Dental disease can result in swollen and bleeding gums, foul breath, mouth pain, loose teeth, loss of appetite and difficulty eating in cats. If left untreated, dental issues can cause bone infections, abscess formation, pain, and tooth loss. Bacteria from the mouth can even enter the bloodstream and affect your cat’s vital organs.
Cats are cautious creatures, and it can be hard to tell if your cat has mouth pain. Some cats may show signs of discomfort, such as drooling, pawing at their mouths, making weird mouth movements while eating and avoiding chewing on the side of the mouth that hurts. A painful mouth can cause a cat to stop eating completely, or eat wet food only.
What to Do If Your Cat Stops Eating Due to Teeth Problems
When a cat stops eating due to dental problems, it can be easy to brush it off as your cat just being fussy about its food. Some may prefer wet food over dry food because of mouth pain, while others may stop eating completely. In most cases, when a cat won’t eat for over 24 hours, it is a cause for concern. Your cat may be refusing dry food or even wet food because it is painful for it to chew.
If you suspect that your cat has dental disease, take it to a vet immediately. The three most common dental problems in cats are periodontitis, gingivitis and tooth resorption with varying levels of severity. Dental disease can cause severe discomfort in cats, affecting its eating patterns and quality of life. This can result in future complications.
Dental Diseases in Cats
Dental diseases are common in cats, with 50-90% of cats above four years of age experiencing an orthodontic issue. Most dental problems in cats are preventable and can be treated.
Gingivitis is a condition which occurs due to inflammation of the gums around the teeth. Inflammation can cause a cat’s gums to become swollen, red and painful. This often results from a process that starts with the buildup of plaque – a coating harboring bacteria on a cat’s teeth. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, plaque and the buildup of bacteria on the surface of the teeth are the underlying cause of periodontal disease in cats.
The plaque harboring the bacteria builds up above the region where the gums meet the base of the teeth. However, if not regularly cleaned, the plaque can travel deeper towards this meeting point, eventually migrating further below to the subgingival region of your cat’s mouth. This can prompt an immune system response to the presence of bacteria from the plaque, leading to inflammation of the gums, or gingivitis.
According to some researchers, gingivitis may be a result of a shift in healthy populations of bacteria in the plaque to unhealthy, disease-causing populations. Lack of dental care, not regularly brushing your cat’s teeth and tooth crowding may also contribute to plaque buildup.
Over time, the plaque on your cat’s teeth may harden by continually absorbing minerals from saliva and the gingiva. This is referred to as tartar or calculus. Tartar makes teeth rougher, allowing disease-causing bacteria to attach to them easily. According to research published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, tartar and gingivitis can destroy teeth and surrounding tissues, resulting in severe periodontal disease and even teeth loss.
Signs and Symptoms
The disease-causing bacteria that gather on and beneath the gums create substances that impair the cells responsible for forming a barrier between the teeth and the gums. The bacteria can thus, easily gain access to the connective tissue at the base of the teeth where the cat’s inflammatory response can be ignited. This results in the gums becoming inflamed and painful.
In severe cases, gingivitis may also cause bleeding where the teeth meet the gums. Depending on the severity of your cat’s condition, gingivitis can cause lack of appetite, hesitation to eat, drooling, bad breath and turning the head unusually while eating. Some cats with gingivitis may prefer soft, wet foods over dry foods due to the pain caused by crunching.
Gingivitis can also occur due to infectious or systemic diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukemia virus, kidney disease, feline calicivirus, diabetes, and autoimmune disease. If your cat’s gingivitis resulted from any of these diseases, the condition might be accompanied by sores or inflammation in other regions of the pink, mucous lining inside the mouth. This may lead to a severely painful condition called stomatitis.
Stomatitis can occur in all cat breeds, but it’s generally common in Persians and Himalayans that are genetically predisposed for the condition. It can start before a cat turns one. Stomatitis causes severely reddened, swollen and inflamed mouths. Cats may have reduced appetites due to the pain and may develop malnourishment because of this.
Treatment and Prevention
Gingivitis is often a reversible condition, and its treatment will depend on the underlying cause and the severity of the problem. Treatment may include teeth cleaning at home, antibiotics use, immunosuppressive drugs and scaling of the plaque responsible for the inflammation (under general anesthesia). In severe cases, teeth extractions may be required. Note that treating gingivitis with antibiotics alone may not be effective.
In the case of gingivitis caused by other underlying infectious or systemic diseases, your vet will diagnose the condition and resolve the cause to control the gingivitis.
If your cat has a mild case of stomatitis, medical care and tooth brushing at home may help treat the condition. However, tooth extractions and surgical removal of the affected tissues with the use of dental X-rays may be needed to guarantee the removal of the infected roots. Although this may seem extreme, many cats show positive results and return to their normal eating habits rapidly following treatment.
