Periodontal disease (also known as gum disease) is the most common oral disease to affect cats.
Plaque is a sticky 'biofilm' composed mostly of bacteria (predominantly streptococcus) which forms on the teeth.
If proper dental care isn't followed, over time, plaque, saliva, minerals and food debris mineralise, causing tartar (also known as calculus). Tartar is yellowish in colour and is seen along along the gum (gingiva), where it meets the teeth. This leads to inflammation of the gums, which is known as gingivitis. At this stage, proper treatment can reverse the problem. Left untreated the tartar begins to collect under the gum line. Toxins produced by the bacteria in the plaque can irritate the gums, which in turn stimulates an inflammatory response, it is a combination of toxins released by the bacteria, and the inflammatory response which causes destruction of the supportive structures (gingiva, alveolar bone, cementum and periodontal ligament). Gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums) that become infected.
Unhealthy teeth and gums have greater impact on the body than just causing bad breath, pain and infection. As the gums have a rich blood supply, bacteria is readily transported to other organs (such as the liver, kidneys etc.) in the body causing damage and even organ failure.
What are the symptoms of periodontal disease in cats?
Cats are expert at masking discomfort and pain and many pet owners may not notice that their cat has a problem. This is another important reason why regular, annual check ups with the veterinarian are so important. Even if you believe your cat is in good health, a thorough physical may uncover a problem in the early stages. Avoiding unnecessary pain, suffering, expense and prolonged treatment to fix the problem. By the time you notice a problem, the disease is likely to be advanced. Symptoms common to periodontal disease may include:
Bad breath, this is probably the most obvious sign a pet owner will notice.
Red or swollen gums, especially along the gum line.
Pus around the teeth.
Teeth which are loose or missing.
How is periodontal disease in cats diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will perform an visual examination of your cat's mouth for signs of periodontal disease, such as a build up of tartar, red and inflamed gums, bad breath. Included in this examination will be periodontal probing which measures the crevice depth around each tooth.
Full mouth x-rays may be recommended to determine the extent of the disease.
Your veterinarian may also wish to do a FIV and FeLV test to rule out these two diseases as a cause of gingivitis or plasmacytic-lymphocytic stomatitis.
How is periodontal disease in cats treated?
Once a diagnosis has been made, the periodontist will 'grade' the condition. This is to establish how advanced the problem has become and what treatment will be necessary.
Treatment requires commitment from the pet owner and a certain amount of patience from the cat.
Thorough cleaning above and below the gum line is necessary.
In severe cases, where pocket depth is deep, your veterinarian may need to surgically access the roots by cutting the gums (open flap curettage).
Tooth extraction may be necessary if the above procedures fail to resolve the problem or bone destruction is too great.
How can periodontal disease be prevented?
There are several ways to care for your cat's teeth at home.
Regularly brushing your cat's teeth. This will need to be done with a special 'cat' toothbrush and toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste on animals.
You can purchase special diets which are designed to reduce plaque and tartar formation. One such food is Hills T/D which can be purchased through your veterinarian.
Feed raw chicken necks or bones. This is a somewhat controversial topic. In Australia it is quite commonly recommended as a way to reduce plaque and tartar formation, however there are risks associated with feeding raw bones to cats. Speak to your veterinarian for his/her opinion on feeding raw chicken necks and or bones.
Make sure your cat sees a veterinarian once a year for a check up to stay on top of any possible health and dental problems.