Swollen Gums in Dogs

Swollen gums often indicate a dental problem for your dog. Oral problems are fairly common in our pets, with an estimated 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 suffering from gum disease. Let’s look at the common causes of swollen gums, what treatments your veterinarian may prescribe to resolve the problem and how you can help prevent the problem in the future.

Common Causes of Swollen Canine Gums

Swollen gums, along with bad breath, drooling and a reluctance to eat, may indicate a problem with your dog’s teeth or mouth, such as

  • abscessed teeth
  • gingivitis
  • gum disease
  • plaque and tartar buildup

Let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail. Abscessed teeth are caused when bacteria work their way beneath the dog’s gumline and begin to form a pocket of infection beneath the tooth. The infection creates a swelling in the dog’s mouth or face, which can sometimes be mistaken for an insect bite or puncture wound. The abscess will need to be drained and the tooth possibly pulled for the problem to clear up.

Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease. It is characterized by red, tender gums and some plaque buildup at the gumline. If left untreated, gingivitis can develop into full-blown gum disease, which can lead to gums pulling away from the teeth, tooth loss or problems with other organs in the dog’s body, such as his heart, kidneys or liver, from bacteria that travel from his mouth through his bloodstream.

Plaque and tartar buildup result when a dog’s teeth are not properly cleaned regularly. Food debris and chemicals in the dog’s saliva allow the formation of plaque between meals, and this plaque can harden into tartar and create the foundation for further tooth and gum problems.

Oral Treatments Your Veterinarian May Recommend

The treatment your veterinarian will prescribe will depend heavily on how badly swollen your dog’s gums are and what the underlying cause is. If your dog has other underlying health problems, he may receive antibiotic treatments to prevent additional infections before any dental cleaning and examination begins.

If gum disease or plaque and tartar buildup are the cause, your dog will require a thorough dental cleaning (both above and below the gumline) and follow-up care to restore the health of his gums. If a tooth abscess is the problem, the tooth will need to be extracted and additional dental treatments may be required.

After your dog’s gums recede, he will benefit from a regular program of at-home and professional dental care to prevent recurrences of his swollen gums.

How to Prevent Gum Problems in Your Dog

You and your veterinarian can work together to ensure your dog’s gums stay healthy by a combination of routine at-home care and regular professional examinations and cleanings.

You can use a toothbrush or finger pad to brush and clean your dog’s teeth and gums with special veterinary toothpaste, or you can add special solutions to your dog’s drinking water to help keep his mouth clean. Special chew toys and treats can also help reduce plaque and tartar buildup in your pet’s mouth, and regular cleanings and examinations should be part of your dog’s annual physical to help keep his gums healthy.