The most effective way to avoid gingivitis in cats is to remove plaque-buildup on a regular basis with tooth brushing at home. Make sure you use toothpaste or tooth gels made for cats only as human dental products can be harmful to cats. It can be difficult to brush your cat’s teeth, but gradually introducing the practice can help in training your cat to tolerate this procedure.
If your cat experiences a severe case of gingivitis, tooth brushing can be painful. Therefore, talk to your vet before managing the condition with tooth brushing. Note that there are risks to teeth cleaning in older cats due to the use of anesthesia.
2) Periodontal Disease
If left uncontrolled, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis. Periodontitis is the inflammation of the periodontium, which is the tissue that attaches teeth to the underlying bones and gums. It’s a condition that can become irreversible and results from the buildup of plaque.
When the bacteria access the connective tissue under the tooth, they trigger an immune system response, causing inflammation of the gums. Therefore, the first stage of periodontal disease is gingivitis. The condition enters the second stage when the inflammation progresses, affecting the periodontium. Periodontal disease is a condition where bony and soft tissues are affected, causing bone loss, receding gums, and periodontal ligament damage.
Without professional cleaning, the plaque can mineralize into tartar within a few days, requiring mechanical removal. According to the Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research, the first stage of periodontal disease (i.e., gingivitis) is reversible as long your cat’s teeth have been professionally cleaned and are given care at home.
Halitosis (bad breath) and gingivitis are primary components of the early stages of periodontal disease. The second stage of periodontal disease, called periodontitis is irreversible.
The vet will look for signs of gingivitis and will professionally clean your cat’s teeth, if needed. Treatment for the first stage of periodontal disease is the same as the treatment for gingivitis. However, if your cat’s periodontal disease has transitioned to periodontitis, treatment may focus more on damage control rather than prevention.
Your vet will determine the advancement of the disease through a thorough oral exam by checking the depth of the periodontal pockets, the amount of gum recession that has occurred and other X-ray findings. X-rays are often required to find out whether a tooth can be saved, as well as the presence and degree of bone loss, root fractures, root abscesses, retained roots, and root resorption.
Periodontal disease will require professional cleaning of the teeth, in most cases under general anesthesia. Advanced periodontal disease can often be prevented if identified and treated early. Prevention for periodontitis includes removal of the plaque and tartar and cleaning of the root surfaces using hand instruments and ultrasonic equipment.
Your cat may be given antibiotics a few days before and after the procedure. The two most commonly prescribed and effective antibiotics for periodontal disease are amoxicillin-clavulanate and clindamycin. Following professional cleaning, it is crucial that you perform at-home dental care procedures such as regular tooth brushing to prevent and delay the possibility of periodontal disease in the future.
3) Feline Tooth Resorption
Feline tooth resorption, also called feline ondotoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLS) is a highly common dental problem in cats, affecting 30-40% of them. It’s a condition in which the tooth structure deteriorates, starting from the inside of the tooth to other areas and the gum line. Tooth resorption is most common in the premolars in the lower jaw, but any tooth is at risk.
In cases where resorption is noticeable, it may appear as if there’s gum tissue growing into or over the affected tooth. Sometimes it may look like a hole in the tooth, causing it to be mistaken for a cavity. However, note that cavities are highly uncommon in cats. If the resorption is less obvious, it may be identified using special lighting and magnification devices, along with the use of general anesthesia.
Tooth resorptions under the gum line have to be diagnosed with x-rays.
The condition starts by breaking down the surface layer of the root (cementum) and the hard tissue below the enamel (dentin). It then progresses into the center of the tooth and the pulp, consisting of living cells and connective tissue. The resorption continues to move into the dentinal tubules, which are tiny fluid-filled channels that travel outward from the dentin to the cementum of the tooth. Lastly, the enamel is completely broken down, which can result in tooth fracture or remodeling.
Signs and Symptoms
Feline tooth resorption is an excruciating problem. However, most cats may not show any noticeable signs of oral pain due to their secretive nature. You may be able to tell that your cat is in pain if it reacts when the lesion is touched or if it frequently paws at its face.
Some cats may also drool, have difficulty eating and bleed from the mouth. Tooth resorptions may also cause halitosis, unusual behavior and throwing up of food that hasn’t been chewed. Your cat may be irritable, turning its head to the side while eating or may be completely reluctant to eat. If your cat shows signs of tooth resorptions, take it to your vet for a thorough dental checkup.
Your vet will diagnose your cat’s teeth by examining its mouth and teeth, probing any defects carefully and analyzing X-rays of the jaw and head. Typically, this requires the use of general anesthesia.
During diagnosis, the condition will be first noticed as a pink defect in the region where the tooth and gums meet. Unfortunately, at this stage, the tooth is already substantially broken down. The severity of the condition can vary, from minor defects at the gum line to significant defects on the enamel on the crown. Tooth resorptions are sometimes associated with gingivitis, but not necessarily always.
Treatment for feline tooth resorption includes managing pain, preventing the disease from progressing and restoring the function of the tooth. You may be required to carefully monitor your cat if its lesions are limited to the root and no pain or discomfort can be seen.
