Infections on cats’ tongues are usually secondary symptoms of underlying diseases or viruses that affect felines. Cats suffering tongue problems exhibit ulcers, which may or may not be painful depending on the ulcers’ location as well as the condition responsible for the infection. Proper diagnosis by a veterinarian is crucial, as tongue infections may be symptomatic of a variety of diseases. Tongue ulcers are not life threatening, but other disease complications may be if not properly treated.
Upper Respiratory Infections
A number of upper respiratory viruses, commonly called cat flu, can cause tongue ulcers or lesions. Tongue lesions do not always occur, but may be present in conjunction with other symptoms, such as sneezing, coughing, wheezing, runny eyes and nose and fever. Feline calicivirus, a milder form of cat flu, is the most common cause. Sometimes tongue ulcers are the only symptom of this virus, but joint pain may also be exhibited. Feline herpes virus may also cause tongue ulcers, as well as Clamydophila, Mycoplasma and Bordetella. Severity of symptoms varies from cat to cat.
Cats with immunodeficiency diseases are prone to glossitis, which is a painful inflammation and infection of the tongue. Glossitis can also develop from burns, cuts or scratches on the tongue. The painful red, shiny tongue that is characteristic of this infection often causes cats to stop grooming themselves. The neck may be dirty and covered with drool. Open sores may also be evident. Mouth rinses and antibiotics are used to treat glossitis. Veterinarians often recommend switching to soft canned food served at room temperature to help the tongue heal. In severe cases, the tongue may need to be cauterized to heal the ulcers.
Several variations of this affliction cause mouth problems in felines, but not all produce tongue infections. The inside of the mouth is red, inflamed, swollen and tender. Ulcerative or viral stomatitis and yeast stomatitis, also known as thrush, are the two varieties that cause tongue infections. Viral stomatitis is an extremely painful form of the disease where ulcers form on the tip of the tongue and hard palate. Yellow, pus-like substance exudes from the ulcers. It often occurs in conjunction with upper respiratory infections, particularly calicivirus. Thrush occurs in felines who have been on a prolonged course of antibiotics, which allows an overgrowth of yeast to form in the mouth. It also occurs in cats with immunodeficiencies. Thrush is characterized by soft white patches that spread to form a film over the tongue and gums. Ulcers may form in advanced cases.
Pox Virus Infection
This disease begins with a primary skin lesion on the head, neck or front legs, spreading to multiple lesions seven to 10 days after onset. Ulcers appear on the tip of the tongue as part of the secondary infection phase. This virus occurs in cats with immunodeficiencies and often occurs with FPV (feline Panleucopenia virus). Ulcers eventually turn into scabs, with the virus running its course in about six weeks.