Can Dogs and Cats Get Gum Disease?

Gum disease is an oral condition seen in both dogs and cats (as well as humans!) Gum disease is referred to as gingivitis; gingi– refers to gum, and –itis refers to inflammation. Gingivitis is often the first stage of periodontal disease. If left untreated, gingivitis will progress to periodontal disease and eventual tooth loss. 

Clinical signs of gum disease

  1. Oral malodor: Oral malodor is known as bad breath or halitosis. A change in oral odor indicates a shift in the natural microbiome of the mouth and possibly the lower GI tract. Inflammation, secondary to plaque and calculus accumulation on the teeth, leads to a normal bacterial population shift. The metabolic by-products of bacteria, known as volatile sulfur compounds, are often responsible for oral malodor. 
  2. Red or swollen gums: This is a classic sign of gingivitis. Gums are often red and bleed easily due to active inflammation. 
  3. Oral pain: Inflammation often triggers discomfort. Some pets will decrease their oral play habits, drop food or toys, and seem to have decreased energy and a subdued personality. Acute as well as chronic pain can manifest in cranky behavior. 
  4. Appetite changes: A decreased food intake may be seen depending on the degree of gingivitis. Some patients will eat more rapidly to avoid food touching painful gums. Decreased chewing can lead to GI upset due to insufficient breakdown of food before swallowing. 
  5. Tooth loss: Gingivitis progresses to more aggressive stages of periodontal disease and eventual tooth loss. 

Causes of gum disease

Poor oral hygiene is the top cause of gingivitis. Plaque, composed of saliva and bacteria, will form on the tooth surface within minutes. Calculus (known as tartar) will form within 72 hours and continue to build upon itself with the addition of more plaque. This bacterial ‘lasagna’ induces inflammation to the surrounding oral tissue, the gingiva often being the first in adverse contact. Once inflammation is present, the inciting cause, calculus, must be removed. Tooth brushing is an excellent way to remove plaque; however, professional dental cleaning is warranted for calculus removal and subgingival cleaning.

A poor underlying health status can contribute to gum disease. Immune-mediated diseases, such as discoid lupus erythematosus, pemphigus, and eosinophilic gums disease, can be additional contributing factors. Felines that have underlying retroviruses, such as Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), have an increased risk for gum disease. 


Routine professional dental cleanings with concurrent oral home care are imperative for decreasing the incidence and severity of gum disease. An anesthetized oral exam with full mouth imaging and dental cleaning is called a COHAT (Comprehensive Oral Assessment & Treatment). A COHAT is recommended annually or sooner, depending on the patient’s oral needs. Oral home care involves tooth brushing, oral rinses, and dental chews. If the underlying cause is due to another systemic cause or aberrant immune response, then that cause must also be addressed. 

Vet Dentist in Bozeman

At Montana Pet Dentistry and Oral Surgery, we believe every pet is entitled to a pain-free and healthy oral cavity. Please do not hesitate to call us and schedule a consult appointment to discuss your companion’s oral health needs.  


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/1/2024). Photo by Yan Laurichesse on Unsplash