Gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, is the most common dental disease in cats and affects 80% of pets over three years old. The condition is an especially prevalent health problem in indoor cats and, if left untreated, it can lead to bone infection or tooth loss and may even be life-threatening.
Here’s what you need to know about cat gingivitis and how you can help protect your pet’s dental health:
- What is Gingivitis?
- What Causes Feline Gingivitis?
- Symptoms of Gingivitis in Cats
- Diagnosing Cats with Gingivitis
- How to Treat Gingivitis in Cats
- Feline Gingivitis Treatment Cost
- How to Prevent Gingivitis in Cats
- FAQs on Cat Gingivitis
What is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis refers to swelling and inflammation of the gingiva (gum) surrounding the tooth. It occurs when plaque accumulates on teeth, causing the gums to become sensitive, red, swollen, and bleeding.
Juvenile Gingivitis in Cats
Cats who are young and teething are most likely to develop juvenile-onset gingivitis, also known as stage 1 gingivitis. Once adult teeth have firmly erupted, the condition may become severe.
Gingivitis vs Periodontal Disease in Cats
When the gums show symptoms of plaque buildup, the condition is known as gingivitis. As plaque continues to build up behind your cat’s gums, it will also start affecting the periodontal ligament that connects the teeth to the underlying bone.
Once this development occurs, it becomes known as periodontitis, or periodontal disease. Mild gingivitis is the earliest stage of periodontal disease. Intervention at this time is crucial because the damage can still be reversed.
What Causes Feline Gingivitis?
The buildup of dental plaque (caused by bacteria in the mouth) and tartar development are frequently linked to dental disease in cats. However, there are several other factors that affect the development of gingivitis.
Plaque is a bacteria layer that forms on the surface of teeth. It is difficult to notice at first, but as it develops, it frequently becomes obvious as a soft, white or gray film on the surface of the tooth. Brushing can help get rid of plaque and maintain healthy gums.
If left untreated, plaque can get hardened as a result of the deposition of materials like calcium. This hardened, calcified plaque is called calculus or tartar. Tartar is easily seen and appears as a firm, yellowish, cream-colored, or brown deposit on the tooth’s surface. Due to its hardness, tartar is frequently impossible to eliminate by basic methods like brushing the teeth and necessitates dental scaling (a procedure done by a veterinarian under anesthesia).
Feeding only wet food increases the likelihood of your cat developing dental disease because it gives little to no abrasive action against the teeth while chewing, which makes it less effective at preventing plaque buildup. Additionally, the food itself may gather on or around the teeth and promote the growth of bacteria and plaque.
Malaligned teeth are more likely to develop plaque and tartar because natural abrasion from chewing and eating food does not clean them. Among the most common causes of teeth misalignment are:
- Breed. Short-nosed breeds and variants like Persians, Chinchillas, Exotic and British Shorthairs often have overcrowded mouths and misaligned teeth due to their small jawbones.
- Retained Baby Teeth. Some cats may retain their baby or milk teeth after their permanent teeth have grown through, which can cause the permanent teeth to become misaligned.
- Congenital Abnormality or Trauma. A cat's jaw can be abnormally shaped due to congenital abnormalities (i.e. abnormalities that are present from birth, like an overshot or undershot jaw) or trauma like a fractured jaw), resulting in misaligned teeth.
Some diseases, such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and feline calicivirus (FCV) are linked to gingivitis.
Symptoms of Gingivitis in Cats
The signs of gingivitis are mostly associated with a cat's mouth. Here’s what to pay attention to:
Stage 1 Gingivitis in Cats
Stage 1 refers to mild gingivitis and is very common in cats of all ages. It is easily reversible in the majority of instances and does not harm the tooth root.
Stage 2 Gingivitis in Cats
At this stage, gum recession might be visible. There may also be visible gingival "pockets," which are areas where the gum has begun to pull away from the tooth, creating the ideal environment for the buildup of bacteria, food, plaque, and tartar.
Stage 3 Gingivitis in Cats
Stage 3 or severe gingivitis can be very painful. The cat may exhibit symptoms such as excessive salivation (drooling), mouth-pawing, halitosis, trouble feeding, and even bleeding from the mouth. Gum recession is another common sign, although because the gums are so inflamed, it may not always be seen. It is possible to notice gingival pockets, which are often deeper than those found with moderate gingivitis.
Signs of Dental Disease in Cats
Dental disease in cats occurs in four stages:
Stage 1 Dental Disease in Cats
This stage is characterized by gingivitis. The gums may appear to be swollen. During this phase, a fine red line on the gums close to the teeth could also be apparent.
Stage 2 Dental Disease in Cats
This stage, also known as early periodontitis, happens when there is just a minor degree of bone loss. You might observe signs like bad breath, gum irritation, as well as obvious plaque and tartar on your cat’s teeth.
Stage 3 Dental Disease in Cats
Stage 3, also known as moderate periodontitis, is when serious dental damage starts to happen. Your cat’s gums will likely be inflamed, swollen, and bleed easily. Periodontal pockets are created when the gums no longer adhere to the tooth. Your cat might also have bad breath and suffer pain and will need to have any damaged or infected teeth taken out.
Stage 4 Dental Disease in Cats
In the fourth and final stage, severe, chronic periodontal disease is obvious. Due to germs from the mouth entering the bloodstream and spreading throughout the body, your cat not only suffers from excruciating pain but also runs the risk of losing teeth, developing a systemic infection, and suffering harm to the internal organs.
