cat stopped eating due to tooth pain
Cat Health and Wellness

Cat Not Eating Due to Teeth Problems – What Can I Do to Help?

Dental problems, including but not limited to toothache, are common in cats. Almost all felines will experience tooth decay or gum disease at some stage. This will leave the cat reluctant to eat as it hurts to do so.

If your cat is not eating due to dental pain, encourage some degree of nourishment. Manage your cat’s pain and tempt it into eating with stimulating scents. Provide an appetite stimulant and provide soft food. Liquid food is also fine, as long as it provides nutrition.

All cats are likely to struggle with dental issues. Oftentimes, this will manifest in the first three years of a cat’s life. Some felines can prolong the inevitable if you maintain a good oral health regime. Recognizing the warning signs of dental pain will allow you to take action.

Does My Cat Have Toothache?

Eating is simply too painful for the cat to contemplate. There are other warning signs to be wary of. These include:

  • Visible plaque, tartar and staining on the teeth
  • Drooling, especially from one side of the face
  • Pawing at the face
  • Foul breath
  • Refusing to play with toys
  • Discoloring of the gums
  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Swelling around the tongue
  • Aggressive response to being touched around the face

You should also look out for obvious physical signs. These could include cracked or broken teeth, or even tooth loss. Understanding the different types of dental pain to impact cats is critical. Feline oral pain is a broad church with many possible causes.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is an inflammation of a cat’s gums. As with all inflammation, this will lead to painful swelling. This, in turn, will place your cat’s teeth in discomfort.

Gingivitis is caused by plaque on a cat’s teeth. Plaque is a filmy coating that sticks to a cat’s teeth after eating. This film attracts bacteria, which multiply.

These bacteria make their way to the gums, eventually migrating below the surface. Inflammation is triggered to the cat’s immune system responding to this. If the swelling is more generalized, spreading to the tongue, this is known as stomatitis.

As explained by The Journal of Nutrition, Gingivitis can be avoided with regular tooth brushing. Even after it arises, gingivitis can be reversed if captured early, Once the condition takes hold, it rapidly worsens. Eventually, untreated gingivitis leads to periodontitis.

difficulty eating cat food

Periodontal Disease

Unchecked gingivitis advances to periodontal disease, a more serious form of inflammation. Simple teeth brushing is unlikely to be effective when periodontitis takes hold. The cat will require a professional tooth cleaning.

Even after this, your cat may not be completely cured. Teeth may need to be removed due to irreparable damage. In addition, antibiotics will be required to manage bacterial infection. Take action at the first sign of gingivitis, while you can still help your cat.

Tooth Resorption

Feline tooth resorption is another common dental issue. This problem arises when the integrity of the tooth deteriorates, leading to cavities.

The lower teeth are most commonly impacted by tooth resorption. It can happen to any tooth, though. A study of 109 cases in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry found that purebreds are likelier to suffer.

Feline tooth resorption may be clearly visible. You could notice a cavity in your cat’s teeth, or gums growing over the tooth. In the latter case, an x-ray will be required for diagnosis. In the event of tooth resorption, extraction is the only solution.

Cracks and Fractures

Cat teeth are sturdy but can be cracked or broken. This may occur due to eating hard food, especially in older cats. As cats age, their teeth and bones become increasingly brittle. Alternatively, an impact injury can cause broken teeth.

Broken teeth are invariably painful for cats. The root of the tooth will be unprotected, which eposes nerve endings. In addition, the fractured tooth may have jagged edges that lead to sore gums. 

Abscesses

If your cat does have a broken tooth, an abscess may follow. Bacteria enter the root canal of the tooth, which has been exposed by a fracture.

These bacteria cause inflammation in the tooth, which is called pulpitis. Over time, the tooth will rot and die within the cat’s mouth. This is known as pulp necrosis. Bacteria can also leak from the exposed tooth, rotting other teeth and bones.

This will be painful for the cat, and potentially result in a build-up of pus. This can be controlled with antibiotics, but the tooth will need to be removed. Other teeth that are impacted may be extracted too.

