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Maintaining your cat’s oral hygiene can be a challenging task, but it’s one worth pursuing. Cats that do not receive proper, routine dental care are at a high risk of developing painful dental diseases that can severely impact their quality of life. In fact, according to Cornell University’s Feline Health Center, between 50 and 90 percent of cats older than four years of age suffer from some form of dental disease.1
Gum disease in cats can be particularly excruciating and debilitating, with many cases of periodontitis in cats ending in permanent tooth loss. However, while this might sound frightening, cat gum disease is largely preventable. With frequent brushing, regular dental check-ups, and the use of feline dental products, such as dental treats, water additives, and oral cleansing wipes, upkeeping your cat’s tooth health is not as intimidating as it may seem.
In this blog post, we provide a comprehensive overview of gum disease in cats. Continue reading to learn about the stages of cat gum disease, the signs and symptoms, what causes gum disease in cats, and more.
- What Is Gum Disease?
- Stages Of Gum Disease
- Signs & Symptoms
- What Causes Gum Disease In Cats?
- Gum Disease Treatment
- Preventing Gum Disease In Cats
- Final Notes
What Is Gum Disease?
Feline gum disease, also known as periodontal disease in cats, is an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth. If left untreated, the infection eventually leads to inflammation, which not only affects the gums but also the surrounding bones and ligaments that keep your cat’s teeth in place.2
The most common forms of cat gum disease are caused by a buildup of plaque beneath the gum line. Formed by leftover food particles and saliva, dental plaque starts off as a sticky film that coats the surface of your teeth. If it isn’t removed in this state, it eventually hardens and becomes tartar. The rough surface of tartar attracts harmful bacteria, which then kickstarts the inflammatory response.1
Brushing your cat’s teeth frequently, especially along the gum line, promotes cat gum health and minimizes their chance of developing dental diseases.
Stages Of Gum Disease
Gum disease in cats can be separated into two main stages: gingivitis and periodontitis.
- Gingivitis is the first stage of cat gum disease. It can be seen in cats as early as 6 to 8 months of age.2 In this stage, your cat’s gums are inflamed, becoming red, swollen, and painful due to the harmful bacteria that have attached themselves to tartar below the gum line. If not treated thoroughly with a professional cleaning, gingivitis can worsen and lead to periodontitis.
- Periodontitis is a serious gum infection that affects the gums, ligaments, and bones of your cat. As harmful bacteria continue to sit below the gum line, they produce damaging substances that destroy tooth support, resulting in permanent tooth loss. Unfortunately, unlike gingivitis, periodontitis cannot be reversed.1 To reduce your cat’s risk of developing periodontitis, routine dental care is essential.
Other than periodontitis, another common cause of tooth loss in cats is tooth resorption. In this process, resorptive lesions break down a tooth’s structure from the inside.1 While scientists and researchers have yet to find an explanation for tooth resorption, it appears to be stimulated by inflammation.2
Signs & Symptoms
Periodontal disease in cats can be extremely painful, so early detection and treatment is crucial. Below are several notable indicators that your cat may be suffering from gum disease. If you notice any of these cat gum disease signs and symptoms, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away.
- Red or purple gums
- Swollen gums
- Gums that bleed on contact
- Receding gums
- Exposed root surfaces
- Loose teeth
- Bad breath
- A preference for soft foods
- Hesitating to eat
- Refusing to eat
What Causes Gum Disease In Cats?
While the most common cause of gum disease in cats is bacterial infection as a result of poor dental hygiene or tooth crowding, there are also a number of underlying medical conditions that can function as the inciting factor.
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV): Affecting between 2 to 3 percent of cats in the United States, FeLV is among the most prevalent feline infectious diseases. Not only is it the leading cause of cancer in cats, but it also leads to weakened immunity, hampering a cat's ability to protect themselves against infections, such as gingivitis.3
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV): With a compromised immune system, cats with FIV are extremely vulnerable to typically harmless bacteria and viruses.4
- Feline calicivirus (FCV): FCV causes upper respiratory tract infections in cats. Harboring long-term calicivirus organisms may be connected with severe cat gum disease.5
If your cat’s periodontal disease is caused by any of the above conditions, it’s likely that they’re also burdened by feline stomatitis. A severe inflammation of the mucous membranes in the mouth, stomatitis can be majorly agonizing and frustrating for your cat. As of now, the only effective treatment for stomatitis is a full or near full mouth extraction.6
Overall, addressing these underlying conditions is the first step to managing your cat’s gum disease.
