Gum (Periodontal) Disease in Cats

What is gum disease?   What are the symptoms?   How is it diagnosed   How is it treated?

Gum disease in cats at a glance

  • Gum (periodontal) disease is an inflammatory infection which leads to the destruction of the supporting gums and bones.
  • It occurs when plaque, a sticky biofilm hardens to become tartar, which collects under the gum line, forming pockets. Bacteria and inflammation in the affected area cause the surrounding tissue to be destroyed.
  • Symptoms include bad breath, red or swollen gums, bleeding gums, reluctance to eat hard foods, loose or missing teeth.
  • Treatment includes a thorough cleaning of the teeth to remove tartar and in some cases dental extractions will be necessary.
  • Gum (periodontal disease) is the most common preventable disease in cats under ten. It is the leading cause of disease in cats under ten.

What is gum disease?

Also known as periodontal disease, um disease is a common disease affecting the teeth and supporting structures (bones and gums) caused by chronic inflammation and infection.

Plaque is a sticky biofilm composed mostly of bacteria (predominantly streptococcus), glycoproteins and extracellular polysaccharides which stick to the teeth. If proper dental care isn’t followed, over time, plaque, saliva, minerals (mineralise) forming tartar (also known as calculus). Tartar is yellowish in colour and is seen 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) which become infected.

Unhealthy teeth and gums have a 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. Periodontal disease has been found to be a causative factor for kidney disease in dogs and has also been lined to the following conditions in humans:

  • Heart disease
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Pancreatic cancer

What are the symptoms of gum 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. It is now known that one of the risk factors associated with the development of chronic kidney disease is periodontal disease.

  • Bad breath, this is probably the most obvious sign a pet owner will notice
  • Unwillingness to eat, dropping food, chewing on one side
  • Yellow deposits on the teeth
  • Sneezing
  • Avoiding dry/hard food in favour of softer food
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the face
  • Pus around the tooth/teeth
  • Gums which bleed easily
  • Red or swollen gums, especially along the gum line
  • Teeth which are loose or missing
  • Reluctance to groom/poor coat condition

How is gum disease in cats diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a 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 an FIV and FeLV test to rule out these two diseases as a cause of gingivitis or plasmacytic-lymphocytic stomatitis.

How is gum 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 gum disease be prevented?

There are several ways to care for your cat’s teeth at home.

  • Brush your cat’s teeth daily with a cat toothbrush and pet toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste on animals.
  • 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.

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