Malocclusions

As explained by BMJ InPractice, malocclusions occur when a cat’s teeth are in unnatural positions. This is usually a result of a birth defect, or trauma to the lower jaw. Broken bones may heal organically, but without appropriate treatment, they can grow misaligned.

The result will be an overbite or an underbite. The cat will be unable to comfortably close its mouth without inadvertently biting its gums.

Malocclusions are easy to spot at home. A professional will conduct an oral exam to conform any suspicions. If a malocclusion is diagnosed, teeth will be extracted or orthodontics used to reposition teeth.

Cat is Not Eating Due To Bad Teeth

If your cat is struggling to eat due to dental issues, action is required. At this stage, the toothache is not just painful for a feline. Cats can only last three or four days without eating. Anything longer than 24 hours is risky, especially in older felines.

If tooth issues are preventing a cat from eating, you’ll need to take a two-pronged approach. You must encourage the cat to eat something, even if it’s less than usual. In addition, you must work with a healthcare professional to resolve the cat’s dental pain.

Encouraging a Cat To Eat

Felines can be stubborn. Add pain to this and you will find it difficult to encourage your cat to eat. You must do all you can to bring some calories into your cat’s diet. Leaving the cat alone and hoping it changes its mind is not an option.

Pain Management

The first step to encourage a cat to eat is managing pain. Your cat’s inappetence related to the discomfort inflicted by eating. A cat’s relationship with food should be positive, not suspicious.

Never offer human painkillers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, to a cat. The British Veterinary Journal explains how these drugs are toxic to felines.

Discuss your cat’s symptoms with a professional and receive a prescription for pain relief. These will typically be Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, or NSAIDs. No NSAID is approved for prolonged use in cats, so this is a strictly short-term measure.

cat yelps when eating

Brushing Teeth

Once you have your cat’s daily pain under control, brush its teeth. Always attempt this after providing pain relief. Your cat will outright refuse access to its mouth otherwise.

Brushing a cat’s teeth should be standard practice. This reduces the risk of gingivitis and the spiraling conditions that follow. Even if plaque has started to form, brushing can reverse the issue if caught early.

To brush a cat’s teeth, purchase a soft toothbrush. A finger-mounted brush is best. This is less intrusive for the cat. You will also need a cat-safe toothpaste from a pet store. Fluoride, the active ingredient in human toothpaste, is toxic to felines when ingested.

Gently brush your cat’s teeth, paying particular attention to the gumline. This is where bacteria gather. If your cat grows uncomfortable, take a break and return later. A cat in pain will not hesitate to bite.

In the event of serious dental concerns, brushing will be too little too late. If you catch the problem early though, it will relieve your cat’s discomfort.

Appetite Stimulants

If your cat is in pain, it may not be hungry. The cat has other things on its mind. You can manage this using natural appetite stimulants. These will encourage your cat to eat and stay healthy.

Take a trip to your local pet store. You will find plenty of over-the-counter appetite stimulants on sale here. Reputable examples include Nutri-Cal, Lexelium and Nutri-Vit.

Various human medications also have FDA approval as feline appetite stimulants. These will obviously require a prescription. In addition, they may have unpleasant side effects. If your cat has dental pain, it has enough to worry about.

Tempting Food

Eventually, your cat may show an interest in food. You’ll still need to tempt it into eating. Even after taking all these steps, your cat may endure residual pain. Even if this is not the case, the cat will remember that eating hurts.

Appeal to your cat’s sense of smell. Drizzle tuna juice or gravy over food. The cat will find it increasingly difficult to resist. Eventually, hunger will get the better of it.

Keep the food soft, too. The less resistance your cat’s teeth meet, the better. If your cat can swallow food without chewing, so much the better.

This means that cats with dental pain should primarily be fed senior-specific wet food. These meals are designed for cats with weaker teeth. Alternatively, feed your cat a feline soup or broth. You can make this yourself or purchase it from a pet store.

In an emergency, a cat can eat human baby food. This is soft, but not a long-term option. Cats have unique nutritional needs, with the taurine found in meat particularly critical. Human food, especially that designed for infants, will not meet these requirements.

Treating Tooth Problems

Encouraging your cat to eat during a period of dental pain is important. It is not resolving the larger issue, though. No cat can live with sustained toothache. Sooner rather than later, you’ll need professional help to resolve the problem. This will take one of three approaches.

