Gum Disease in Cats, Gingivitis, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Gum disease in cats typically begins with the inflammation of one tooth. If not treated, it can lead to pain and loss of gum. Here is more on the different development stages, diagnosis and treatment of gum disease in cats. 

A cat’s dental system is similar to that of humans.At the tender age of two to six weeks the first set of twenty-six ‘baby’ teeth develop in a kitten with the systematic development of incisors, canines then the premolars. The baby teeth fall out and at four months permanent incisors are in place.

At five months, the canines are fully developed. At six months the premolars are fully developed. The molars develop at a later stage bringing to total a set of thirty permanent teeth.

Cat owners prefer to feed wet canned food to their indoor pets as it is convenient and provides fluids that prevent constipation. However, these type of foods often leave particles and encourage bacterial growth leading to the formation of plaque and if untreated it leads to gum or periodontal disease.

Gum Disease in Cats

The mouth contains ecosystem bacteria or oral microbiomes that assist in the breakdown of food particles and the gum protects the bones of the teeth through creating a seal that prevents damage and bacterial infection that can directly affect the teeth bones and roots.

When there are food particles left in the spaces between teeth and gums, the reaction between the saliva minerals, food, acids and the bacteria results in the formation of plaque or calculus.

When the cat saliva mix with the plaque, tartar is formed. The tartar made of a hard substance aggravates the gums causing an inflammation referred to as gingivitis. This is because the gum contains soft skin.

In this stage, however, there is no associated bone loss. It can be treated if detected early.Though the gums are red and swollen the teeth and gums are still inseparable.

Gingivitis characterized by red gums may spread to other teeth. If untreated and spread infection from gums to the tissues and bones. At this stage, due to the accumulation of tartar, the teeth and gums may become easily separable.

The separation of the gums and teeth creates vacuums. These allow bacteria to enter and infect the teeth roots and bones destroying the tooth system.  This irreversible condition is referred to a periodontal   or gum disease

The risk associated with no- treatment of the gum disease is that the gum has strong blood vessels. These connect to other parts of the body. If infected it can affect other parts of the body including the heart and brain.

Causes of Gum Disease in Cats

Poor oral hygiene is the leading cause of gum disease in cats especially because cats are unable to brush their own teeth and most cat owners rarely remember to clean their cat’s teeth.


The consumption of wet canned foods does not provide the much-needed gum exercise required for oral health. This means that the unabsorbed fluids and food particles may get stuck in the teeth promoting bacteria and plaque formation. Raw bones help to exercise the gums and also clean the teeth as it promotes chewing.

Most of the consumed foods may also lack essential vitamins and minerals that aid in tooth decay prevention.

Health status

Cats with a low immune system as they are susceptible to bacterial infection and viral infection by calicivirus which is associated with causing oral diseases and upper tract infections.

Grooming habits

Cats that have psychogenic alopecia disorder tend to over-groom and in the process may swallow chunks of their fur that may remain stuck in the spaces between the teeth and gums. If the cat’s teeth are not frequently cleaned and there is hair accumulation, if the cat develops gingival hyperplasia (enlarged gum), the vacuums already created will be further blocked leading to massive infection.

If the cat’s teeth are not frequently cleaned and there is hair accumulation, if the cat develops gingival hyperplasia (enlarged gum), the vacuums already created will be further blocked leading to massive infection.

Some of the most affected breeds include the Abyssinians, Orientals and Siamese and especially female cats


The onset of gum disease (gingivitis) can be identified in cats from the age of 3 years since it is caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar over time. It may also be present in kittens at four months when they are gaining permanent teeth due to the prolonged gum exposure to bacteria.The good news is that it can be corrected

Periodontal or gum disease the irreversible stage may be identified in older cats from the age of nine years and there is not much that can be done to salvage the situation and it may be fatal.


Some cats are genetically more susceptible to plaque and gingivitis.  These include:

  • Siamese cats Genetically they have a metabolism disorder that affects their immune system placing then at a high risk if bacterial infection. Their physical appearance also makes it difficult to chew food and they end up swallowing large chunks without chewing which can help them clean their teeth in the process.
  • Oriental short hair- belong to Siamese family and have similar traits and disorders.
  • Abyssinian and Maine Coon cats have a genetic problem associated with onset periodontal disease and when they develop plaque it may be a bit severe as it is also accompanied by overgrown teeth and enlarged gum.
  • Due to brachycephalic disorder Himalayans and Persians have a shorter jaw with congested teeth. This means that food particles are likely to get stuck very often and subsequent accumulation of plaque leading to periodontal disease.

Symptoms of Gingivitis in Cats

It is not often easy to identify gum disease in cats since they are able to hide well their discomfort but some of the symptoms will include:

Bad breath also known as halitosis as a result of the infection of the gums.

