Most cats have initial signs of gum disease by the time they are 3 years old, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. It can get worse as cats get older and lead to serious health problems without proper treatment.
Your dentist may have talked to you about gingivitis as they encouraged you to brush and floss every day. Gingivitis in cats is the same thing. It’s a common form of gum disease that causes an inflammation of the gums (or gingiva).
Gingivitis starts with the buildup of bacteria on the teeth as food particles get stuck along the gumline and forms a biofilm called plaque. If this substance isn’t cleaned off the teeth regularly, it can migrate towards the base of the tooth. Once it goes below the gumline, it can lead to an immune response that causes inflamed gums or gingivitis.
Plaque left on the teeth absorbs minerals in the mouth and hardens into tartar or calculus. Tartar has a rough surface that disease-causing bacteria can latch onto. This can eventually lead to more periodontal or gum disease.
Left untreated, periodontal disease can cause a lot of damage to the gums, teeth, and mouth. It can loosen teeth and impact other organs in the body, including the heart, kidney, and liver.
The good news is that gingivitis and gum disease in cats is preventable with proper dental hygiene. This includes regular home care and annual cleanings at your veterinary clinic.
The most obvious sign of gingivitis is bright red and swollen gums that bleed easily when they’re touched. Other symptoms of gingivitis in cats include:
You may also notice behavior changes in your cat, such as hiding more than usual or increased irritability. Cats with gum disease may also have trouble grooming themselves properly, so their coat might look dull, greasy, or matted.
Inflamed gums are painful, and they can hurt worse as the disease progresses. This pain and inflammation can impact your cat’s quality of life. For instance, it can be difficult to chew, making it impossible to enjoy their favorite foods. They may lose interest in playing since they can’t grab their faux mice or other toys with their mouth.
Cats tend to hide or mask their symptoms when they’re not feeling well. Appetite loss and under-grooming are a couple of signs that your cat is sick.
Stomatitis is a disease that results in inflammation and sores all over the inside of the mouth, including the gums, inner lips, top and bottom of the mouth, and tongue. Symptoms of stomatitis are similar to gingivitis. They can include red and inflamed gums, drooling, foul breath, face pawing, and a loss of appetite.
The exact cause of stomatitis is unknown, but it may be due to a hypersensitivity to plaque. It’s also been linked to Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), and calicivirus, which causes respiratory disease in cats.
To diagnose gum disease, your veterinarian will closely examine the teeth and mouth. They’ll also want to know about your cat’s health history and any behavioral changes you may have noticed, such as eating less or sleeping more than usual.
Your veterinarian may conduct diagnostic tests, such as blood work and a urinalysis, to see if there is an infection or other underlying health condition. They may also use dental X-rays to assess damage to the teeth and bone structure.
The first step in treating cat gingivitis is to give the teeth a professional cleaning. This is done under general anesthesia to avoid pain and distress for the cat and enable your veterinarian to do a thorough job.
Your veterinarian will remove all of the plaque and tartar on the teeth and around the gumline. They’ll also scale and polish the surfaces of the teeth. If there are loose or infected teeth, they may need to be extracted.
After treatment for gingivitis, it’s important to take great care of your cat’s teeth and gums to prevent plaque and tartar from building up again. This includes regular brushing and annual dental cleanings at the veterinarian.
If you have never brushed your cat’s teeth, it’s not too late to start. These dental care tips can help you get your cat used to the process.
Treatment for stomatitis is focused on managing the condition. It can include antibiotics, medication for pain and inflammation, and oral gels or rinses to help clean the mouth.
If these treatments aren’t enough, some or all of the cat’s teeth may need to be removed. This sounds extreme, but most cats do very well after surgery.
Since stomatitis is linked to the immune system’s overreaction to plaque, it can’t technically be cured. There’s no way to stop that hypersensitivity, and it’s impossible to remove all traces of plaque in a cat’s mouth. However, extracting the cat’s teeth can stop the condition in its tracks.
While there are some parasites and diseases that can be transmitted to humans by cats, such as tapeworms, hookworms, cat scratch fever, and rabies, and stomatitis is not one of them. But you may want to avoid sweet kitty kisses or face bumping due to the bad breath and sores in your cat’s mouth.
Learn about zoonotic diseases and out how you can avoid getting sick from your pet.
One of the best things you can do to prevent gum disease is to brush your cat’s teeth regularly at home. This sounds daunting, but cats can get used to having their teeth brushed over time. These tips can help:
In addition to brushing, you should examine your cat’s mouth regularly. Look for redness, swelling, or sores on the lips, tongue, gums, and around the inside of the mouth. It’s best to wait until your cat is in a relaxed mood before taking a peek at their teeth. And be gentle, so you don’t get nipped.
The other important thing to do is to take your cat to the veterinarian for dental exams and cleanings. Preventive care coverage, offered at an additional cost with an accident-only or accident and illness plan, can cover those cleanings as well as other routine wellness treatments that can help your cat stay healthy.
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.