Periodontal disease in cats is often overlooked, even though it’s the most widespread oral problem for our beloved felines.
Also known as gum disease, this condition can be hidden for a long time because the clinical signs aren’t obvious until it’s too late.
What begins as tartar accumulation on the teeth soon progresses to mild gum inflammation. If left untreated, this inflammation worsens to cause irreversible damage and a lot of pain!
In later stages, surgery may be required to remove infected teeth and tissue.
This isn’t the worst of it.
Many people are surprised to learn that severe feline dental disease can actually cause chronic health problems, as bacteria travels in the bloodstream and infects other parts of the body, such as the heart!
Thankfully periodontal disease in cats is reversible in the early stages, and treatable later on. Stay tuned to find out what signs to look out for, and how to prevent this condition from arising in the first place.
Stages of periodontal disease in cats
Feline periodontitis begins innocently enough as gingivitis, which occurs when gums become inflamed from bacteria in tartar and plaque. This mild inflammation is very easy for vets to treat, if the problem is detected early, so it’s important that you recognise the signs.
Common signs of feline gingivitis:
- Bleeding gums
- Swollen gums
- Gums look red
- Tartar is visible on teeth
- Gum recession (gums are pulling away from the teeth)
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Challenges with eating
- Mouth is tender
- Excess drooling
- Gingival pockets
As the gingivitis worsens, so do the symptoms, which are soon joined by new red flags.
Additional signs of feline periodontitis (the more advanced form of gum disease):
- Hesitation to eat or reduced appetite
- Tooth is surrounded by pus
- Missing teeth
- Loose teeth
- Stomach problems
- Behavioural changes: low moods, irritability and facial pawing
- Tenderness around the mouth
- The same signs as gingivitis but more severe:
It’s crucial to note that many of these symptoms are often difficult to detect.
Your cat could have gum disease for many months, and you’d be none the wiser! This is why we strongly recommend taking your cat for check-ups, and ask your vet to visually examine the teeth too.
If your vet suspects your cat has a dental disease, diagnostic tools such as x-rays and bone density instruments may be used to confirm.
How to treat feline periodontal disease
Treatment protocol is based on the stage of gum disease that your cat has.
If it’s gingivitis, you’ll be pleased to know that treatment is fairly straightforward, with excellent results.
For mild cases, professional dental cleaning may be all that’s required to banish bacteria and reverse damage. Don’t be deceived by how simple this sounds though, general anaesthetic will probably be required as animals don’t have the awareness to sit still.
A more hands-on approach is required for mild to moderate periodontitis cases. This may include deep scaling or scraping to eradicate tartar and plaque that’s built up over time (also under general anaesthetic).
If your kitty has advanced periodontitis, expect to pay around $1,000 for surgery that removes or treats infected gums, bone and teeth. The cost could be higher if damage is extensive.
Your cat’s mouth will feel tender for at least one week after surgery, but prescription pain medication and antibiotics will provide relief. A diet of only soft food may be required for the first few weeks after surgery, and then your vet may suggest particular brands of dry foods that help to prevent plaque and tartar from accumulating.
Your vet will also advise you about the best way to brush your cat’s teeth after some healing has occurred, to keep bad bacteria away.
What causes periodontal disease in cats?
As you probably expect, the biggest culprit is poor oral hygiene.
Failure to brush every day causes harmful plaque to accumulate and turn into hardened tartar. This tartar is filled with bacteria that leads to inflammation, which then travels into the gums and teeth.
Having said this, certain breeds with misaligned teeth have a genetic predisposition to developing periodontal disease. Why? Bacteria is more likely to build up on teeth that aren’t in the correct position. Examples include Persians, Exotic Shorthairs and Chinchillas.
Other factors that increase a cat’s chances of developing periodontal disease:
- Age: Young cats often develop gingivitis around five months of age, which is when their permanent teeth emerge from the gums. This process causes inflammation, but it normally settles down in a month or two. Older cats are more likely to develop periodontal disease that requires medical treatment.
- Trauma: Injuries or congenital abnormalities (such as an overshot jaw) can cause misalignment in teeth – which creates the perfect environment for bacteria.
- Diet: A diet that consists of only soft foods may do more harm than good, due to the lack of abrasive action that can help to keep plaque away.
- Infectious diseases: Certain diseases like feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) can suppress the immune system and therefore increase the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis.
How to prevent feline gum inflammation
Good oral hygiene:
Regular brushing is essential! Daily brushing is best, but if this isn’t possible, aim for at least three times a week. We recommend getting your cat used to this routine from when she’s a kitten, so she doesn’t hiss at the mere sight of a toothbrush later on.
It’s important to use a soft-bristle toothbrush with a toothpaste that’s been specifically formulated for cats. Don’t use human brands, as fluoride is toxic if ingested in high amounts.
If you haven’t already, add dry foods to your cat’s diet. The abrasiveness of kibble and solid chunky food encourages chewing and saliva production, which helps to “wash away” the bacteria.
Regular check-ups at the vet:
Remember that signs of mild gum inflammation can go undetected for a long time, but an experienced veterinarian knows exactly what to look for. Gum disease is only reversible in the early stages (gingivitis), so early detection is so important. Your vet will also advise you on the best diet and oral hygiene routine for your cat, as every breed (and feline) has different needs.
Potiki cat insurance for feline periodontal disease
As previously discussed, it can be expensive to treat gum disease. You may even find yourself out of pocket thousands of dollars, if tooth extraction is required.
If you have reliable pet insurance, you don’t have to worry about budgeting to pay for vet fees. Your policy would cover most of the costs, as long as it’s not a pre-existing condition.
Potiki’s affordable pet insurance gives you that peace of mind, but we go one step further…
We also send you FREE Potiki Perks to help you take care of your best pal’s general wellbeing.
All customers get up to $400 worth of tailored essential pet supplies (like tick medication), as well as 24/7 access to an online chat service with experienced vets.
Remember, these bonuses are on top of reliable Potiki pet cover (via petinsurance.com.au). We pay for 80 per cent of your eligible vet bills for unexpected illness and injury.
- Get a quick Potiki quote to find out what your premium will cost for one year.
- Submit payment if you’re satisfied with that amount (email us on [email protected] with any questions).
- Log into your personal portal to select items for your Potiki Perks package, which will be swiftly delivered to you.
- Lodge a claim if you need help paying vet bills for unexpected sickness or injury.