Gum disease in cats explained

From spotting the first signs of gum disease in cats to prevention and potential treatments, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know.

Gum disease, which is also called periodontal disease, is a common condition that’s thought to affect up to 70% of cats. Knowing what causes the condition, and how to treat it, can help keep your cat’s teeth and gums as healthy as possible.

What is periodontal disease in cats?

Periodontal disease is caused by the bacteria present in your cat’s mouth. If it’s not cleaned away regularly, this bacteria may form deposits of plaque and tartar, which can damage your cat’s gums. If left untreated, it may also affect the tissue and bone within their jaw. 

What causes gum disease in cats?

As small particles of food and bacteria build up in your cat’s mouth, they can form plaque, a sticky film on their teeth. In time, this plaque starts to harden and form a tougher deposit called tartar. Plaque and tartar can start to cause signs of gum disease in cats, such as inflammation (see below). As the plaque continues to build up, it can also accumulate beneath your cat’s gumline. As the disease progresses, this can lead to infection, tissue damage and bone loss.

The risks of gum disease in cats can be increased by a number of factors, including their diet (cats fed on 100% wet food may be more prone to gum disease), or diseases like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) and feline calicivirus (FCV). Their age, genetics and breed may also play a part; as will not brushing your cat’s teeth.

Signs of gum disease in cats

Often, the early stages of gum disease in cats can be missed. Your pet’s teeth might even look fairly clean and white at first glance, but advanced gum disease in cats may be evident during a professional dental examination. Symptoms of gum disease in cats to watch out for include:

  • Bad breath
  • Red or bleeding gums
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty eating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Changes to grooming habits
  • Mild facial swelling

If you notice any of these changes, get your cat checked out by your vet. A dental exam will confirm the presence of gum disease, and your vet will be able to categorise the progress of the condition into one of four stages:

Stage 1: Gingivitis in cats

Mild gum disease, also called gingivitis, may cause few or no symptoms. All of your cat’s teeth are still fully attached to the gums.

Stage 2 and 3: Worsening periodontal disease

Your cat may experience symptoms, with some teeth starting to separate from the gums.

Stage 4: Advanced periodontal disease in cats

Advanced periodontal disease in cats (periodontitis) could see half or more of the cat’s teeth affected. Gums will start to recede and some tooth roots may be exposed. 

In cats, gum disease can also develop into other painful conditions, including stomatitis or tooth resorption. Stomatitis (often known as gingivostomatitis) is a severe immune response that causes inflammation of the entire oral cavity. Cats with stomatitis may drool excessively, have bad breath and have trouble eating. Feline tooth resorption occurs when diseased teeth start breaking down and are eventually reabsorbed by the body. Both conditions need veterinary treatment and may require tooth extractions.

How to treat gum disease in cats

It’s not always easy to give your cat’s teeth a thorough check at home, so always make sure they get an annual dental examination with your vet. If you notice any signs of gum disease in your cat between exams, or your cat hasn’t been to the vet for a while, make an appointment sooner rather than later. Your vet will examine your cat’s teeth and gums, and they may also anaesthetise your cat or take X-rays to see how their teeth are doing below the gumline.

Dental treatment for illness or injury may be covered under your insurance policy providing your cat has an annual dental check-up and any recommended treatment is carried out within six months.

How to prevent gum disease in cats

The best way to prevent gum disease in cats is through proactive action. Cleaning your cat’s teeth regularly can help to remove a lot of the plaque that causes gum disease. Dental chews, prescription diets and water additives may also help, and your vet will be able to advise.

Whatever you do, don’t skip their annual dental check-ups or ignore signs of gum disease in cats. Left untreated, it can be painful – and as our cats are masters of hiding pain, you might not even realise something is wrong.

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