Gingivitis in cats is common, and it may develop into periodontal disease.
Gingivitis affects more than 80% of dogs and cats aged 3 years and up.
Untreated dental disease in cats can cause extreme pain and discomfort, as well as bone infection, tooth loss, and oral bacteria entering the circulation through damaged oral tissues, affecting other organs.
Here’s all you need to know about feline gingivitis and how you may improve your cat’s oral health.
What is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis in cats is the inflammation of the gingiva, or gums, and it’s the earliest stage of periodontal disease.
Food, debris, germs, dead skin cells, and mucus build on the teeth, forming plaque. Plaque can build up on clean tooth surfaces within 24 hours.
Plaque accumulation causes swelling, collagen loss, and infection of the gingival blood vessels in the gums.
Gingivitis will progress and become severe if left untreated. In severe situations, cats may have difficulties eating and may be in extreme discomfort, and may need tooth cleaning under anesthesia.
Causes of Gingivitis in Cats
Gingivitis in cats is mainly caused by the buildup of plaque and bacteria. Other causes include:
- Teeth crowding. Teeth that are positioned incorrectly in the mouth (malaligned) are more likely to accumulate plaque and tartar than teeth that are positioned correctly.
- Poor dental care
- Uremia and diabetes mellitus
- Feline leukemia virus
- Autoimmune diseases
- Feline immunodeficiency virus
- Feline calcivirus
Cats can have misaligned teeth for different reasons. Cats with a very short nose, or certain cat breeds like Persians, Chinchillas, British and Exotic Shorthairs usually have abnormal teeth, due to small jaws.
Another cause of misaligned teeth is having deciduous tooth retention, where the baby teeth can be retained after the eruption of permanent teeth.
Finally, trauma or congenital abnormalities can cause misaligned teeth.
Signs of Gingivitis in Cats
Cats with gingivitis show Signs that include:
- Red or swollen gums.
- Bad breath or Halitosis
- Having difficulty eating
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Changes in behavior, by being more isolated or irritable
Diagnosis of Gingivitis in Cats
Diagnosis of gingivitis in cats starts with a physical exam, taking into consideration the medical history, and clinical signs.
Your veterinarian may ask you questions to get a full picture on the history of your cat’s health. These questions include when the bad breath first began, what’s the type of food the cat eats.
In addition, the veterinarian would want to know if you follow a dental care routine for your cat, and what are the dental products you use.
The cat may be put under anesthesia, so the veterinarian can check the depth of the gum pockets, and how much plaque and bacteria are there on the teeth.
To rule out any underlying disease, blood and urine tests may be recommended.
Intraoral radiography (X-rays) are used, to see if the tooth roots, and other supporting structures have been damaged.
The vet will polish and clean the teeth surfaces, and re-examine the gums.
Treatment of Gingivitis in Cats
To avoid future disease development, gingivitis treatment focuses on removing accumulated plaque and dental calculus.
The vet will also treat or extract infected teeth or ones that cause overcrowding.
Regular dental care and medical management will be required, to address any inflammatory dental disease.
This will include removing plaque and tartar, cleaning the tissues beneath the gum line.
A routine dental cleaning and dental x-rays should be performed under anaesthetic.
After the dental cleaning, the cat’s teeth should be brushed regularly. The vet may recommend oral rinses or gels.
However, if the cat is suffering from stomatitis, it would be very painful to tolerate brushing. Cats with stomatitis have to have their teeth extracted by the veterinarian.
How to Prevent Gingivitis in Cats
The most practical ways to prevent gingivitis is to have a daily dental care routine, healthy diet, and schedule annual veterinary appointments, and dental cleanings as advised.
Brushing your cat’s teeth should be taught gradually. Always use toothbrushes and toothpastes made specifically for them.
Cat toothpaste has been specially made to appeal to them. They are non-foaming, do not require rinsing, and do not contain fluoride, which is toxic to cats.
You can make the cat feel comfortable with teeth brushing in different ways.
Find a cat toothpaste flavor that your cat enjoys. Leave snacks around the toothpaste, and toothbrush. You can also have them lick the toothpaste off your finger.
Allow your cat to become comfortable with you touching their mouth.
You can choose a yummy lickable treat. Put a small amount on one of their teeth, until they feel comfortable.
When the cat is comfortable with you, you can start to rub the toothpaste on their teeth and gums.
After getting your cat feeling comfortable with the toothpaste, you can gradually start to use the toothbrush. Let the cat lick the paste off the brush first, then gradually use the brush on their teeth.
When the cat is comfortable with you touching their mouth, and brushing with a toothbrush, you can start brushing regularly.
Brush your cat’s teeth gently along the gumline for 15 to 30 seconds for each side, and reward them with a treat after.
When to See a Veterinarian
If you notice any signs of gums inflammation on your cat like red/swollen gums, bad breath, or difficulty chewing and eating. It’s time to call your vet for a consultation.
Treating gingivitis early on is important, because if left untreated, it will develop to a periodontal disease, which will cause bone infection, tooth loss, and oral bacteria.