Pale Gums In Cats

Key takeaway

Pale gums in cats is a sign of anemia brought on by a serious health problem, toxin ingestion, or trauma. Cats can get pale gums for various reasons, but it always indicates that your cat isn’t getting enough blood throughout their entire body, making it potentially life-threatening. If your cat has pale gums, take them to the vet immediately for diagnosis and treatment.

You can tell a lot about a cat’s health by looking at them. Everything from their body posture to the inside of their mouth can give you clues into how they’re feeling. Healthy cat gums are pink, so if you notice your cat’s gums are pale, it could indicate a serious health problem. Pale gums typically indicate anemia or a circulatory issue, and the lighter they are in color, the more severe the condition. Pale gums are an immediate medical concern, so if you notice your cat’s gums are pale, take them to the nearest emergency vet. 

Anemia is typically caused by blood loss due to injury, parasites, and serious illnesses. Treatment for anemia in cats depends on the cause, so if your cat’s gums are pale, you should have them examined by a vet as soon as possible to prevent further red blood cell deficiency that can be life-threatening. 

What Do Pale Gums In Cats Mean?

Anemia is the most common cause of white or pale gums in cats because it means there are less red blood cells present to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. In addition to pale gums, you may also notice that your pet is lethargic. However, some cats that are anemic may not show any other signs of illness. Your cat may even continue playing or engaging in their favorite activities instead of exhibiting any symptoms associated with any illness that causes anemia. 

Unfortunately, many pet parents don’t look in their cat’s mouths to check their health, even though gum color can be an indicator of serious illness. Of course, your vet will not rely on only the color of your cat’s gums to make a diagnosis, but pale gums can tell pet parents when it’s time to go to the vet. 

Causes of pale gums in cats

Causes Of Pale Gums In Cats

Healthy gums should be pink, but the shade of pink may vary from cat to cat.1 Ultimately, pet parents should know what their cat’s gums look like normally and can look for changes when examining their cat’s mouth from time to time. If you notice your cat’s gums are bright red, it could indicate gingivitis. Meanwhile, if your cat’s gums are pale, it could indicate a different type of health issue. 

There are two types of anemia: regenerative anemia and non-regenerative anemia. In regenerative anemia in cats, the body naturally reacts to the decreased number of red blood cells by producing more. However, in non-regenerative anemia, the body can’t effectively respond by generating more red blood cells.2

A common cause of non-regenerative anemia is kidney disease, in which the body can’t produce enough red blood cells to compensate for the loss. In addition, other illnesses like cancer and immune diseases can reduce the body’s ability to replace these blood cells. 

Treatment for anemia may depend on the cause. Vets can diagnose the illness by determining the packed cell volume (PCV) to detect red blood cell levels.2 They may also perform other types of blood tests to look for evidence of abnormalities, organ damage, or various diseases. 

Once your vet has determined the cause of the anemia, they can begin treating it. For example, if parasites are the cause of the blood loss, they will treat the infection to help the body compensate for red blood cell loss. In severe cases, such as injury, your vet may perform a blood transfusion to replace lost blood.2

Common causes of pale gums in cats include:

Blood loss 

Anemia occurs when the number of red blood cells decreases due to some type of blood loss.2 Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen and other nutrients to tissues and are replaced naturally by the body. However, when a cat has anemia, there are not enough red blood cells in circulation to give oxygen and nutrients to tissue within the cat’s body.2 Red blood cell circulation is necessary for the health and wellness of your cat, and anemia can be fatal if it’s severe enough. 

Ultimately, anemia reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the body, so your cat might have clinical signs like lethargy, leaving them with little energy and causing them to sleep more often. Additionally, white gums in cats are fairly common in those with anemia because there aren’t enough red blood cells to supply the gums with the oxygen and nutrients they need. Ultimately, blood isn’t circulating in the gums.2

Unfortunately, there are many causes of blood loss in cats, including:

  • Trauma: Injuries can quickly cause severe blood loss in cats, giving them anemia in which the gums will no longer have blood circulating. 
  • Flea and tick infestations: Fleas and ticks feed on your cat’s blood, so a severe infestation could lead to anemia, especially in young kittens. 
  • Hookworms: Hookworms are parasites that feed on blood in the intestines. Without treatment, a severe enough infection could lead to anemia.2

Illness 

Many diseases and infections can cause pale gums in cats due to anemia. Some diseases can lead to anemia because they destroy red blood cells more quickly than the cat’s body can replace them. Many of the diseases that cause anemia are spread by fleas and ticks, so flea and tick prevention is important, even for indoor cats. However, your cat may also have another type of underlying disease that’s causing their gums to become pale, such as Leukemia. 

