I am Your Dog’s Gums

 

Unless your dog is yawning, you dog’s gums are for the most part hidden from plain view, but just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they are a part of your dog’s body that you should neglect! “Out of sight, out of mind” is a saying that shouldn’t apply to your dog’s gums. Forget about this important body part, and the impact can have a negative effect on your dog’s overall health, sometimes even causing debilitating conditions. Your dog’s gum are an important piece of dog anatomy and can provide quite some relevant information about your dog’s  overall state of health. So, don’t forget about your dog’s gums and make it a habit of paying  attention to how your dog’s gums look and feel when he’s healthy so that you have a baseline to refer to as needed.

Introducing Your Dog’s Gums

Hello, it’s your dog’s gums talking! Feel free to just call us gums, but if you want to be more technical you can also call us “gingivae.” Who are we? We are simply that lining of tissue that surrounds your dog’s teeth forming a tight seal around them.

Just like in humans, we are normally a healthy pink color, but unlike most humans, it’s not abnormal if you happen to notice some pigmented spots on us.

Some dog breeds and dog mixes have black in their mouths either on our surface, roof of the mouth or tongues or generally all around the dog’s mouth. Of course though, if your dog has developed a totally new spot you have never seen before, best to have it checked out by a vet just to play it safe!

We Play a Protective Role

When we are nice and healthy, we form a tight, firm seal around your dog’s teeth. As you already know, your dog’s mouth is used to chew and ingest food and our job is to prevent food particles and bacteria from invading vulnerable underlying tissues along with the roots of your dog’s teeth.

Pink gums in healthy dog

We Provide Hints on Health

Because we are normally slimy and vascular in nature (we’re closely related to your dog’s circulatory system), we can give you some insights into your dog’s overall health. Dogs don’t get pale skin on their faces as humans do when they are sick, but take a peek at us and we can provide several hints as to how your dog is doing. Now, this explains why your vet skips feeling your dogs’ nose when your dog’s feeling under the weather and instead goes straight to taking a peek at your dog’s mouth instead.

Normally, when dogs are healthy, we are of a nice bubble gum pink color. This pink color is great news as it means your dog is getting enough oxygen circulating in his bloodstream. Any other gum color in dogs may be a sign of trouble and in some cases even an indication that the dog needs immediate care.

Knowing your dog’s normal gum color and how to check your dog’s gum can turn helpful should you  find yourself one day calling the emergency vet wondering if you need to take your dog in and they ask you to check the color of your dog’s gums.

Training your dog from an early age to have his mouth checked with praise and treats is extra helpful. Also because you may want to also learn how we feel. We are normally wet, slippery and slimy in healthy, well hydrated dogs. If we feel dry and sticky this can a sign of dehydration which can be seen when dogs are vomiting a whole lot or sick and in need of prompt veterinary treatment. Last but not least, don’t forget to learn how to check your dog’s capillary refill time.

When Things Go Wrong

Remember how we said that when we’re healthy we form a seal around your dog’s teeth to protect them? Well, problems start when we loosen up and that tight seal is lost. Why do we loosen up? It all starts with the presence of a sticky, bacterial bio-film.

After your dog eats, a sticky film made of a combination of bacteria, carbohydrates, food particles, and saliva forms and sticks to your dog’s teeth.

This sticky bio-film is commonly known as plaque. You can detect plaque forming on your teeth when you fail to brush your teeth on time, the same happens in dogs.

Inflammation of Dog Gums

Unless your dog’s teeth are brushed on a routine basis, this plaque will keep accumulating and will stick around your dog’s teeth, the gingival grooves and under the gum line. When we detect this plaque getting in our way, our first reaction is to become inflamed. We will therefore become angry and red, swollen and we may even bleed, all symptoms of condition known as “gingivitis.” If the plaque is not removed in a timely manner by brushing, courtesy of minerals in a dog’s saliva, this plaque will start to harden, and in a few days, it will calcify turning into what’s known as tartar or calculus, an unsightly yellow/brown coating that is difficult to remove. The good news is that gingivitis is reversible with thorough teeth cleaning and polishing along with the owner’s daily care, as no bone loss has occurred at this stage, explains veterinary dentist Dr. Jean Hawkins.

Red gums and tartar

Receding Dog Gums

Left untreated, gingivitis worsens and will develop into periodontitis, a condition that affects anything surrounding a dog’s teeth including all the structures that hold the teeth in place. So when us gums are affected, we will no longer adhere to your dog’s teeth like a cuff. Instead, we will start pulling away from your dog’s teeth (gingival recession) up to to point of exposing the roots which are normally covered by us.

Soon, since we are no longer holding on tightly to provide our protective role, bacteria will start reaching the roots of the dog’s teeth and the jawbone, releasing toxins that eat away bone tissue.

Bone loss will weaken all the dental structures that keep a dog’s teeth anchored in place such as connective tissue fibers and ligaments, providing less and less support. Next, the bone around the tooth is destroyed leading to loose, painful teeth which can affect the dog’s ability to eat properly and even digest.

“It’s not unusual for middle aged dogs to lose teeth. In most cases this occurs when there is gum disease (gingivitis) which can then spread to the tissue that holds the tooth in (periodontitis).” Dr. Pete

Did you know?  According to the American Veterinary Dental College, by three years of age, most dogs have signs of periodontal disease

Systemic Disease

Remember how we talked about our importance in a dog’s health and how neglecting us can lead to serious disease? Well, here are the hard to swallow facts. Because we are very vascular, bacteria can easily gain access though us to a dog’s bloodstream and circulate throughout his body. While these bacteria may be filtered out by the dog’s liver and kidneys, tiny abscesses may develop on these organs which disrupts their normal functioning leading to liver or kidney disease. And should these bacteria happen to attach to the dog’s heart valves instead, they can cause endocarditis, a serious  inflammation of the inner layer of the heart. Definitely, something to be aware of!

