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Gingivitis in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

Dogs can suffer from gum disease, too. Here's how to prevent it.

by Jennifer Gauntt
July 14, 2021
preventing gingivitis, a close-up of a dog's teeth and gums
Dvorakova Veronika / Adobe Stock

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We're not the only ones who have to worry about gingivitis — dogs can get it, too. And just like with us, poor oral hygiene is to blame. Gingivitis in dogs causes inflammation of the gums around the teeth and can lead to more serious health conditions like kidney, liver, and heart disease. The good news is, it can be prevented. Here's how.

Symptoms Of Gingivitis in Dogs

Until gingivitis reaches an advanced stage, it can be difficult to detect, so your dog may not exhibit symptoms at first. That’s why it’s important to get their teeth regularly checked at the vet. The tell-tale signs of advanced gingivitis are:

  • Bright red gums

  • Swollen gums

  • Excessive plaque and tartar buildup

  • Bleeding gums, especially when brushing teeth

  • Receding gums

  • Loose teeth

  • Signs of pain

What Causes Gingivitis in Dogs?

Dr. Bert Dodd, DVM, a clinical professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that gingivitis in dogs is very common, and every dog has it to some degree.

Just like in humans, gingivitis in dogs is caused by plaque buildup on the tooth, which is made up of food, saliva, and bacteria. Through an interaction between these foreign bacteria and the body’s immune system, enzymes are released that break down the gum tissue, leading to inflammation.

At more advanced stages, buildup can lead to chronic pain and gum erosion. “If left untreated, gingivitis leads to perodiontis, or inflammation and destruction of the hard tissues around the tooth,” Dr. Dodd says. “In addition to increasing the potential for heart, kidney, and liver disease, unchecked gingivitis may result in missing teeth and bone loss in severe cases.”

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How to Prevent Gingivitis in Dogs 

Luckily, gingivitis can be easily prevented through routine oral care habits. Dr. Dodd recommends brushing your dog’s teeth daily to remove harmful bacteria and prevent a buildup of plaque. Although some dogs may be resistant to having their teeth brushed at first, over time, a regular routine will acclimate them. Human toothpaste is toxic to animals, but special dog toothbrushes and toothpastes can be purchased from most pet supply stores. 

Dr. Dodd also recommends having your dog's teeth professionally cleaned every year. (Many clinics offer special deals on dental care for National Pet Dental Health month in February.) If your dog does develop gingivitis, it can be managed through teeth cleaning and debridement, or the surgical removal of damaged tissue by a veterinarian.

Again, it may take some time, but establishing a proper dental hygiene routine for your dog is crucial. Not only will you keep their pearly whites pretty, but you'll also prevent some serious health conditions from surfacing later in life. 

Jennifer Gauntt

Jennifer Gauntt, MA, is the communications director at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, where she covers scientific advancements in pet heath and behavior. This story was originally published by Pet Talk, a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Original stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. May be edited for style and length.