Feline leukemia is just one common illness that can cause pale gums in cats, and it affects up to 3% of cats in the United States. This disease is similar to feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), making it slightly more difficult to diagnose than other illnesses. Since it’s a retrovirus, it’s passed from cat to cat through saliva, nursing, urine, and feces. Feline leukemia symptoms include appetite loss, weakness, fever, weight loss, gingivitis, and pale gums.3 Luckily, vaccines are available to prevent this disease, but you should take other precautions by limiting your cat’s exposure to other cats and keeping them indoors. 

Illnesses due to toxins can also cause your cat’s gums to become pale by making them anemic. Toxins ultimately damage the red blood cells faster than they can be naturally replaced.2

Shock

Shock is another common reason for pale gums in cats. Cats go into shock when they aren’t getting enough oxygen to their brain due to trauma, an allergic reaction, or toxin ingestion. Shock can occur due to decreased blood from blood loss, decreased circulation from heart damage, or a drop in blood pressure. One of the most common signs of shock in cats is pale or white gums, which indicates the blood isn’t circulating in their bodies as it should. They may also become confused and disoriented, lethargic, hypothermic, or lose consciousness. 

One of the most common causes of shock in cats is trauma from sustaining a life-threatening injury. Your cat can go into shock from both internal and external bleeding or from an allergic reaction. The treatment for shock will depend on the cause. For example, if your cat has been seriously injured, your vet will tend to their wounds. Depending on your cat’s needs, they may receive a blood transfusion, IV therapy, or oxygen therapy. Meanwhile, if your cat goes into shock because of an allergic reaction, your vet may give them an injection of epinephrine. 

Prevention for anemia

What To Do About Pale Cat Gums?

Pale cat gums indicate a serious health problem with your cat. Don’t wait to get them the care they need. 

Consult A Veterinarian

Pale gums in cats is a medical emergency because it indicates shock, blood loss, anemia, and potentially life-threatening diseases. If your cat’s gums are pale or white, take them to the nearest emergency vet. At the clinic, they’ll perform a physical examination, ask about symptoms, and run tests to evaluate basic organ functions and rule out illnesses. Depending on the suspected cause of your cat’s pale gums, they may run multiple tests until they’re able to accurately diagnose the issue. 

Treatment for pale gums in cats depends on the case. Your vet will treat the underlying illness while providing supportive care, which may include IV fluids, blood transfusion, medication, or surgery. 

Medication Or Other Treatment

After your vet has diagnosed the underlying condition affecting your cat’s gums, they will likely give you medication, depending on the treatment plan. For example, cats that have surgery may be given pain medication to cope with discomfort during the healing process, while cats suffering from anemia due to parasites will get medication to exterminate the parasites and their larvae. 

Vet examining cat’s mouth

Next steps

Your cat’s mouth can tell you a lot about their health, including whether they’re experiencing anemia or cat tooth health issues like gingivitis and gum disease. If you notice changes in the appearance of your cat’s gums, don’t wait to get answers. 

Talk to a Dutch veterinarian today to learn what your cat’s gums are trying to tell you. We offer online veterinarian care 24/7 to give you access to licensed vets when you need it most. With Dutch, you can get medicine for cats shipped right to your home to reduce anxiety in already sick cats. 

References

  1. “Is Your Cat Sick? Try This at-Home Exam.” The Humane Society of the United States, https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/your-cat-sick-try-home-exam.

  2. “Anemia.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 17 June 2021, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/anemia.

  3. Ccspca. “Feline Leukemia: How to Spot Symptoms & What You Should Do.” Central California SPCA, Fresno, CA, 27 June 2016, https://www.ccspca.com/blog-spca/education/feline-leukemia/.