Gum Disease in Cats – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


What is gum disease?   Symptoms   Diagnosis   Treatment

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 the pet owner doesn’t follow proper dental care, plaque and saliva mineralise to form tartar (also known as calculus). Tartar develops along the gumline and is yellow in colour. 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. Irritation occurs in the gums due to toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque. This, in turn, produces an inflammatory response. Bacterial toxins and inflammation result in the 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 linked with the following conditions in humans:

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

Symptoms: 

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

Diagnosis: 

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 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.

Treatment: 

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.

Prevention: 

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.
  • Plaque removing diets such as Hills T/D.
  • Feed raw chicken necks or cubed beef.
  • 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.