Cleaning

A professional tooth cleaning for a cat is the first step to treating dental issues. This will need to take place under anesthesia. There will be risks associated with this for senior cats. Discuss options with a professional and make the best choice.

Professional tooth cleaning for cats is similar to that performed by a human dental hygienist. Embedded plaque and tartar will be from from the teeth using tools. The cat will leave the surgery with impeccably clean teeth.

If your cat’s dental issues are minor, tooth cleaning will be effective alone. In more advanced cases of tooth decay, teeth will need to be extracted. This is common in teeth that have decayed beyond repair.

Tooth Extraction

Removing a cat’s teeth is a painful, intrusive procedure. Your cat will be placed under general anesthesia and the teeth removed by force. As a result, it will only be considered when necessary. Extraction is reserved for serious dental issues.

A vet will always discuss options with you before resorting to tooth extraction. It is possible for an experienced professional to perform fillings or root canal surgery on cats. In cases of advanced periodontal disease though, extraction is the only choice.

Expect your cat to struggle a little after having teeth removed. Pain management will be essential. It may be some 14 days before your cat is back to its usual self. Encourage your cat to keep eating in the meantime. It will need to maintain its strength.

Orthodontics

If tooth removal is impossible or unnecessary, a vet may apply orthodontics. These are braces that realign a cat’s teeth. This approach is likely if multiple teeth need to be adjusted and moved. It is less intrusive for the cat that multiple extractions.

Orthodontics can be expensive and require careful maintenance. You must regularly brush your cat’s teeth or food will become trapped in the braces. Your cat will also require regular check-ups to tighten braces as necessary.

cat dropping food when eating

My Cat Had Teeth Removed and Won’t Eat

Tooth removal is a painful experience for cats. In addition, it will have required the use of anesthesia. Your cat is unlikely to be hungry as soon as it returns home.

Be patient, offering your cat love and support. It will still likely be in some distress and will seek comfort. Give your cat any painkilling medications prescribed by a vet and let them take hold. After around 12 hours, start tempting your cat into eating again.

Use the same techniques that we have previously discussed. Tempting scents and soft food are essential. Keep offering your cat encouragement, showing patience and restraint. It may take a while for your cat to trust food again.

If your cat is still refusing to eat after 24 hours, consult your vet. The cat may be experiencing side effects from the tooth extraction. Follow professional advice and prepare to return to the surgery. Your cat may require intravenous nourishment while it recovers.

My Cat Won’t Eat After Teeth Cleaning

If your cat underwent a professional tooth cleaning, it was likely anesthetized. This can have an impact on a cat’s appetite. The cat may also be grumpy and irritable for a few hours.

The side effects of anesthetize should wear off the day you bring your cat home. Be patient and keep offering food. Do not force your cat to eat. Eventually, hunger will get the better of it.

Ensure the meal is suitably soft and appetizing. The cat will still be wary about food, recalling the pain this previous caused. Once the cat regains its appetite, it will commence eating as normal. Seek help if this does not occur within 24 hours.

My Cat with No Teeth Won’t Eat

If dental problems become chronic, your cat may need all its teeth removed. This sounds more drastic than it is. Many senior cats lose their teeth and live full, happy lives. Naturally, though, your cat will need some lifestyle adjustments.

Offer your cat the softest wet food you can find. Most senior cat foods are designed to be swallowed with minimal to zero chewing. Keep tempting your cat with scents and encouragement. The cat basically needs to learn how to eat all over again.

If your cat refuses to eat wet food, it can still enjoy kibble. Break the kibble chunks in half, or better yet, grind them down. Apply a feline-friendly gravy to the kibble and serve it as a stew.

This approach can also be applied to whole foods, such as chicken or fish. Place the food in a blender and puree it. A cat, especially if older, should always eat traditional cat food though. This will provide it with all necessary vitamins and minerals.

A cat experiencing dental problems will always be reluctant to eat. You must recognize the symptoms of tooth problems and take immediate action. In between, make your cat as comfortable as possible. Toothache is just as painful for cats as it is for humans.