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Dental care - gingivitis in cats

Taking care of your cat’s dental health is incredibly important. Healthy teeth and gums are as critical to the wellbeing of our pets as they are to ours but, while we check out our teeth as we brush away in front of the bathroom mirror every day, how often do we take a peek inside our pet’s mouth?

Cats in particular are susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease. This can range from simple gum inflammation to serious damage of the soft tissue and bone supporting the teeth. Without intervention, teeth can be lost.

Gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, is often the earliest indicator of periodontal disease. Most importantly, it’s reversible with treatment and ongoing care IF diagnosed early.

If not treated, dental disease can cause or exacerbate other serious conditions. Bacteria in the cat’s mouth can travel via the blood stream around the body, causing potentially serious infections in organs such as the kidneys, liver and heart. In ageing cats with already compromised kidneys, this additional burden of bacterial shedding can hasten kidney failure.

Causes of gingivitis

Without proper care or a diet that exercises the teeth and gums, plaque can build up on the teeth – this forms from the food, bacteria, mucous and other debris that collects on teeth surfaces. Plaque (which progresses to become solid tartar or calculus) starts to push the gums away from the teeth roots. Bacteria infiltrate, and inflammation begins along the line where the gums meet the teeth. The gums become progressively red, swollen and painful, and the bacteria present in the gum fissures release toxins that further destroy the gingival tissue.

A diet of soft food can encourage plaque formation, genetics can play a part, and old age can also be a factor – it’s estimated over 80 percent of pets three years or older will develop some form of gingivitis. Feline dental disease also can be associated with feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), diabetes and other diseases.












Above left, the start of gum inflammation. On the right, this is serious dental disease with severe gingivitis (inflamed, reddened gums) and obvious tartar on most teeth. The first task is to remove the plaque and tartar and clean the teeth under general anaesthetic. 

Bad breath is often an early sign of gum inflammation. Take a regular sniff of your pet’s breath – it may not always be pleasant, but it’s an effective way to monitor dental health. Lift the lips and check your pet’s mouth for red or swollen gums and signs of plaque or tartar. Severely affected cats will drool, paw at their mouth and drop their food. While they go readily to their food dish, the food is not chewed or swallowed because eating has become too painful. 

It’s important to remember that cats and dogs are remarkably good at coping with pain – often to their detriment. Many cats with dental disease show no obvious signs of illness or discomfort until the disease is quite advanced. Or they may show changes in behaviour, becoming quieter, or irritable and depressed. An annual check-up, especially for ageing cats, will ensure dental health issues are identified.

Treatment and ongoing care

Once dental disease is diagnosed, we can develop a plan to help you improve and manage long term your pet’s dental health – the goal of any cat dental home care program is to decrease plaque and prevent tartar formation on your cat’s teeth. This may include changing the diet to include some hard biscuits, the occasional treat of raw (never cooked) bones, chewy treats such as cat Greenies or feeding a specialised dental diet such as Hills Science Diet T/D (available at CVH).

Believe it or not, veterinary toothpaste and toothbrushes designed just for cats and dogs is available! Regular use of these products can prevent the build-up of plaque on the tooth surfaces. Available at CVH, our staff can show you how to use these to keep your pet’s teeth clean and gums healthy. Do NOT use human toothpaste, it’s not designed for use in animals and can cause nausea and vomiting in cats.

Severe gum and tooth disease will require more intervention. At CVH, we undertake safe ultrasonic teeth cleaning and removal of tartar under general anaesthetic. It’s amazing the difference the professional removal of plaque and tartar can make to your pet’s dental health (and to their halitosis). Sometimes the inflammation and damage has progressed so far the only option is to remove diseased, non-salvageable teeth surgically and allow the gums to heal. Pets cope remarkably well, even after multiple tooth extractions.