Diagnosing Gingivitis in Cats
Make an appointment with your veterinarian if you notice any symptoms of feline gingivitis before it progresses into periodontal disease and the damage becomes irreversible.
An oral examination by your vet will reveal whether your pet has gingivitis. There may not be a need for additional diagnostic tests if there is only slight redness or inflammation. However, X-rays may be required to determine the severity of the disease if your veterinarian detects an infection or deeper damage within the oral cavity.
Gingivitis vs Stomatitis in Cats
Both "gingivitis" and "stomatitis" refer to inflammation of particular tissues. Inflammation of the gingiva (the gums) is referred to as gingivitis, whereas stomatitis is a more widespread inflammatory condition that affects the majority, if not all, oral tissues, including the gums, inner surfaces of the lips, lips, and/or the roof and floor of the mouth.
The cause of stomatitis is unknown. It might be brought on by the oral tissues' hyperimmune (overreactive) response to bacterial plaque. The condition frequently results in extreme pain, which decreases appetite and prevents the cat from self-grooming, causing their haircoat to look disheveled.
How to Treat Gingivitis in Cats
The two most common first lines of treatment for gingivitis are routine dental care and medical supervision. To treat any inflammatory dental disease, your veterinarian will first get rid of plaque and tartar, and clean the tissues below the gum line.
In severe cases of gingivitis, teeth may need to be removed or damaged tissue repaired in addition to antibiotic therapy. Routine dental cleanings and X-rays should be done under anesthetic.
Your veterinarian might refer you to a veterinary specialist if they believe your pet might need a more advanced medical procedure.
Cat Gingivitis Treatment at Home
The best way to maintain your pet’s dental health is by brushing or rinsing their teeth once a day with a special finger pad. You can also use veterinary toothpaste at least two to three times a week or a veterinary antibacterial solution to prevent plaque accumulation. You may be able to maintain your cat's oral health with the aid of specific foods, dietary supplements, or toys.
Feline Gingivitis Treatment Cost
The average cost for feline teeth cleaning can vary depending on several factors, including the animal’s age, whether anesthesia is required, as well as where you live. In general, the costs range from $50 to $300. If your cat has periodontal disease, the average cost for treatment is $768.
Many pet insurance providers offer dental coverage that includes teeth cleanings, extraction, and periodontal disease as long as there’s no pre-existing condition. Coverage varies by insurer, but there are typically two types of pet dental coverage for dental illnesses and dental accidents. Pet insurance companies like Embrace, ASPCA, Pets Best, Healthy Paws, Nationwide, Prudent, Spot, Pumpkin, TrustedPals, and Trupanion cover both dental illness and accidents and provide reimbursement for dental problems like gingivitis and stomatitis.
How to Prevent Gingivitis in Cats
Routine dental care, regular veterinary visits, and daily brushing paired with nutritionally complete and balanced food is the best way to prevent gingivitis and maintain your cat’s overall dental health.
How to Prevent Feline Periodontal Disease
Most cats can avoid gingivitis by keeping plaque at bay, with daily tooth brushing being the most effective strategy. Use cat-specific toothbrushes and toothpaste at all times, and gradually introduce the idea of brushing your cat’s teeth. Chlorhexidine rinses and water additives can also be somewhat effective for this purpose.
Specially prepared dental cat food has been demonstrated to be beneficial in lowering plaque buildup and gingivitis when combined with routine dental cleanings. Ask your vet about foods that have been shown to minimize tartar and plaque in cats and are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
Pet insurance can also help with the prevention of gum disease by covering the cost of dental cleanings, as well. Most pet insurance companies offer pet wellness plans that cover routine dental care. Pawlicy Advisor is a useful tool that can show you where to buy pet dental insurance, help you compare policies, and preventive pet care add-ons by the best US providers and find the best pet dental insurance plan.
FAQs on Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease in Cats
How serious is gingivitis in cats?
In most cases, gingivitis in cats is reversible, but if left untreated, the condition can progress into periodontal disease or periodontitis. Periodontitis is an irreversible condition and is a common cause of cats losing teeth.
How to diagnose gingivitis in cats?
Cats with gingivitis show symptoms like swollen or red gums, drooling, bad breath, decreased appetite, etc. If you notice any of these signs, be sure to get in touch with your veterinarian. Your vet will perform a thorough exam, taking into consideration the history of symptoms as well as any possible conditions that may have led to gingivitis.
Does gingivitis in cats go away?
If caught early and treated promptly with appropriate dental care, cat gingivitis is completely reversible. Severe cases of gingivitis usually require antibiotics or even surgery and can slow down your pet’s recovery, but with adequate home care, your feline friend’s mouth will eventually heal.
How to treat gingivitis in cats?
Treatment for gingivitis begins with thorough removal of plaque and tartar under general anesthetic. Your vet will show you how to brush your cat's teeth, and you should schedule follow-up consultations.
How can I treat my cat’s gingivitis at home?
After your vet has thoroughly cleaned your cat’s teeth from plaque and tartar, you can continue maintaining their dental health by brushing your cat’s teeth on a daily basis using a special finger pad and a veterinary toothpaste.
What can I feed my cat with gingivitis?
If your cat has gingivitis, there are specially formulated foods available that can do a much better job of cleaning their teeth than regular cat food. If your feline friend has more serious symptoms of gingivitis and has trouble eating, you might need to switch to soft canned food or add water to the dry food to make a mash. In some cases, cats may even find it challenging to consume canned food so you might need to purée the food until the animal’s gums have healed.
How much does it cost to treat periodontal disease in cats?
The average cost to treat feline periodontal disease is $768.