The colour of your cat’s gums can paint an overall picture of his health. Normally they are a light pink colour and firm to the touch. Some cats will have black spots on their gums, this usually occurs in red or orange coloured cats and is known as lentigo. Teeth should be firmly adhered to the gum, with no pockets between the tooth and the gum.
The most common causes of pale gums in cats are anemia or decreased blood flow to the organs and tissues due to shock, low blood pressure, and internal bleeding. All of which are life-threatening and should be seen by a veterinarian.
There are several types and causes of anemia in cats but essentially it is a deficiency of red blood cells. Two common causes of anemia are a heavy flea infestation or parasitic worms, especially in young kittens or senior cats. Other causes are the destruction of the red blood cells, blood loss, and inadequate red blood cell production.
Shock is a life-threatening medical condition which occurs when the body is not getting enough oxygen due to a decrease in the circulation of blood. There are several types of shock, including:
Hypovolemic – The most common type of shock, caused by decreased blood volume (such as with blood loss).
Cardiogenic – Caused by decreased blood circulating the system due to damage to the heart.
Septic – Drop in blood pressure caused by bacterial infection circulating in the blood.
Anaphylactic shock – Drop in blood pressure due to a severe allergic reaction.
Other gum colours:
Blue-tinged gums – Lack of oxygen, cardiac arrest.
Yellow gums – Jaundice.
Red gums – Heat stroke, carbon monoxide poisoning.
Red margins around the gums – Dental problems.
The gums can also be used to check the capillary refill time. Just below the surface of the gums are the capillaries which are what give gums their pink colour. When you press down on the gums with your finger, it will become pale (blanched), remove your finger from the area and watch to see how quickly the colour returns to the gum. This will give you an indicator of the amount of blood flow circulating. Colour should return to the gums almost immediately.
How is the cause of pale gums diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you. He will ask about other symptoms you may have noticed such as lethargy, possible exposure to an allergen which could have caused anaphylaxis, vomiting blood, defecating blood.
He may wish to perform some baseline tests to determine the overall health of your cat including:
Complete blood count – This will evaluate the cellular components of blood and determine the number, size, and shape of the red blood cells if anemia is suspected.
Check blood pressure – This is a simple procedure similar to the blood pressure test humans have.
Check pulse rate – A cat in shock may have a weak pulse.
Further medical tests may be required depending on the suspected cause.