One of the first things that an owner notices if his dog has sores or other abnormalities inside its mouth is a change in its eating behavior or patterns. The dog may eat gingerly and drop food on the floor or ground. It may only chew on one side of its mouth or tilt its head to the side while it eats. It may stop eating altogether and have progressive weight loss. Gagging, choking and other problems swallowing are often associated with some foreign object that becomes lodged in the mouth, throat or under the tongue.
What to Look For
Red, inflamed, painful, bleeding gums are a sign of gingivitis and periodontitis, two medical conditions of the teeth and gums which unfortunately are fairly prevalent in pet dogs. Normally, the edges of healthy gums fit tightly around the teeth. Dogs with gingivitis get a noticeable buildup of tartar (also called calculus) along their gum line, which causes pockets that trap food debris and set up a ripe environment for bacterial reproduction. At first, tarter is soft and a yellowish-brown; at this stage, it is called “plaque.” Within a short period of time, plaque hardens into tough, rough tartar on most tooth surfaces – especially on the outer side of the upper teeth facing the cheek. Periodontitis is a more advanced continuation of this inflammatory and infectious disease process, in which the roots of the teeth become infected, teeth become loose and eventually they fall out. Owners of dogs with advanced dental disease may see blood and pus oozing from the gum line.
Drooling (“ptyalism”) is a common sign of an unhealthy mouth in a dog, as is bad breath (“halitosis”). A dog’s mouth should not have an unpleasant smell on an ongoing basis; if it does, something isn’t right, and the cause should be looked into and, hopefully, corrected.