Coming home to your dog after a long day is the best feeling in the world. Her tail wags so hard that her entire back half can’t help but go along for the ride.
You make your way to the couch. She drops her toy at your feet and is so excited that she is busting at the seams, panting as if she just ran a few laps around the yard.
And then you smell it…
The breath that makes you want to roll over and play dead.
You may be tempted to think that it’s just plain old doggy breath. All dogs have bad breath, right? Well, not exactly. Dental hygiene is just as important for our pets as it is for us. So if the breath gets a little too stinky (yours or Fido’s) it may signal deeper issues. Gingivitis is one very common cause of doggy breath. The good news is that there’s something you can do about it.
What is Gingivitis?
To put it simply, gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums. It’s the first sign that there is trouble brewing in your dog’s mouth. The next stages of gum disease are more serious, so it’s best to identify and tackle this issue early.
Plaque causes gingivitis. Plaque is the same icky stuff you brush and floss out of your own mouth every morning and night. It’s soft, sticky and colorless. It’s easy to let this stuff go undetected, and that’s why it’s important to be diligent about your dog’s dental hygiene. We’ll be sure to cover some tips to help with that too!
What Does Dog Gingivitis Look Like?
Gingivitis isn’t the prettiest thing to look at, so why are we showing it to you? Looking at dog gingivitis pictures may help you identify whether your dog has gum disease. In the early stages of gingivitis, you may notice that your dog’s gums are a bit puffier than usual. This inflammation is a sign that there’s a problem lurking. As the disease progresses, you’ll begin to notice more signs, including:
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Difficulty chewing
- Reluctance to eat
- Excessive drool
- Swollen gums (edematous gingiva)
- Red gums (erythemic gingiva)
- Bleeding gums
- Stained teeth
- Tartar buildup
- Pus oozing from the gums
- Loose teeth
How Do Dogs Get Gingivitis?
Dogs get gingivitis in the same way people do: Poor dental hygiene. It’s normal for plaque to form on a dog’s teeth. This is why we need to make a habit of brushing them often. If you skip brushing, the plaque produces toxins that can irritate the dog’s gums and cause gingivitis.
The most common bacteria that cause gingivitis in dogs are Streptococcus and Actinomyces. Although toy breeds are more susceptible to getting gingivitis, any dog can get gum disease.
By the age of three, most dogs exhibit signs of periodontal disease. So if your dog is showing early signs of gingivitis, you are not alone.
Can You Stop Dog Gingivitis?
In the very early stages of gum disease, it's possible to reverse the damage. So if your dog is only exhibiting signs of inflammation and redness, there is hope to get rid of the disease. But when the bone and connective tissue are involved, the damage is irreversible and can cause permanent harm to the dog’s teeth and jaw.
Veterinary Dog Teeth Cleaning
A dental cleaning at the vet begins with an oral exam. In this initial visit, the doctor or dentist will get a general idea of your pet’s condition and offer advice. This is a great time to ask questions about your dog’s health and treatment plan.
Professional dental cleanings can effectively treat dog gingivitis, but this comes at a cost. For one, there's a steep financial cost. The average cost of getting your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned is $292. Anesthesia is another thing about professional cleanings that gives pet owners pause. Whether the patient is human or canine, there are always risks with anesthesia.
One in 100,000 animals will have a reaction to anesthesia. These reactions can range from mild to severe. The worst possible reactions are anaphylactic shock and death. Although rare, the possibility of death from a cleaning is enough to scare many pet owners away from the doggy dental chair.
If you’re concerned with the cost or risk associated with anesthesia, you may have other options. There are effective ways to treat gingivitis at home.
How to Treat Dog Gingivitis at Home
Home treatments for doggy gingivitis have proven to be effective, but it’s important to note that it is easier to treat a mild case than an advanced one. So, be sure to check your dog’s mouth for signs of gum disease often.
Homeopathic Remedies – Homeopathic remedies have been used for centuries on dogs and humans to help bring them to a state of overall health and wellness. And that’s exactly how they work to treat gingivitis in dogs. At Homeoanimal, we start by learning about the pet’s overall health and recommend a custom solution to address all areas of disease. In the case of gingivitis, this will likely include a remedy that helps reduce tartar in your dog’s mouth. Tartar that has built up can be impossible to remove with brushing alone. Our remedies use natural ingredients to break up the buildup in an effort to reverse gum disease.
Chlorhexidine Rinse – Chlorhexidine is a disinfectant and antiseptic. It’s often used to sterilize surgical instruments, but you can also use it as a gingivitis rinse. Chlorhexidine works by binding to oral tissues and tooth surfaces. Over time, it gets released into the oral cavity. It is safe for pets, but most dogs won’t rave about the taste and it can produce tooth staining within a few days of usage. Buy a .2% rinse and squirt a small amount on the inside of each cheek once or twice a day. You can buy chlorhexidine in most pet stores. If you can’t find it in your area, ask your veterinarian.
Stomadhex – Stomadhex is an antiseptic patch that you can get from your veterinarian. It sticks just inside the dog’s upper lip and stays there for 10 days, releasing chlorohexidine and nicotinamide. This approach has proven to help prevent plaque, tarter and control bad breath.
Aloe Vera and Peroxide – Combine one part aloe vera gel with one part 3% hydrogen peroxide and apply to gauze or a cotton swab to rub along your dog’s teeth. Hydrogen peroxide is an antibacterial and antiseptic ingredient that can help fight plaque. And aloe vera can sooth sore gums affected by gingivitis. If possible, apply the solution before bed after your dog finishes eating for the day. Do this every day for one to two weeks and you may notice that you can scrape some of the larger pieces of plaque from your dog’s teeth.