If your cat is showing signs of discomfort and its lesions move into the crown, removing the tooth may be the best course of action. In cases where damage is severe, it may be difficult to remove the entire tooth, and your vet may have to amputate the crown.
Despite the type of treatment required, it is important to follow-up and carefully monitor your cat at home.
My Cat Won’t Eat After Having Teeth Pulled Out
Your cat may not eat after a tooth cleaning or extraction because its mouth is still tender following the procedure. Your vet will provide you with medication to help your cat feel more comfortable.
If your cat isn’t up for eating right away, consider offering it soft wet food instead. If your cat doesn’t eat within 24 hours of coming home, you must call your vet immediately.
What to Feed a Cat with No Teeth
Your toothless cat may lick its food but not eat it. If you have a cat with no teeth, try offering it the same food as usual. Some cats without teeth can consume dry food, but they may eat slowly. However, if your cat swallows whole food without breaking them into smaller pieces, it may suffer from gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting.
You can solve this problem by keeping an eye on your cat’s eating behavior and crushing its food. You can also mix dry food with broth or water to soften it. Alternatively, try switching to wet food or making a gradual transition by mixing dry food with wet food.
Fractured teeth are common in cats, with the most common ones being at the tip of a cat’s canine and the premolars. Even small fractures can lead to pain in cats because their pulp tissue extends close to the end of the tooth. Tooth fractures in cats are typically caused by trauma and via conditions that breakdown and weaken the teeth, such as tooth resorption. A cat with a tooth fracture may refuse to eat due to pain.
If the fracture is above the gum line, it will be visible to the naked eye. However, some fractures may occur below the gum line, making them less visible during diagnosis. A fractured tooth may also look gray.
Treatment for feline teeth fractures depends on the tooth involved and the severity of the damage. Sometimes it may require root canals or tooth extractions. If your cat has a fractured tooth, take it to a vet as soon as possible. Tooth fractures are not only painful for cats, when opened, they can also cause facial swelling, abscess, and systemic infections.
Trauma, immunosuppression, tooth resorption and foreign bodies in the mouth may contribute to infections in the mouth. Infection of the gingival tissue, where a tooth meets the gum line, can cause redness, swelling, and abscess in your cat’s mouth.
Abscesses at the tooth root can cause jaw pain and swelling, which can rapidly spread to surrounding tissues. Your cat may have a noticeable facial swelling or a protruding eye if the infection travels to the region around the orbit. The discomfort can cause cats to paw at their face and have difficulty eating.
Malocclusion takes place when a cat’s teeth are in unusual positions, preventing your cat from comfortably closing its mouth. This can cause your cat to bite into sensitive gums, resulting in pain and trauma to the gingiva. The problem can also contribute to periodontal disease.
Malocclusions either exist from birth or occur due to trauma.
Your vet will perform a thorough oral exam to assess the bite and ensure the teeth are positioned properly. If your cat has a malocclusion, your vet may recommend corrective methods to reduce pain and help your cat chew more comfortably. Malocclusion treatment may require dental extractions or orthodontics to improve teeth positioning.
At-Home Dental Care for Cats
Regardless of the type of dental problem your cat has, daily oral care involving brushing your cat’s teeth is vital. Regular teeth brushing can significantly reduce your cat’s risk of dental issues. It takes as little as 24 to 36 hours for plaque bacteria to inhabit a tooth’s surface. Therefore, periodontal disease from plaque bacteria can occur within just a few days of a professional dental cleanup.
Homecare is required to remove plaque before it progresses into tartar.
Regular teeth brushing should be introduced in kittens so that cats can get accustomed to having their mouths touched and their teeth brushed. Although brushing your cat’s teeth every day would be ideal, it isn’t realistic when dealing with cats. A more reasonable frequency would be 2 to 3 times a week. Not all cats will tolerate brushing, however trying various dental hygiene products for cats, such as gels, sprays, and rinses, can allow you to build a practical homecare routine.
Finger brushes are a favorite tool in maintaining dental hygiene in cats. You have to slip the brush over your finger, apply an enzymatic toothpaste on it and brush it onto your cat’s teeth. Cat toothpaste are available in flavors cats enjoy, such as poultry and many cats do accept this measure – even they do so unwillingly. Never use human toothpaste for cats as they’re not suitable for their teeth and may even be toxic for them.
Understand that some cats may not withstand any oral manipulation. In such cases, it is important to take the cat for regular dental checkups every 4-6 months.
Diets with a cat’s dental health in mind are fairly new in the pet industry. These diets are formulated to slow down or prevent the buildup of tartar on teeth. Note that a dental diet is not a replacement for dental home care. Furthermore, they may not be suitable if your cat suffers from severe periodontitis as dry food may irritate the gums and more pain.
Tartar-control treats are also becoming popular among cats. If you give your cat any treats, consider using a crunchy tartar-control treat, especially if your cat is susceptible to dental issues.