Monday, February 4, 2013

The Mouth as the Window to the Health of the Pet

"Out of sight, out of mind" is a concept that can be detrimental when it comes to animal health.

 Its easy to see when your pet has a skin condition, or is limping, or has an eye infection. One of the most neglected part of pet health is the mouth.

While the eyes are the window to the soul, the gums and teeth are a window to the health of the pet.

A healthy mouth is free of gum disease, strong teeth free of calculus and tartar, and the gums are a nice shade of pink. There should be no strong odor.

Here is an image of a healthy mouth in both the dog and cat:

 Notice the nice healthy pink tint of the gums, the way the teeth are nicely anchored and free of nasty calculus and tartar. The gums are not a dark shade of red, pale white, or sickly yellow.

So what does that tell us? Red, inflamed gums, of course indicated gum disease. White or pale gums can indicated that the pet is anemic or that the blood is not pumping properly.

Brick colored gums suggest a bacterial infection, or sepsis. Blue gums are incredibly serious and mean that your pet is not getting enough oxygen.

If you see any of these colors, contact your vet immediately. Keep in mind that some breeds do have a black pigment on their gums. The more you look at the teeth and gums when your pet is young and healthy, the easier you will recognize when there is an abnormality.

Periodontal disease is a serious issue. Not only can the pet lose teeth, but the infection can affect the heart, kidneys, and liver. Much like an open sore on the skin is an opening to allow infection to invade the body, so too is the mouth.

When the mouth is filled with bacteria and infection, each time that pet swallows, the infection spreads. This is the importance of constant maintenance and observation.

While I would like to say that the photo below is the worst case of gingivitis I have seen in my career, it is not even close. I have seen veterinarians and long time technicians gag when trying to clean up a neglected mouth. The sad thing is, most of the time, a pet with a neglected mouth does not come from an unloving home, but from pet parents who didn't think to check the mouth.

In a perfect world, we would all brush our pets teeth, yet few of us do. Normally, one way to guess at pet's age is the condition of the mouth. Over the years, I've gotten pretty good at determining age. Then last year, I met a dog who I thought was a young dog of two to three years by the condition of his teeth, only to find out he was eight years old. I was absolutely stunned. His mom had brushed his teeth since the first day she adopted him as a puppy. He had never had to have a dental because of her diligence.

So what if you can't brush your own pet's teeth? First, feed dry food unless otherwise directed by your vet. The chewing action of the kibble helps to clean teeth. Second, products like Greenies(R) are a great way to help keep teeth healthy and is available for both dogs and cats.

Next, plan ahead. Every February is Pet Dental Month. Most veterinarians offer a 20-30% discount on their dental procedures. If you have multiple pets and limited resources, alternate years. This year, have Fluffy, who has the worst gingivitis, have his dental prophy. If you have the extra money, and can afford to get a full blood work up before anesthesia, do it! Its an awesome way to catch or prevent health issues. Next year, you can do the same for your second pet.

So, its February 4th. Go home, lift up those gums, and see what the mouth reveals. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!

And Please, share this new blog with your friends!!


  1. I would have to admit that I am guilty when it comes to maintaining my the oral health of my fur baby. Before my veterinarian told me how important it is, I didn’t even bother checking my dog’s teeth. Thanks to this reminder, as well as another article that I’ve read emphasizing how important a healthy mouth for dogs is, I now feel more confident about my dog’s overall health:

  2. Hi there, I wonder whether you could tell me the outcome of the swelling on the cat's mouth? My cat has a similar problem, a small, soft, round swelling on his front gum above his front row of teeth. It's been gradually growing over the last year. I took him to the vet who thought it best to keep an eye on it, but it seems to be getting bigger (albeit slowly) and I'd rather avert a catastrophe than wait for it to happen!


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