How to Prevent Dog Gingivitis
So clearly, gingivitis is bad. If your dog isn’t quite showing signs yet, there is still time for prevention. If your dog is showing early signs, it’s still possible to reverse gingivitis. And even if your dog has advanced gum disease, these prevention tips will help maintain your dog’s best possible dental health for the rest of his years.
Regular brushing – Did you know that it only takes 36 hours for plaque to turn into gingivitis-causing tartar? Too many dog owners make the mistake of infrequent brushing. Dogs can get plaque as easily as we can, so it’s important to make a regular habit out of brushing their teeth. If possible, brush daily.
That’s the best case scenario. Every other day would be another great option. If you can’t fit that much doggy brushing into your schedule, remember that once a week is still better than nothing (or once a month). And if you’re having trouble fitting any brushing into your schedule, think about whether you truly have enough time to be a responsible pet parent. It may be a good time to reevaluate your schedule and shift some things around to make room.
Dog food – Forget everything you may have heard. Dry dog food WILL help scrape some of the plaque off of your dog’s teeth between brushings, but it is not enough to keep your dog’s teeth plaque-free on its own. Bottom line: Get the dry kibble, but don’t rely on it to help you skip brushings. Also, remember that nutrition is important. You know how junk food is bad for your teeth? Well, it’s equally bad for your dog’s pearly whites. Avoid dog foods with wheat, corn and filler ingredients and stick to those with ingredients that add to your dog’s daily nutritional profile.
Chew Toys – Much like the way that dry kibble helps knock plaque off of your dog’s teeth, hard chew toys can help keep your dog’s teeth clean. Choose chew toys like rawhides or harder rubber toys that are likely to cause some friction between the toy and the plaque. Toys like these are also more likely to keep your dog gnawing longer, which increases the likelihood that plaque will fall off.
Treats – You may have seen those green dog treats at your local pet shop. Maybe your veterinarian even recommended them. These treats promise to keep your pet’s mouth healthy because of the unique shape and combination of ingredients. The shape is designed to keep your pet chomping longer because it’s less likely that bits will break off. Included breath-freshening agents may help mask minor halitosis, but they will not have an effect on gingivitis. Bottom line is that these treats may help knock off some plaque, but they work best when combined with brushing and other healthy habits.
- Probiotic Mouthwash – Mix one capsule of a probiotic supplement (for dogs or humans) with one tablespoon of coconut milk or kefir. This helps prevent gingivitis by attacking the bacteria that cause the disease from within. It works much in the same way as homeopathy in that it focuses on the dog’s overall wellbeing instead of simply treating symptoms.
When Should I Take My Pet to the Vet?
It’s always a big decision to take your pet to the vet. Not only is it time consuming, but you can walk out of there spending hundreds more than you anticipated on procedures, tests or medications. But what should you do if you’re sure your pet has gum disease?
In this case, a vet visit is never a bad idea. In most cases, he or she will evaluate the tooth and likely recommend a professional cleaning. This may or may not be in line with your budget and concerns, but the evaluation could prove to be valuable.
If you see lumps, bumps, inflamed or bleeding gums, stains or damaged teeth, this is a good time for an evaluation.
What if the Vet Says My Dog Has Advanced Gum Disease?
If the vet evaluates your dog and finds that she has advanced gum disease, you may want to take stronger action. This may include tooth extraction as well as cleaning. The choice to go to the vet or not is completely your own.
Your vet would likely inform you that there are various stages of gum disease and let you know where your dog’s case falls between stage I and stage IV. In stages one or two, many pet owners opt for home treatment. In stages three and four, most veterinarians will recommend extractions and maybe even gum surgery to stop the spread of the disease.
Along with extractions, your dog would receive a professional cleaning. What happens here is almost identical to what happens to you when you go to the dentist. The main difference is that dogs need anesthesia to be able to sit through the procedure. Even the best-behaved dogs will fight the digging in their mouths that dentists do.
The vet or veterinary dentist will give your dog canine anesthesia intravenously (for short procedures) or through a tube that goes into the windpipe (for longer procedures).
Your dog will need to take antibiotics for 1 to 3 weeks after the procedure.
What if Dog Gingivitis Goes Untreated?
Here’s where it gets scary. If you’ve been reading this far and think you have time, that this is a problem you can address somewhere down the line, please just read a bit further...
If you do not address your dog’s plaque and mineral deposits, they can cause gingivitis. This can lead to periodontal disease and tooth loss.
It gets worse…
According to data from Banfield’s Applied Research and Knowledge (BARK) Team, pets with gum disease are more likely to develop heart disease and experience other forms of organ damage. The connection may seem like a stretch until you learn that bacteria from the mouth enters the bloodstream. Once in the blood, bacteria can adhere to the arteries around the heart.
What You Can Do Now
Your course of action from here will depend on your dog’s age and current state of oral health. If you recently brought home a small puppy, let this information remind you of the importance of good oral health. Brush that puppy’s teeth as if they were your own.
If your dog is older and showing early signs of gingivitis (such as inflamed gums), scroll back up to the sections on prevention and home care.
If you’re noticing more advanced signs of gum disease, such as bleeding or recessed gums, consider taking your dog to the vet for an evaluation. There’s a chance your dog has large cavities in his or her teeth that must be extracted.
Here at Homeoanimal, we believe in treating the health of the entire animal instead of treating one symptom. So regardless of where your dog falls in the stages of gum disease, we recommend good oral hygiene and proper nutrition. Homeopathy can also help restore or maintain your pet’s state of health, including oral health. If you are interested in a custom remedy, please contact us so we may learn more about your dog’s needs.