Does a dog's teeth fall out when old? This is certainly a good question considering that in older people the phenomenon of teeth falling out is not unusual. Not surprisingly, as dogs age, their bodies go through many changes and these changes can often impact a dog's teeth. Pay close attention to your dog's teeth and your dog's chewing habits and report to your vet any changes. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana goes over several conditions affecting older dogs and how they impact their gums and teeth.
Does a Dog's Teeth Fall Out When Old?
As your dog’s body systems age and slow down, they become less able to fight off infections. The mouth is particularly crucial to this respect because it is an important route into the body for bacteria. Periodontal disease, gum disease, gingival hyperplasia and bad breath can all become a feature of old age. Following are several dental problems in old dogs.
Periodontal Disease in Old Dogs
The word periodontal refers to the area next to a tooth – the gums and the deeper structures around the tooth. One of these structures is the periodontal ligament. This fibrous tissue attaches the cementum layer of the tooth to the alveolar bone, in which the tooth sits.
Another structure is the periodontal pocket – the space between the gum margin and the surface of the teeth. The periodontal pocket is usually tiny, but can grow to a significant size if the area is affected by disease.
Periodontal disease is a general term used to describe any disease or inflammation around the teeth. It is the most common medical condition affecting dogs (during its lifetime every single dog will develop periodontal disease). Poor dental hygiene is the primary cause.
In addition, some breeds are genetically predisposed. However, with good management from the owner, the onset of disease can be dramatically delayed until later in life and the degree of veterinary intervention substantially diminished.
Periodontal disease has slow and gradual onset. Therefore, dogs do not complain and are asymptomatic until pain occurs. By this time, much of the disease may have become irreversible and the only possible treatment is removal of the affected teeth.
If the canine teeth are severely diseased, a hole or fistula may open up between the mouth and the nose, leading to sneezing. At the same time, bleeding from the nose may occur.
Diagnosis: Bad breath (halitosis) is the most common sign. A thorough oral examination reveals the disease. When warranted, X-rays of the mouth can show the exact for of the disease, especially in older individuals.
Treatment: The main objectives of treatment are to eliminate the pain and the cause of infection, to reduce or eliminate any periodontal pockets, to produce a healthy attachment of gum to tooth and to prolong the use and function of the teeth.
The dog’s teeth are scaled and polished, and the roots are planed. Damaged teeth are removed or their roots are filled. The mouth is treated with oral antiseptic. Pre and post-operative antibiotics are usually given.
Gum Disease in Old Dogs
Throughout life, a wolf rips, tears and chews its food. Pet dogs just swallow. The result is a build-up of slime on the teeth where bacteria multiply, causing gum inflammation and bad breath. Gum infections will eventually occur in every dog, although toy breeds are at more risk than large and giant ones.
Tooth scaling and polishing are important. They are not done simply for aesthetic reasons, or to make your elderly dog more socially acceptable. Every time a dog with gingivitis eats, bacteria get into the bloodstream. A young dog’s immune system kills these bacteria within 30 minutes. In older dogs with a less efficient immune system, bacteria can spread to the heart valves, joints, and elsewhere, causing serious infections.
Your older dog benefits medically from routine dental hygiene. You can provide this by giving rock-hard biscuits and rawhide (especially enzyme-treated rawhide) to chew on. You can also brush your dog’s teeth and gums regularly with toothpaste that has been developed for dogs. Oral antiseptic is useful for reducing the numbers of oral bacteria.
Gingival Hypertrophy in Old Dogs
This is an inflammatory degenerative disease common in older dogs. It manifests with generalized overgrowth of the gum tissue. In essence, the gums continue to grow, sometimes until they virtually cover the teeth. This condition often leads to periodontal disease and the consequences associated with it. Gingival hypertrophy is treated by cauterization (destroying the tissues by heat) or by conventional surgery to remove the excess tissue.
The Impact of Tooth Loss in Old Dogs
Does a dog's teeth fall out when old? All of the above described conditions lead to the inevitable – tooth loss in dogs. It is normal for old dogs to eventually lose some or all of its teeth. Fortunately, dogs are very adaptable and can easily learn to live and be comfortable in spite of their missing teeth. However, feeding a toothless dog does require certain changes. Here are some useful tips and tricks:
- Feeding dry kibble – if your dog prefers eating kibble there is no need to switch to wet food. All you need to do is adjust the way you serve the kibble. For example, you can add warm water, gravy or broth (chicken or beef) to the dry food and allow it sit for several minutes. Once the kibble is moistened you can mix and mash it up. To make things easier and provide a more blended meal, you can put the mixture in a food processor.
- Switching to moist food – if your dog is not a big fan of kibble or if it has difficulties eating the kibbles (even if softened) then you should consider switching to moist food (canned, pureed foods or small chunks of meat in gravy). If the chunks of meat are too big or hard, you can cut them into smaller pieces or put them in a food processor.
- Cooking for you canine companion – if the commercially available foods are not suitable for your dog or if it does not like how they taste then you should consider home-cooking. This option is time-consuming but it allows you to choose what ingredients your dog will eat. To make the perfect meal, cook up meat (chicken, turkey, beef) then add some vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans) or oats (white or brown rice) and a spoonful of vegetable oil and water. To get the desired consistency simply put the mixture in a food processor. Consult with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure your dog's diet is balanced.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.
Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.