Gingivitis and Stomatitis: Common Oral Diseases Occuring in Cats

Cats are susceptible to a variety of chronic diseases of the mouth. Two of the most common are gingivitis and stomatitis. Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums and stomatitis is the inflammation of the oral mucus membranes, including the back of the mouth, which is a major cause of feline bad breath. The primary symptom of these conditions is severe inflammation of the gums in the area that touches the teeth and other oral tissue inflammation.

Photo: Flickr User: No_Water (healthy mouth)

These oral conditions are extremely painful and may be responsible for major changes in a cat that is afffected. Their pain can be so severe that it can cause cats to become aggressive, irritable, socially withdrawn and depressed. This pain can result in a cat having difficulty eating, or to completely refuse all their food.

Although affected cats are still hungry, the pain that eating causes can be excruitating. As a result cats may even avoid any contact with their food dishes since it is associated with their suffering. Affected cats may stop grooming themselves, drool excessively, and often have an extremely foul breath. The gums of cats with these conditions bleed easily, and some cats will grind their teeth and paw at their mouths.

While the precise cause for these chronic oral conditions to develop still remains unknown, it is believed that the occurrence of feline gingivitis and stomatitis is most likely due to several factors which are responsible for chronic inflammation of the mouth and gums. Allergic reaction or hypersensitivity to bacterial plague (plague-intolerance) may be one of the factors that can lead to this chronic inflammation. What is already known is that all cats who develop these conditions have an abnormal immune response.

While Diseases such as Bartonella henselae, calicivirus and feline herpes virus, Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) have been considered as contributing to these oral inflammations, there are no studies thus far to proving this theory. Other factors also thought to have an impact leading to this condition are environmental stress, genetic predisposition and inadequate diets. In general, cats who are immunosuppressed are more likely to develop oral infections which may become chronic.

Researchers differ in their opinions concerning which cats may be at greater risk. Some feel that purebred cats such as Siamese are more prone to this condition, while others are of the opinion that domestic shorthair cats are at greater risk.

The median age of cats developing feline gingivitis and/or stomatitis is approximately seven years of age. However very young cats may also develop this disease as early as 3-5 months-of-age when adult teeth are erupting. The condition may worsen by the time the cat is nine months-of-age.

Chronic gingivitis and stomatitis are generally diagnosed when a cat is undergoing a thorough dental examination which is performed under general anesthesia. The veterinarian will observe multiple lesions and ulcers in the mouths of cats with stomatitis. These lesions can be on the roof of the mouth, the gums, in the back of the mouth, on the lips or tongue. Tooth resorption may also be present.

In order to get this condition under control, it is necessary to quickly institute a program of intense oral hygiene, which includes regular veterinary dental care, home care – including brushing, and the use of a plaque reducing oral solution. High quality nutrition is also an essential part of the treatment of these oral diseases.

However, if the cat doesn’t respond well to more conservative treatment, some veterinarians recommend the extraction of all the cat’s teeth in order to eliminate painful lesions and to help restore good oral health. It’s really amazing, but cats seem to manage very well without their teeth. As the mouth begins to heal and the cat no longer is in pain, they will soon begin eating again with gusto.

Our two Oriental Shorthair kitties, Dr. Hush Puppy and Sir Hubble Pinkerton both suffered these conditions. After their teeth were extracted, their gums quickly healed. And since cats rarely chew their food, the boys “gum” their food with no difficulty.

Have you had a cat with oral disease? How did you handle it? Share your experiences in a comment.


Source: American Veterinary Dental College

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • It is great and more helpful for me. Thank you for taking the time to discuss on pets animal. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information.

  • Hello. Sorry, it's been a while. Sometimes feline oral diseases can be overlooked at times even by veterinarians. Our two cats Robin and Bobbie (pictures elsewhere on this website) are now both 7 years old. We take them to the veterinarian regularly for checkups, but recently during the last routine examination, she suspected a problem with our girl Bobbie and requested permission to do a more thorough exam. To her shock and horror, she discovered that Bobbie was suffering from advanced tooth resorbtion. Nine teeth had to be extracted, but now Bobbie is a much happier girl. We will all be keeping a closer watch on the oral health of our cats in the future.

  • The cats are checked when they go in for yearly check ups. Usually we get a clean bill of health but there are the occasions when a dental is necessary. Jake appeared with a lump on the side of his face. A check up showed an abscessed tooth. He went in for the procedure and before the vet could put him under he pawed at the tech. caught the side of his face and exploded the abscess all over the tech. Once under the vet made the decision that, at Jake's advanced age, he needed most of his teeth removed. He is a much happier old man now.
    Please do not ignore dental issues. Have them checked during your cat's yearly well kitty check up.

  • o my goodness -- it worked -- that was taken of teddy just about a week ago - he is almost 12

  • This is our little Stussy who just had her teeth done. She is the ginger cat. The white Persian is our other "old lady", Mischief. She is 16.

    • They both look beautiful. I'd like to hear your thoughts about the Persian. Yours is a traditional. Is her personality typically Persian - docile - or is that a stereotype?

  • Once again, thank you for a wonderfully informative article. I have never had a cat with stomatitis, but have dealt with it often at the vet for whom I work. Most of the kitties wind up having all their teeth extracted to end their pain. We had a hospital cat that would even still eat dry food after having all his teeth removed. I found that remarkable! Our 18 year old cat we adopted last month had severe dental disease that the former vet never picked up on. John and I decided that it was in her best interest to do the dental prophy under anesthesia even though she was so advanced in years. She went into the hospital on Monday to be treated with IV fluids for a 24 hour period before the actual procedure on Tuesday. The vet felt this would be good for her due to her renal disease. She came home Tuesday evening totally drunk on pain medication (she had 4 teeth extracted) but by yesterday morning, she was back to her normal self and MUCH more willing to eat. :)

  • my beloved teddy [brother to lena with the torn up rear end] all of a sudden started having grand mal seizures last october. after he urinated on my head one night i took him to the vets -- he ended up having to have 6 teeth extracted. as soon as he woke up - he no longer had the seizures. the vet was amazed that he recovered from his teeth issues -- they just don't know the power of a 'mother' who practices tough love with her children :)

    • Anniegoose. That is SO wonderful. I am so glad that this resolved such a scary condition. I am just thrilled to read about this.

      • thank you jo. i still have to watch teddy closely -- but then again -- i'm that mom that practices tough love with her cats -- so watching him IS a challenge but he loves all the attention that i give him. every week i check his teeth to make sure that they are doing good -- i DON'T want another large vet bill. he's on natural balance dry cat food - -no more wet food for him. his long fur has come back in -- it looks so nice and plush. hubby sent me a picture of him so i will post it on facebook and you can see how beautiful he looks [he's always beautiful, in my opinion, even when he had the mange on his lower back-but now he's just MORE beautiful].

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