Gum Disease in Cats
Dental disease is a very common problem in cats, and becomes more common as they get older. It's thought that around 70-80% of cats over the age of three years old have some form of dental disease. You should be caring for your cat’s teeth as much as you would your own.
Causes of dental disease
During your cat's life their teeth are susceptible to wear and tear which contributes to the development of dental disease. Some breeds such as, Maine coons, Burmese, Siamese and Persians, are more susceptible to the development of dental disease.
If the teeth are not cared for, plaque begins to form and eventually forms into hard blocks of tartar, aka calculus. Plaque is a ‘biofilm’, an accumulation of saliva and bacteria that sits on the teeth. If left untreated, over time the plaque builds up and forms hard clumps of yellow/brown tartar. This firm tartar irritates the gums, eventually leading to gingivitis (irritation, inflammation and painful gums). Tartar is packed full of bacteria and in very serious cases this bacteria can enter the bloodstream and in extreme cases may even lead to kidney disease.
Symptoms of dental disease
Dental disease can go unnoticed for a little while and this is why it is important to get your cat's teeth checked regularly by your vet.
If your cat allows, you may be able to detect dental disease early if you examine your cat’s teeth regularly. If you can look at their teeth they should be clean and white, with no cracks. With dental disease you may notice plaque, tartar, inflamed gums and sometimes wobbly or broken teeth. If you see anything like this, it's time to book in for a dental check up with your vet.
Another indication of dental disease is if your cat develops bad breath (halitosis). The odour associated with dental disease is caused by the high level of bacteria building up in the mouth.
When the dental disease progresses, your cat will start to experience oral pain which presents in a few ways. If pain is present they may be unable to pick up their food as well as they used to, and may drop it out of their mouth regularly. They may paw at their face or noticeably chew on one side of their mouth. If they become too severe, your cat may stop eating altogether, this can result in weight loss if left unnoticed.
Your cat may drool and there may be the presence of blood. The bacteria can form abscesses in the roots of the teeth, creating a foul smell, you may see pus come out of the mouth in the saliva, or even notice a swelling in their face.
Other types of dental damage
Broken Teeth (tooth fracture)
If your cat is a bit of a hunter and gatherer, they can sometimes break their teeth. Broken teeth can be extremely painful as the nerves within the tooth may be exposed. If you ever notice a broken tooth you should always get it examined by a vet as it may need to be removed.
Feline Oral Resorptive lesions (FORL)
FORLs are relatively common in most cats. Resorptive lesions are a result of the “neck” of the tooth eroding away. This erosion can cause the top of the tooth to break away, leaving to roots exposed beneath the gum line. If your vet suspects your cat has any FORLs they may suggest performing x-rays and may need to fish out any roots, that may result in chronic oral pain.
Gingivostomatitis is a severe, chronic inflammatory disease of the mouth that is very painful. There are multiple causes of gingivostomatitis, including multiple viruses. Your vet may need to take swabs to identify the inciting cause.
Treatment of dental disease
If the dental disease is mild, it may be able to be managed with cleaning at home. If there is any build up of tartar this is likely going to need to be removed by scale and polishing. In very severe cases your cat may need medications before and after the surgery.
If there is an infection or abscess present your vet may need to dispense a course of antibiotics to help fight off the infection, and follow up with surgery.
Anti-inflammatories may be dispensed to help reduce the inflammation in the mouth. These will help make their mouth much more comfortable and reduce the level of discomfort they may be in.
Many cats suffering from dental disease will likely need some form of dental surgery. Because we cannot ask cats to stay still for their dental treatment, they need to have a general anaesthetic. They may only require a scale and polish to remove the buildup of plaque and tartar, but if the teeth are badly diseased they may need to be removed. Cats can cope extremely well with fewer teeth and removing diseased teeth can make them feel instantly more comfortable.
How can I keep my cats teeth healthy?
Brushing your cat’s teeth is just as important as brushing your own, but brushing your cat’s can prove challenging. It is going to take a little while before your cat will let you brush their teeth without resistance, but we are here to help!
Alternatively, PlaqueOff is a natural feed supplement you can sprinkle on your cat's food and can reduce bad breath, plaque and tartar. Sadly you can’t use this if your cat has thyroid disease.
Your vet might have lots of other options available, and the nursing team might be able to help you with getting your cat used to brushing.