“As the animal chews its food, the infected and inflamed gums bleed, and a shower of very aggressive bacteria enters the blood stream. These germs are carried throughout the body and can cause infection in many areas.”~ Dr. Fraser Hale, veterinary dentist.

Lumps, Bumps and Growths

As with other parts of your dog’s body, we may sometimes have odd lumps, bumps and growths growing on us.

Sometimes we may enlarge causing  a condition known as gingival hyperplasia. Epulis, also known as gum boils and viral papillomas also known as oral warts, are examples of some benign growths that may grow on us in a dog’s mouth, but unfortunately, sometimes cancerous growths may grow on us as well.

Malignant melanomas, squamous cell carcinomas and fibrosarcomas are cancerous growths that may grow on us. If your dog has a suspicious lump, bump or growth on his mouth, please have him checked out promptly.

 As seen, we are important structures, meant to keep your dog’s mouth and body in good health! Keep us in good shape by protecting us from the accumulation of plaque, and while you are it, remember to take a good peek at us so to get to know our normal color so, if need be, you can readily recognize early signs of trouble. I hoped this has helped you understand us!

 Best regards,
Your Dog’s GumsDog Pawprint

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has a problem with his gums, please see your vet for diagnosis and treatment.

Photo Credits:

  • Wikipedia Commons, Blausen gallery 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. Own work CCBY3.0
 

Dog Word of the Day: Capillary Refill Time

 

By looking at the color of our faces we often can deduce important information about our general state of health; whereas in dogs, the color of their gums can give us a glimpse about their health status and capillary refill time is quite an important piece of information! Contrary to what many people may have heard, a dog’s nose is not the quintessential indicator of health as we may have thought. There are sick dogs with wet noses and healthy dogs with dry noses. That moisture on dog noses may just tell us how much humidity is in the air, just as our lips tend to get dry or stay moist based on weather. So today, we will be learning more on capillary refill time in dogs and how it can help assess our dog’s health.

A Baseline Assessmentnormal gum color

Lets face it, dogs don’t get pale as humans do when they are sick, nor do they blush when they are hot or feverish. Fortunately though their gums don’t lie when it comes to giving us an idea about their overall health, which is why vets skip feeling the nose and go straight to taking a peak at the gums and the mucous membranes of the inner lower eyelid instead. It’s important for dog owners to get accustomed to the normal color of their dog’s gums so to recognize early signs of trouble.

A baseline assessment taken when your dog is in good health is therefore helpful so in the case of need, you’ll be able to promptly recognize changes and take action as needed. This may turn helpful should you one day find yourself calling the emergency vet wondering if you need to take your dog in and they ask you to check the color of your dog’s gums. Getting your dog used to having his gums checked from an early age with lots of praise and positive reinforcement is therefore a big plus. Make it fun and rewarding!

Tip: make it a habit to also check how your dog’s gums feel. A healthy dog that is properly hydrated should have gums that are glistening and slick with saliva. Dry, tacky and sticky gums may be a sign of dehydration.

Capillary Refill Time (CRT)dog

Because your dog’s gums are closely related to his circulatory system, you can gain a lot of information by just looking at them. Healthy gums are highly vascularized which means that they are supplied with blood through many tiny capillaries. This is what gives your dog’s gums that nice bubble gum color when he’s happy and healthy. Nice pink gums tell us that there is enough oxygen circulating in the bloodstream.

Another way to assess proper blood flow to the dog’s gums, is by calculating capillary refill time which checks the level of blood perfusion. To do this, gently press your finger on your dog’s gum until it blanches (becomes white). Next, release your finger and evaluate how long it takes for the gum to go back to its pink color. Preferably, it should take 1.5 seconds for the blood to return back into the capillaries and for the gum to return to its original color, but less than 2 seconds is fine too, explains veterinarian Ron Hines.

Did you know? In dogs with dark or black gums, this test may be difficult to perform. You may to hunt for a pink spot or bypass this test and just check the color of the dog’s eye tissue instead.

Signs of Trouble

Prolonged capillary refill time is indicative of tissues not receiving sufficient oxygen. According to Pet Education, a capillary refill time is therefore sign that the blood is not flowing as it should.  This can happen with several health conditions. For instance, in the case of shock due to internal bleeding, the decreased blood volume causes the dog to become lethargic, have low blood pressure, rapid breathing and prolonged capillary refill times. In a dehydrated dog, the volume of water in the dog’s bloodstream lowers making blood thick, concentrated and difficult to circulate, hence the lower capillary refill times. Dogs with heart problems are also prone to slower refill times too as their heart fails to pump effectively causing blood to not be able to flow to certain areas as it should.

Did you know? A too fast capillary refill time may be a problem too! According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, a fast capillary refill time may be indicative of  “fever, heat stroke, distributive shock, or an early compensatory stage of hypovolemic shock.”

 

References:

  • Merck Veterinary Manual, Primary Survey (Triage) and Resuscitation, retrieved from the web on May 31st, 2016
  • Pet Place, Heart Rate, Breathing Rate & Temperature – What Is Normal in Dogs? retrieved from the web on May 31st, 2016
  • Second Chance Info, Why Is My Dog ‘s Capillary Refill Time Increased? retrieved from the web on May 31st, 2016

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