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Periodontal disease more prevalent in small breeds and overweight dogs

dog looking at the camera

Periodontal disease (PD) is common in dogs but often goes undiagnosed. PD can cause pain, oral lesions and organ damage, compromising a dog’s quality of life. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) sponsors National Pet Dental Health Month each February to highlight this key facet of animal wellness.

To better understand the prevalence of PD and which dogs were most likely to be affected, we partnered with Waltham Petcare Science Institute to analyze millions of medical records from dogs who visited Banfield Pet Hospitals during a 5-year period.

We found that 18.2% of dogs were diagnosed with PD. Smaller breeds were 2–3 times more likely to be diagnosed with PD than larger breeds, although the highest prevalence in any breed was in greyhounds. Dogs who were overweight or older were also more likely to be diagnosed with PD.

The results were published in The Veterinary Journal in September 2021. By focusing our client education and diagnostic efforts on canine patients at highest risk of developing PD, veterinarians can ensure every dog receives effective, quality care.

What this means for veterinary teams

By describing the prevalence and risk factors of PD in a large sample of dogs, we hope to help veterinarians focus their client education and diagnostic and treatment efforts on the patients at highest risk as they strive to deliver quality care to every pet. Analysis at this scale is only possible thanks to the dedication of our veterinarians and teams. Their work in capturing information from patient visits and diligently recording it in our database is vital to advancing veterinary medicine and creating a better world for pets.

Risk of PD in dogs

PD is estimated to occur in 10–20% of dogs in primary care practices, but in-depth studies indicate that the actual prevalence might be much higher. Under-diagnosis of PD may be due to the difficulty of assessing PD in conscious dogs and variability in the availability of diagnostics such as digital dental radiography. Conscious animals can exhibit resistance or stressed behaviors that prevents careful oral examination.

Accurate diagnosis of the full extent of PD requires periodontal probing and radiography under general anesthesia. In addition, the prevalence of PD seems to vary in dogs of different breeds, ages, and body conditions, but this variation has not been studied on a large scale.

To better define the scope of PD, we assessed the prevalence and risk factors of PD using more than three million clinical records representing dogs of 60 breeds that visited Banfield Pet Hospitals over 5 years.

Smaller breeds have greater risk of PD

We split breeds into six size categories. Extra-small breeds (including chihuahuas and miniature and toy poodles) had the highest probability of PD, followed by small breeds (including dachshunds and several terriers) and then medium-small breeds (including beagles, pugs, and corgis). Medium-large (including pit bulls, border collies, Siberian huskies), large (including Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, and greyhounds), and giant breeds (including Rottweilers, Great Danes, and Saint Bernards) had similarly low probabilities of PD. We also ranked the breeds by their frequency of PD diagnosis. Eighteen of the top twenty breeds were in the three smallest size categories.

Why might smaller breeds be more prone to PD? First, their proportionally larger teeth can result in overcrowding, increased plaque build-up, and a greater inflammatory response where the teeth meet the gingiva. Small dogs also have relatively less alveolar bone, which has greater pathological consequences.

Greyhounds are an exception

We found one striking exception to the trend of greater PD risk in smaller dogs: the highest prevalence of PD was in greyhounds Their risk might be influenced by several factors: life history (many pet greyhounds are retired from racing, and dental care may not have been a main concern prior to retirement); genetics; and environmental considerations, like diet (racing greyhound trainers may feed the dogs custom diets, which may not be nutritionally balanced).

Age and body condition also influence PD risk

We identified several risk factors associated with PD, in addition to breed and size. Older age was associated with greater odds of developing PD, and this effect was fairly uniform across breeds and size categories. Other studies have shown that the incidence and severity of PD significantly increase with increasing age.

Odds of PD diagnosis were also greater in overweight dogs as well as dogs with abnormal body conditions that might also have concurrent or comorbid conditions. These could be linked to PD or could deprioritize or even contraindicate dental attention in veterinary care (e.g., if the conditions increase risks of general anesthesia).