Our feline friends rely on their mouths for play, grooming, and eating. It is vitally important as cat parents to make sure we keep their teeth, gums, and other oral structures healthy throughout their lives. Dental diseases in cats are very common and often cause pain and inflammation.
Here is a summary of the most common dental diseases affecting cats, and what can be done about them:
Periodontal diseases are very common dental diseases of cats. Oral bacteria form plaque which attaches to the teeth. As the bacteria secrete toxins, inflammation of the gingiva (gums) and periodontal tissues (the tissues surrounding the teeth) occurs. The inflammation of the gums is known as gingivitis and is generally an early visible sign of dental disease.
It is also not uncommon for cats to have a very painful condition affecting both the gums and the other oral tissues called stomatitis. Although the exact cause of this condition is not known, oral bacterial imbalance and infection is a known contributor of this disease.
As gingival inflammation advances, the gum starts to retreat away from the teeth. This causes pockets to form between the tooth and the gum. This is periodontitis, which is the loss of the important tissues that surround the teeth. If left for too long, the disease advances towards the roots of the teeth, which can eventually lead to tooth loss.
Signs of periodontal disease in cats
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Reluctance to groom – unkempt appearance may follow
- Reluctance to eat
- Weight loss / dehydration
- Red gums with or without calculus
- Bleeding gums
- Wobbly or loose teeth (in advanced cases)
- Behaviour changes
- Swollen lymph nodes
In cats, gingivitis can also be related to other underlying problems which could include autoimmune diseases, kidney disease, diabetes, or viruses like calicivirus, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukaemia virus.
Treatment for periodontal disease
Prevention is better than cure, so oral hygiene is the first great step in ensuring that cats don’t develop periodontal disease. This might mean at home teeth cleaning, along with other products recommended by your Vet which may include special dental diets, dental powders, water additives or mouth washes.
Cats have tiny mouths which can be tricky to access, so regular dental checkups with your Vet (recommended every 6 months), are vitally important to ensure that early dental disease can be quickly identified. Treatment may include at home care as noted above, or in clinic procedures including dental x-rays, probing, and scaling and polishing of the teeth (just like we have at the dentist).
Our kitties need an anaesthetic for this dental treatment so that they sleep peacefully through the procedure. In advanced cases of periodontitis, teeth extractions, antibiotics and other treatments may be required.
For stomatitis, in addition to dental treatments, medication to reduce inflammation and pain are often required and may be required on a long-term basis to help keep the feline patient comfortable.
Feline tooth resorption
As strange as it sounds, cats are predisposed to a condition where the body breaks down and resorbs the teeth. This is also known as a Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion (FORL). The cause of this disease is not known, with nutrition, oral bacteria as well as viruses such as calicivirus and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) all implicated.
This disease may go unnoticed until the tooth root surface is affected and becomes inflamed as it is exposed to the bacteria in the mouth. This can then lead to drooling, difficulty eating, shaking the head, sneezing, or rubbing at the face. They may also have the same signs as with periodontal disease including bad breath or bleeding from the mouth as well.
Treatment usually involves extraction of the affected teeth and close monitoring of the other teeth to ensure that the patient is not in discomfort. Treatment for pain and any other underlying diseases may also be recommended.
When it comes to dental disease in cats, it is very important to remember that these conditions can be very painful, even if your kitty isn’t showing obvious signs of pain. Checking your cats’ mouth for signs of abnormalities of the teeth, gums, and lips and monitoring your cats’ behaviour should be a normal part of your daily routine. This combined with frequent checkups with the Vet will help ensure your beloved feline remains healthy and dental pain free, and that dental disease is caught early.
- MSD Veterinary Manual, Periodontal Disease in Small Animals, accessed 29/07/2021
- VIN Veterinary Partner, Periodontal Disease in Dogs and Cats, accessed 29/07/2021
- VIN Veterinary Partner, Stomatitis in Cats, accessed 05/08/2021
- VIN Veterinary Partner, Tooth resorption in cats, accessed 05/08/2021
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