How to Tell if Your Cat Has a Toothache

By Jenny Green

Cats don't like to advertise when they're in pain, so you have to watch for signs of toothache to prevent your cat from suffering long periods of discomfort and stress. Problems that cause toothache in cats include tooth decay, tooth resorption -- which is caused by decay below the gum line -- inflamed gums and fractured teeth. Although your veterinarian checks for these dental problems at your cat's annual wellness exam, you can look for several things that signify a veterinary visit is required.

Seeing Red

Red gums are among the first signs of toothache in cats. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine website says about 85 percent of cats over 6 years old have tooth decay and that tooth resorption occurs in about 50 percent of cats. The first stage of tooth decay is inflamed gums, which often appear as a red line along the gums where they meet the teeth. Red and swollen gums are also symptomatic of feline gingivitis syndrome, which affects about 1 percent of cats. Healthy gums in cats are pink.

Symptomatic Behavior

Your cat is most likely to show toothache symptoms when eating. Cats with mouth pain often chew on one side and eat less than usual or sometimes not at all. Your cat might try to eat but then drop the food, hiss and run away. He may prefer soft food over dry. Pawing at the mouth and shaking of the head are more signs of pain your cat might show when eating or at other times. Another symptom to check for is bad breath. Your cat's breath might smell of food he ate recently, but it shouldn't smell offensive.

Broken Teeth and Abscesses

Your cat will hurt if he breaks a tooth, which he could do when fighting or just chewing. The cat might not show any reaction. Over time, bacteria invade the open tooth and cause inflammation in the tooth root and jaw bone. Checking your cat's mouth regularly helps identify a fractured tooth before a serious infection takes hold. The tooth may look obviously broken, or it may be discolored. Tap gently on any teeth that don't look normal. A pain reaction is symptomatic of an abscess. Book an appointment with your vet.

Stopping the Rot

About 90 percent of cats experience dental problems at some point in their lives, but you can prevent your cat from suffering simply by brushing his teeth daily and taking your cat for regular checkups. Feeding your cat food designed to clean his teeth also reduces the bacteria and plaque that cause decay. Your vet can recommend a tooth-friendly diet for your cat.