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Gum Disease in Cats (Gingivitis/Periodontitis /Stomatitis)

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What is gum disease?

Gum Disease is a general term for a disease effecting the gum or mouth, of which gingivitis, periodontitis and stomatitis are the most common. These diseases cause inflammation of the gums or mouth and can cause your pet a lot of pain.

What are the symptoms gum disease in cats?

Gingivitis causes inflammation of the gums around the teeth, whereas stomatitis is more likely to cause inflammation of the roof of the mouth, the back of the mouth, tongue and lips. Periodontitis has similar but more advanced symptoms to those of gingivitis. The gums will be inflamed and infected, often causing the tooth root to become exposed and severe pain.

As well as inflammation of the mouth and/or gums, you may also notice the build-up of tartar on your cat’s back teeth (molars and premolars). Tartar is plaque which has become calcified and is hard and yellow in colour. If the disease becomes chronic, your pet will experience severe pain as a result and may exhibit the following signs:-

  • Aggressiveness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty eating
  • Weight loss
  • Drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Gums bleed

What causes gum disease in cats?

It is thought that some cats might be hypersensitive or have an allergic reaction to bacterial plaque, making them more susceptible to developing gum disease.  The build-up of bacterial plaque and tartar is considered the most common underlying cause of gum disease. Plaque is a film of bacteria which forms on the teeth and if is not removed will, over time, calcify and cause gum irritation.  This calcified plaque (tartar) cannot be removed by brushing and can only be effectively removed by your vet under general anaesthetic. If left, the tartar eventually builds up under the gum causing the gum and tooth to separate. Spaces can form under the teeth where bacteria can breed, and infection develop. If the gum disease reaches this advanced stage of gingivitis, or periodontitis, the disease becomes irreversible and tooth extraction is the only solution to alleviate the extreme pain your cat will be suffering with.

The exact cause of stomatitis is unknown, but it is thought that it may be caused by the cat’s immune system reacting too aggressively to bacteria in the mouth.  Unlike gingivitis, there can be a relatively small amount of plaque or tartar present before severe inflammation will be apparent in all areas of the mouth.

What puts a cat at risk of gum disease?

Some breeds of cats are considered more prone to developing gum disease, such as Siamese and domestic shorthair cats.

If a cat’s teeth are misaligned or the jaw is overcrowded, plaque is more likely to accumulate, and the normal abrasive action of chewing food is not so effective in cleaning their teeth.

A cat’s diet can also influence the chances of developing gum disease.  A diet of only soft, wet food provides little abrasive action to clean the teeth.  Dry foods can help as they tend to be more abrasive, however, they may not always be effective enough to discourage the gradual build-up of plaque and tartar over time.  Special diets are available which can more effectively reduce tartar build up.

Some immunosuppressing diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukaemia may also leave a cat predisposed to developing gum disease.

Although gum disease is inclined to effect cats from 7 years of age, kittens can suffer with a ‘juvenile onset’ form of gum disease as they lose their first teeth and their permanent teeth are coming through.

Diagnosis

Your vet will want to undertake an oral examination of your cat’s mouth and gums, probably under general anaesthetic, to establish the extent of any gum disease. Plaque build-up maybe removed at this point, together with any teeth that cannot be saved.  X-rays of the mouth will also be needed and will show the severity of the disease below the gum line.

What treatments are there for cat gum disease?

Treatment very much depends on how advanced the disease is.  If it is in the early stages, treatment will concentrate on controlling and eliminating plaque. This will involve daily brushing your pet’s teeth with special pet toothpaste, regular dental cleaning and polishing by your vet, prescribed fluoride application and a special plaque controlling diet.

Cat’s, young and mature, with advanced gum disease are unlikely to respond to the above treatment and often the best course is the extraction of all teeth.  In some cases, it may be possible to leave the canine teeth and incisors, however, it may eventually become necessary to remove these too.  This may seem a drastic measure but, in such cases, it is the only way to relieve your pet of the severe pain that she is suffering.

Prescribed medication is not usually considered as it is not believed to give long-lasting results. Some medication may be given to help control inflammation.

How to prevent gum disease

If you have your cat from a kitten, get her use to you opening her mouth and touching her teeth and gums.  If done regularly she will be used to this practice and will allow you to check her oral health throughout her life. If you are unable to do these checks yourself, regular check-ups with your vet which include an examination of your cat’s mouth, is strongly recommended.

The best prevention is to maintain good oral hygiene and regularly brush your cat’s teeth.

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