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July 2023

Dental Disease in Cats: Signs and Treatment

CareHealth & Nutrition

Tooth and gum disease is common in cats – so common in fact that over half of all cats have some form of dental disease by the time they’re just three years old. Dental disease can be incredibly painful for your cat – and it can lead to larger problems like your cat refusing food and severe weight loss – so it’s best avoided. Here’s a breakdown of common dental ailments for cats, and how to prevent and treat them.

What Is Dental Disease In Cats?

‘Dental disease’ is an umbrella term which covers a series of dental-related medical issues – the most common being gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth resorption.

Gingivitis In Cats

Gingivitis is a condition wherein the gums become red, inflamed, and swollen. It’s caused by a build-up of plaque, which gradually hardens and travels beneath the gumline – further wearing down the gums.

If left untreated gingivitis can develop into periodontal disease – which is far more serious.

Preventing Gingivitis in Cats

Preventing gingivitis is as simple as regularly removing plaque by brushing your cat’s teeth. This needs to be done with cat-friendly products, as human brushes are too harsh, and toothpaste designed for people can contain ingredients which are toxic to cats.

If a case of gingervitis is left untreated, it can develop into periodontal disease – which is much less simple to treat. Periodontal disease is caused by an accumulation of tartar (a hard mineral substance which develops from excess plaque) which has travelled below the gumline and caused damage to the supportive structures around the teeth. Chiefly affecting the bone and gums surrounding the teeth, periodontal disease will eventually lead to the teeth decaying. Periodontal disease cannot be reversed, and treatment often involves removing affected teeth.

Periodontal disease is classified into four stages, or ‘the four stages of dental disease’. Beginning with mild gingivitis and plaque, it progresses to tartar build up, and eventually tooth and bone loss.

The Signs of Periodontal Disease in Cats

The signs of periodontal disease vary in severity, but can present as the following:

  • Tartar on the teeth (looks like a hard, yellowy substance on the surface of the tooth).
  • Red or inflamed gums – especially near the teeth.
  • Drooling.
  • Bleeding gums.
  • Swollen face or jaw.
  • An aversion to food, or a change in diet habits (a cat which previously ate dry food may only want soft food, for example).

The Four Stages of Periodontal Disease Progression in Cats

In consultation with expert vet Dr Alison Kemp from Petstock Vet, these are the standard levels used to assess your cat's oral health. While periodontal disease is best avoided altogether, it’s preferential to catch it prior to stage four to prevent loss of teeth.

Signs and Symptoms of Stage One Periodontal Disease in Cats

Stage one of cat periodontal disease is often minor, and hard to pick up with an untrained eye. It’s still important to pick up as doing so can prevent the disease progressing.

  • Gingivitis present (inflammation of gums).
  • Presence of tartar and bacteria.
  • Swollen gums.
  • A thick red line just around and next to the teeth.

Signs and Symptoms of Stage Two Periodontal Disease in Cats

The next level of periodontal disease is often called ‘early periodontitis’ because the structures around the teeth begin to become affected. Stage two is mostly only identifiable by a vet.

  • Mild bone loss (around 25%).
  • Periodontal pockets form (where there is a loss of gum attachment to the tooth).
  • Mild gum recession.
  • Bad breath noticeable at this stage.

Signs and Symptoms of Stage Three Periodontal Disease in Cats

Often called ‘mild periodontal disease’ among vets, stage three is categorised by further damage occurring to the structures around the teeth.

  • Significant bone loss, around 25-50%.
  • Gums will bleed easily when touched.
  • Periodontal pockets (spaces or openings surrounding the teeth underneath the gumline) become deeper.
  • Possible mouth ulcers.
  • Bad breath highly noticeable at this stage.

Signs and Symptoms of Stage Four Periodontal Disease in Cats

Stage four of cat periodontal disease is the worst form of progression: your cat will be in significant pain and may need affected teeth removed altogether.

  • High bone loss (50% or higher).
  • Extensive plaque and tartar.
  • Deep periodontal pockets.
  • Bad breath highly noticeable.
  • Treating Periodontal Disease in Cats
    If your cat has periodontal disease, treatment varies based on what stage they’re at. Earlier stages will most likely be treated with a vet-performed dental clean, followed by a continued cleaning program to prevent deterioration.

    By contrast, later stages are more likely to require teeth removal and may also need antibiotics.

    No matter the stage, your cat will benefit from a professional teeth clean – our nurses perform free dental checks at Petstock, so book in with your local Petstock vet if you’re unsure about the condition of your cat’s teeth.

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Speak to your local vet for more advice and information. Or you can visit one of our Petstock VET clinics in your local area.

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Top Tips To Keep Your Cat’s Teeth Healthy

Practice regular dental hygiene: unfortunately, cat parents often don’t notice a problem until their cat has bad breath or visibly rotten teeth which means the disease has progressed. Keeping your cat’s teeth clean is easier than you think – it involves making small changes but doing them consistently. Here are some at-home ideas to keep your cat’s teeth clean.

  1. Give your cat daily dental treats to prevent plaque accumulation.
  2. Add drops in their water to add an extra layer of defence against plaque.
  3. Encourage chewing with dental toys.
  4. Consider switching to dental kibble and avoid entirely wet-food diets as chewing helps simulate a cleaning action.
  5. Brush your cat's teeth regularly.

How to Clean Your Cat’s Teeth

Cleaning your cat’s teeth is easier than you think! You can do it daily at home – just make sure you have pet-friendly brushes and paste as dental kits designed for human use can contain ingredients which are harmful to pets.

Brushing your cat’s teeth regularly is highly beneficial. Read our tips on how to do it.

If caught early, periodontal disease in cats is fully reversible. Speak to your vet for a dental plan and practice our preventative tips for day-to-day tooth maintenance.

Tooth Resorption In Cats

Tooth resorption in cats occurs when the tooth structure breaks down, beginning inside the tooth, and then if left untreated this breakdown will progress to other parts of the tooth. What causes it is unknown – though it is fairly common and is one of the major dental diseases a vet will look for in a dental check-up.

Symptoms of Tooth Resorption in Cats

  • Affected teeth will have a pinkish defect at the tooth line.
  • As tooth resorption progresses, the pink lesion will cover more of the affected tooth or teeth.
  • A reluctance to eat.
  • Drooling.
  • Irritability – particularly if you’re handling their face or touching the area near their jaw.

Treatment of Tooth Resorption in Cats

Tooth resorption must be treated by a vet – and their response will vary anywhere from monitoring the individual case to removing the tooth entirely. If you suspect your cat is suffering from tooth resorption, book in for a dental check up with Petstock vet (your first check with a dental nurse is free!).


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