesthetic gases into the lungs.

If gingivitis is not treated it may progress to an irreversible form of periodontal disease called periodontitis. Periodontitis is where the inflammation of the gum has progressed and caused destruction of the soft tissues and bone supporting one or more teeth. The symptoms are often more obvious and can include severe halitosis, bleeding gums, pain and reluctance or difficulty in eating and eventually loss of affected teeth. Treatment of periodontitis usually involves professional treatment and can result in extraction of the affected teeth being necessary.

Bacteria associated with periodontal disease can get into patient’s blood stream. There is evidence in people and animals that this can cause damage to other organs including the liver, kidneys and heart. So, maintaining healthy gums and teeth is important not only to avoid smelly breath but also for your pet’s general health and wellness.

Prevention of periodontal disease in dogs and cats

The most effective way of managing gum disease is by preventing it through daily tooth brushing using a pet tooth paste and tooth brush. The daily provision of special dental chews and diets can also help. If the periodontal disease has progressed to periodontitis periodic professional scaling and selective tooth extraction may be required in addition to on-going plaque control.

WARNING! Human toothpaste can contain Xylitol which is poisonous to dogs. Fluoride containing human toothpastes can also be harmful to pets. You must use a veterinary approved toothpaste