Characterized by red, swollen gums, gingivitis is common in cats 4 years of age and older. In addition to causing bad breath, feline gingivitis can be painful and can disrupt your cat's eating habits. The good news about the earliest phase of gum disease is that it's preventable with proper dental care at home and with a little help from your veterinarian.
Causes of gingivitis in cats
The gum pocket, also called the gingival sulcus, is the small space between the gum line and the tooth. Without daily brushing, plaque buildup develops on a cat's teeth and in the gum pocket.
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The plaque hardens when not removed by brushing, forming calculus. The hard surface of calculus is the ideal substrate for bacteria to attach to, accumulating in the gums and kicking the immune system into gear. When the immune system reacts to the bacterial buildup in the cat's gums, it causes inflammation — a condition called gingivitis.
Other factors that contribute to gingivitis or dental problems in general include old age, crowded teeth, diabetes, kidney disease, autoimmune disease, and viruses, including feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
Signs of cat gingivitis and inflamed gums
Gingivitis can be painful, and your cat may refuse to eat due to the oral pain. Other signs of gingivitis and dental disease in cats include bad breath, pawing at their mouth, excessive drooling, dropping cat food from their mouth, or a lack of appetite. So, talk with your veterinarian if your cat shows any signs of mouth irritation.
Home remedies for feline gingivitis
There are no home remedies for feline gingivitis. If you are seeing signs of dental disease, it's important to schedule an exam with your veterinarian to go over your cat's dental health. Without treatment, severe gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease, or the pulling of the cat's gums away from the teeth, leading to bone decay and tooth loss.
How to prevent feline gingivitis at home
Like brushing your teeth is an important part of your own health care, brushing your cat's teeth regularly (multiple times a week) is the best way to prevent dental diseases, such as gingivitis. It's ideal if you begin brushing your cat's teeth when they're young, but cats can learn to accept and even enjoy tooth brushing at any age.
Step 1: Create positive associations
You'll want to create positive associations with the toothbrush and the act of brushing your cat's teeth. Introduce your cat to the toothbrush by letting them smell it and then reward your cat with a small treat or praise. Try this a few times before working up to brushing, occasionally touching their mouth and lifting their gums.
Step 2: Use cat-safe toothpaste
When it's time to brush, apply a small amount of pet-safe toothpaste to a small cat toothbrush. Your cat could get sick from human toothpaste, so never use it in place of pet-safe toothpaste.
Step 3: Brush gently
Brush each side of the mouth for about 30 seconds.
Step 4: Praise
Reward your cat with verbal or physical praise, play, or a treat.
Step 5: Wash your hands
Like all mouths, your cat's mouth is full of bacteria. So, wash your hands with soap and water immediately after brushing their teeth.
Veterinarians can help with feline gingivitis
Caring for your cat's oral health doesn't end with at-home brushing. Much like us, cats need a yearly dental exam by their veterinarian. Typically, this exam can be done at the same time as your cat's annual wellness exam. During their dental exam, your veterinarian will determine if and how often your cat should have a professional dental cleaning under anesthesia.
The bottom line
Feline gingivitis occurs when bacteria grow in the space between the tooth and gum line. When the immune system fights the oral bacteria, it can cause painful inflammation of the gums and difficulty eating cat food. There aren't any home remedies for gingivitis, but it can be prevented by regularly brushing your cat's teeth and taking them for a yearly dental exam. Your DVM can advise when and how often your cat should have their teeth cleaned to treat and prevent dental disease, including gingivitis.