Gum Disease Treatment
Dental disease in cats cannot be reversed with at-home treatment. If you suspect your cat has gum disease, speak with a veterinarian right away.
Feline gingivitis treatment involves professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia. As your cat is under sedation, your veterinarian will give all their teeth a thorough polish, but focus on removing tartar under the gum line. After the cleaning is completed, your veterinarian may apply a dental sealant to your cat’s teeth. This further protects the gum line, impeding bacterial accumulation while enhancing recovery.2
In cases of severe gingivitis, your veterinarian may administer antibiotics in the form of pills or an oral rinse.2 Regardless of severity, however, you will need to continue to care for your cat’s gum health at home. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations on toothbrushing, using plaque prevention gel, and incorporating dental additives in your cat’s food and water.
If your cat’s gingivitis still does not seem to be recovering, your veterinarian will conduct a complete physical exam if they haven’t already and look for any underlying conditions. Only by addressing these conditions can your cat fully heal from their gum disease.
Treatment for feline periodontitis is much more complex. While it also involves deep cleaning and using antibiotics, your veterinarian may need to take x-rays to determine the extent of your cat’s bone support damage and extract certain teeth to allow tissues to heal.2 Like gingivitis, if your cat is not responding to treatment, your veterinarian will need to test for underlying conditions and resolve that concern first.
Preventing Gum Disease In Cats
Preventing gum disease in cats is not as complex as it may seem. A foundation of good oral hygiene effectively reduces your feline friend’s risk of developing cat gum disease.
Follow these best practices to keep your cat's gums healthy and free from disease:
- Brush your cat’s teeth every day: Regular toothbrushing is the best way to prevent gum disease in cats. While this can take some practice and a lot of patience on your end, it’s worth it to protect your cat’s health and well-being. If you’re just starting, remember to use a feline-friendly toothpaste and slowly familiarize your cat with its smell and taste. If your cat simply hates toothbrushing, try using oral cleansing wipes every 3 days or so to start.
- Schedule a dental exam every 6-12 months: During routine dental checkups, your veterinarian will examine your cat’s teeth and gums for any signs of disease, decay or injury. Depending on their oral hygiene, your veterinarian may also clean and polish your cat’s teeth to remove plaque and tartar. If you have any concerns about your cat’s gum health, this is the time to get your questions answered.
- Apply a barrier sealant or plaque prevention gel: Sealants and plaque prevention gels inhibit the accumulation of harmful bacteria, which can lead to tooth decay, cat gum disease and other oral health problems. These products support daily toothbrushing by taking care of hard to reach spots.
- Include dental additives in your cat’s food and water: Using dental additives in your cat’s food and water can keep their breath fresh while fighting tartar buildup. Typically tasteless and odorless, even if your cat is picky, they won’t be able to detect the difference. In addition, dental powders for cat food are usually made from seaweed, a nutrient-dense superfood that supports gut health.
- Feed your cat an oral care diet: Certain dry treats and foods can also assist in reducing tartar buildup. Their hard kibble texture creates friction against the teeth as the cat chews, which removes plaque. Speak with your veterinarian for personalized recommendations on the most effective oral care diet for your cat.
Your cat’s oral health is crucial to their overall well-being. Protect your cat from painful periodontal diseases with good dental care habits. From daily toothbrushing to scheduling regular dental examinations, make your cat’s oral hygiene a priority.
Starting your cat on a toothbrushing regimen can be difficult. If you need help acquainting your cat with their toothbrush or have more questions about underlying conditions that can cause gum disease in cats, consult a Dutch vet.
As an online vet service created by veterinary specialists, Dutch offers high-quality, affordable care for your pets, right from the comfort of home. Skip the stress of an in-person appointment and get prescriptions delivered straight to your door from our online pharmacy. Try Dutch today.
"Feline Dental Disease." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell Feline Health Center, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-dental-disease.
Reiter, Alexander M. "Dental Disorders of Cats." Merck Veterinary Manual, Oct. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/digestive-disorders-of-cats/dental-disorders-of-cats.
"Feline Leukemia Virus." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell Feline Health Center, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-leukemia-virus.
"Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell Feline Health Center, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-immunodeficiency-virus-fiv.
Kos-Barber, Heidi. "Calicivirus in Cats." PetMD, 16 Mar. 2022, https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_ct_feline_calicivirus.
Reiter, Alexander M. "Disorders of the Mouth in Cats." Merck Veterinary Manual, Oct. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/veterinary/cat-owners/digestive-disorders-of-cats/disorders-of-the-mouth-in-cats#v3243761.