Tooth loss due to the destruction of teeth root.

Loss of appetite, preference for very soft foods or swallowing of food without chewing.

Irritability due to inflammation of the gums and pain.

Poor grooming habits. The cat is in constant pain and cannot clean itself.

Gum bleeding which may occur if the gum develops lesions that contain pus.

Mauling at the mouth.

Excessive Slobbering of saliva that is often streaked with blood.

Discharge from the nose in cats especially in Himalayan and Persian cat breed due to brachycephalic face. The flat face means that the mouth is too near to the face and any infection or discharge from the create discharge in the nose too.

Gingival hyperplasia where there is enlarged gum with overgrown teeth. It may also lead to facial swelling.

Yellowing of teeth due to plaque accumulation on teeth.


  • Dental examination under anesthesia
  • X-rays  and radiographs


  • It is a highly expensive procedure and range from $400- $1200 depending on type and level of infection
  • Use of antibiotics under the gums such as Azithromycin to help get rid of Bartonella, an inflammation causing organism.
  • Tooth cleaning both on the surface and deep to remove tartar and the plague.
  • Root canal to numb the nerves and provide pain relief.
  • Dental scaling to remove accumulated plaque.
  • Ultrasonic therapy which use energy waves to convey chemical, thermal and mechanical effects to injured tissues and facilitate healing.The heat/ energy produced increases blood flow to the destroyed tissues on the gum and reduce inflammation.
  • Tooth extraction based on the level of damage and in severe cases complete tooth extraction.
  • In situations where gum disease is caused by malpositioned teeth, crown restoration can help to treat the situation. This will involve reducing the size of the teeth so that they do not ‘touch’ each other across the jaw. It may also involve the use of a retainer and fixed bite plate that allow moving of teeth. A process that takes six to eighteen weeks.

Home Remedies

  • Mix well and apply two or three times daily on the gums.
  • Two drops of grapefruit extract known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties
  • A teaspoon of coconut oil a high source of Vitamin E associated with cell membrane repair properties
  • A tablespoon of water to increase solubility.

Diet Improvement

Through the elimination of starches and carbohydrate which have mild abrasive action on the tooth and replacing with large chunked foods that include protein in recommended measure that will encourage a lot of chewing.

Wet canned food has been associated with plaque increase. This, however, does not imply that crunchy dry foods are guaranteed to clean cat teeth. In fact, some grains have been known to cause inflammations and allergy.

Rather for prevention, it is best to choose raw or canned food that is chunky and has moisture to help scrub and wash the teeth. This includes chicken or turkey bone.

Encouraging the consumption of antibacterial foods and vegetables   that also clean teeth such as seedless apples, carrots, and celery

Consumption of citrus food that provides vitamin C and protects against bacterial infections. They include berries and melons.

Encourage consumption of dry foods that provides cats wit the opportunity to intensely chew the food and in the process clean their teeth.

Use of mints that prevent bacterial growth such as peppermint, fresh mint, spear mint and even cilantro

Use of Ceylon cinnamon to dissolve food particles that may have remained in the teeth.

Addition of natural amino acids such a lysine in cat’s diet to slow down multiplication of calicivirus in the body.

Early Diagnosis

Through routine prophylactic dentistry which involves cleaning and polishing of the teeth.

Early Daily brushing and oral hygiene through use of:

  • Pet toothpaste  to remove plaque and prevent formation of tartar.
  • Coconut oil, Ceylon cinnamon and baking powder for brushing
  • Vitamin C mouth rinse to rid of bacteria

Cleaning of teeth in older cats may prove to be a bit challenging at the start but it is possible through easy steps which include:

  • Get the cat comfortable by sitting it on the lap.  Feed the cat with familiar liquids by using the fingers and rubbing the liquids on gums and teeth.
  • Using a gauze around the finger use a pad, dental toothbrush or dental sponge coated with the pet toothpaste that has malt or chicken flavor on the brush and the gums.  If the cats finds the toothpaste a bit bitter, add a little of the familiar liquid to the paste to help.
  • Start brushing from the upper canine away from the gums, pushing food particles from the mouth and slowly proceed to the other teeth. On the lower teeth brush up from gum line.
  • Proceed to clean the whole mouth and do not rinse as the toothpaste use is edible.

Patting and praising the cat while brushing will always make it fun and the cat enjoys.

Prevention and management

  • Water additives that reduce plaque, freshen breath and prevent bacteria buildup such as Fragaria Vesca
  • Frequent immunization against calicivirus especially in immunosuppressed cats as it is associated with existence of ulcerations in the mouth that facilitate breed of bacteria.
  • Creating a stress free environment for the cat to avoid triggering Psychogenic Alopecia.
  • Using recommended chew treats toys that help to remove plaque.

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