Why is My Cat Drooling?

If you've found a wet spot where your cat was napping, and her chin is soaked, you know she's been drooling again.

cat funny photo lay nap on cupboard close up photo
credit: Ulianna/iStock/GettyImages

If she's a true blue drooler, you'll notice she drools only in response to emotional stimuli. Consequently, whenever she's incredibly happy or, on the other hand, when she's a little stressed, she'll turn on the waterworks. In this case, the drooling is normal, which means it does not persist, is intermittent, and only in direct response to the stimuli. Often accompanied by kneading, fondly referred to by cat lovers as "making bread," the ecstatic state of "happy cat" is usually triggered by your brushing, petting, or massaging her — or just plain snuggling with you may turn on the faucet.

But if your cat never drooled in the past and you notice she suddenly has bad breath and is drooling a lot, it's abnormal, and a sign that she may have dental or gum disease. Sudden onset drooling may also be caused by a number of other things such as ingesting a foreign object, irritants — from something that is simply foul-tasting but not hazardous to plants and flowers that can be toxic — a pathologic or systemic disorder, or oral cancers. Anything that inhibits normal swallowing will also cause drooling.

Excess drooling, if it's ongoing, could potentially be symptomatic of a serious medical condition. Cats hide pain very well, and diseases can be advanced long before symptoms are evident. Therefore, early detection is vital, and you should take your cat to your veterinarian for an examination as soon as possible.

When cat drooling is normal

Strong emotions like fear and joy affect us all in different ways. People salivate in joyful anticipation when the tantalizing aroma of food awakens their taste buds but cats' do not. But many cats' response to being upset, excited, or apprehensive is to drool, and it's perfectly normal. If a cat feels nauseous, for example, it scares him, and drool may precede vomiting. Normal drooling is associated with the event that triggers it, and it stops when the event, good or bad, is over.

Just as stressful or nerve-racking experiences can trigger a cat to drool, the deliriously happy cat drools when he's super relaxed — say, curled up on your pillow, or being pampered during grooming or cuddle sessions. Watching him go into an almost trancelike state of cat nirvana, you can't help but be in awe of his physiological response to pure happiness and feel blessed that it's because of you.

Closeup of calico cat, female person, woman one hand, fingers, petting, stroking, touching head, happy, bliss, closing eyes
credit: ablokhin/iStock/GettyImages

Another reason for excessive drooling that is normal in some cats is their reaction to medication. Just as different people experience different reactions to medication, so do cats. You never know how a pill or liquid remedy, especially a bitter-tasting one, will affect your cat. Again, the drooling is normal if it's not ongoing. It's imperative to check with your vet if your cat continues to drool well beyond administering the medication, or if at any time, drooling is accompanied by lethargy or lack of appetite. Also, keep in mind that many flea and tick medications for dogs may not be for use in cats. Err on the side of caution, be thorough in your research, and consult with your vet before applying or administering any medicinal product to your cat.

Drooling and bad breath may mean periodontal or dental disease, ulcers, or oral cancers

Serious pathological conditions may cause inflammation, pain, or an inability to swallow, resulting in drooling, so if your cat is experiencing abnormal excess drooling, as a first diagnostic step, your vet will inspect your cat's mouth for ulcers, lesions, tumors, tooth damage, and periodontal disease. During this thorough examination, he will manipulate the jaw, evaluate the condition of all the teeth, and examine the tongue for any pain reaction. Oral pain makes the cat unable or unwilling to swallow, thus prompting the drool response.

Keep in mind that ulcerations in the mouth may develop in cats with a viral respiratory infection, which increases saliva flow. These ulcers can be treated, and in many cases, clear up just fine. Also, with technological advances in dental and periodontal treatments for pets, teeth can be saved, or extracted without issue, if need be. And although oral cancers can occur from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat, conversely, tumors can turn out to be benign and quite treatable.

Cat with blue eyes looks at camera
credit: Photography by Adri/iStock/GettyImages

Poisonous plants and foreign bodies cause excess drooling

After a complete physical examination by your vet and review of your cat's medical history, if all seems OK, and the cause of the excess drooling is still not apparent, she will want to know what your cat has eaten. She'll ask if your cat may have swallowed a part of a toy or other foreign body, or do you have any poisonous plants in the house such as aloe vera, amaryllis, azalea, begonia, bird of paradise, or the ubiquitous dieffenbachia, among others. Many people are unaware of the vast assortment of seemingly innocuous houseplants that are toxic to cats.

If your cat has ingested anything from spoiled food, a foreign object like a sewing needle, fish bone, or even a blade of grass to a poisonous plant, drooling is an automatic physical reaction to try and "wash away" or rid the mouth of the offending object or substance. And if something is stuck in the esophagus, the saliva pools since it has nowhere to go and runs out of the mouth. If there is any suspicion of a blockage, a contrast radiograph or endoscopy will be conducted by your vet.

Pathological and systemic causes of your cat drooling a lot

Further diagnostic measures for your cat drooling a lot include complete blood work and other comprehensive diagnostics to rule out kidney or liver disease, and any other conditions or diseases that may cause inflammation, pain or an inability to swallow.

When to see a vet

If your cat's excessive drooling is combined with bad breath, it's best to call your vet, as this could be a sign of periodontal or dental disease, ulcers, or oral cancers.