Why Do Cats Drool?

You've likely heard about the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who conditioned his dogs to salivate, or drool, at the sound of a bell—all in anticipation of being fed. It's not too surprising to see a pup salivating nowadays, eagerly awaiting his next meal. In fact, some breeds drool regularly, with or without food present. But what about cats?

Felines in general are much less likely to drool, and when they do, it's usually (but not always) signaling trouble. Here's a bit of science for you: Excessive salivation, also known as ptyalism or hypersalivation, occurs when the part of the brain stem controlling salivation gets excited.

What excites this area? Several things, including taste and touch sensations from the mouth and tongue, parts of the central nervous system, and diseases or lesions in either of these areas. Ingesting toxins can also stimulate extreme salivation. On the less serious end of the "need to worry" spectrum are cats who regularly drool due to an anatomical abnormality affecting their ability to swallow or close their mouths entirely.

How serious are drooling issues? Does every case require a trip to the veterinarian? Absolutely not. There are some cats out there who simply drool in response to affection, but that's generally rare. More times than not, the salivation has a source, and it could be serious. If you notice your furry friend drooling abnormally, pay attention and consider the following potential causes.

Trouble swallowing - All kinds of things can cause your kitty to have an issue swallowing. Perhaps she has a piece of kibble, a treat or medicine stuck in her throat, or maybe she's accidentally swallowed a cat toy or other item that's now lodged in her mouth. A cat's behavior often signals issues with swallowing, so stay alert. If you see an object stuck in your cat's throat, try to gently remove it, or contact your vet or an emergency animal hospital immediately.

Heatstroke - Though cats are less likely to deal with heatstroke than other furry animals, it's still worth being aware of, particularly for Persians and other cats with flat faces. Heatstroke can occur if your cat gets overheated in the sun or just hasn't had enough water. Contact your vet if you suspect heatstroke, and do your part to prevent it by keeping fresh water available around the clock and ensuring there's always a shady resting spot for your feline.

Motion sickness - Unlike dogs, cats rarely take car rides unless an anxiety-producing appointment with a vet is in the immediate future. This apprehension can easily make motion sickness worse, leading to open-mouth breathing, panting and drooling. To minimize the anxiety surrounding road trips, take a cue from Pavlov and condition your cat by taking super short trips and simply returning home. If you do this enough, you just might reduce the anxiety level and subsequent reactions.

Poisonous plants - Curious cats often ingest houseplants and flowers, but the vast majority of them contain toxins that cause felines to get sick. One of the most common physical symptoms of this is drooling. If you suspect your cat has consumed or licked a plant, err on the side of caution and either contact your vet or snag a piece of the plant and take your pet to an animal hospital immediately. Some reactions are mild, while others can be life-threatening.

Disease or infection - Several types of disease feature drooling as a symptom. Tooth decay can physically trigger drooling if it's in the right spot. Visually inspect your kitty's teeth, looking for brown or gray areas of teeth and red, swollen or bleeding gums, all of which indicate decay. Mouth disease in the form of ulcers and tumors, as well as kidney and liver disease may also account for drooling issues. An upper respiratory infection, which affects the nose, eyes and sinuses, may also cause a cat to drool. For any of these concerns, make an appointment ASAP with your local vet or animal clinic.

By Tara Hall