Without the proper at-home dental care, cats can develop a painful condition known as gingivitis. Today, the vets at Cinder Rock Veterinary Clinic share the symptoms, causes, and treatment for gingivitis in cats.
What is gingivitis in cats?
Gingivitis is caused by plaque - a thin, sticky layer of bacteria - that is allowed to accumulate on the teeth and turns into a hard substance known as tartar. When tartar builds up, the gums (or gingiva), become inflamed. Eventually, the tartar will begin to erode the gums and create pockets of infection between the gumline and the teeth.
In its early stages, gingivitis can be hard to detect. Eventually, the disease progresses into what is known as periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can cause your cat significant pain in their mouth and put them at risk of losing their teeth.
Signs of Gingivitis in Cats
Common signs of gingivitis in cats are:
- Difficulty eating or not eating at all
- Difficulty picking up toys or food
- Bad breath
- Red or swollen gums, especially around the area of the inner cheek
- Plaque or tartar build-up on the surface of the teeth
Causes of Gingivitis in Cats
Common causes of gingivitis in cats include:
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Old age
- Soft Food
- Bad Dental Care
- FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus)
- Crowded teeth
Diagnosis of Gingivitis in Cats
Since cats are so adept at hiding their pain, they may not show any signs of discomfort even if they are in severe oral pain. Even cats who are eating normally and are active can have significant dental disease. Bringing your cat in for an annual dental exam is essential to the detection of dental disease, as a vet is often able to identify signs of conditions while observing an animal and checking for symptoms listed above.
Treatment for Cats with Gingivitis
Gingivitis treatment focuses on eliminating accumulated plaque and dental calculus (tartar). Dental exams for cats are typically done under anesthesia. This allows your vet to thoroughly clean each tooth and X-ray your kitty's mouth as necessary.
The frequency of dental checkups will be determined by the degree of periodontal disease in your cat. Cats with severe gingivitis will likely have to visit more often.
In cases where the teeth cannot be saved, your veterinarian will recommend an extraction. Your vet may also recommend extraction in cases where overcrowding or leftover baby (deciduous) teeth are present and increasing your cat's risk of further dental complications.
Your veterinarian will also show you how to provide at-home dental care for your cat.
Maintaining Your Cat's Teeth
To prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease in your cat, it is essential that you provide them with at-home care along with bringing them for annual professional dental exams.
Cat-specific toothbrushes and toothpaste are available for purchase at pet supply stores and can help prevent gingivitis when done regularly. Brushing should be introduced gradually and consistently so that cats become accustomed to it.
Get your cat familiar with toothbrushes and toothpaste
Leave snacks on the counter near the toothpaste and toothbrush so cats can associate something positive with them. You can also place a dab of toothpaste for them to lick off your finger so they get accustomed to it.
Get your cat used to you touching their mouth
Start slow. Begin by gently massaging their front teeth and gums for as long as they will let you. Do this daily, trying to reach farther into their mouths each time. This is all about building trust. Once you and your cat are comfortable, introduce a cat toothbrush (or piece of gauze if they cannot get used to the toothbrush).
Again, you will have to start slow, aiming to brush a few more teeth each time.
With your cat used to the toothbrush, toothpaste, and you touching their mouth, it should be easier to brush their teeth. Brush along the gum line for about 15 to 30 seconds, only on the outside of the teeth, and reward them with a treat afterward.