Cats are experts at hiding the symptoms of illness – they’re predatorial and competitive animals that don’t like to show weakness. That’s why you (as their owner) need to check for any physical changes to the color of your cat’s gums.
This in-depth guide will help you to understand what it means when your cat’s gums are black, and the difference between healthy and unhealthy gums. We will also share with you some preventative tips and treatment advice for optimizing your cat’s oral hygiene.
Understanding Feline Gum Health
Often overlooked, the health of your cat’s gums is as crucial as any physical concerns. The appearance of your cat’s gums can be a red flag that more severe health issues may be an issue. These can be wide-reaching and go far beyond basic oral health.
While your veterinarian can diagnose and treat your cat accordingly, it is your proactive behavior that will get them the medical attention that they need. This is why it is crucial never to dismiss an unusual gum color, pungent breath, lip color or mouth abnormality without further investigation.
Feline gum issues are not confined to adult cats. Kittens can experience gum and teeth complaints due to birth defects or poor decisions due to their natural curiosity. Many times, kittens will do things that they will later learn to avoid. For example, it is not uncommon for a kitten to bite hard objects and inflict trauma on the mouth due to a lack of experience and awareness.
What Is a Healthy and Normal Gum Color?
A healthy and normal gum should be pink, firm, and full. Your cat’s gums should not appear swollen or agitated. While some cats are naturally born with black or brown markings, a healthy display of pink should be one of the first things that a quick inspection reveals.
Additionally, teeth placement and root security are also critical. If your feline’s teeth appear to be firm and strong and without cracks or loosening, this is another sign of good health.
The ideal way to assess a cat’s gum color is to compare them to human gums. In this regard, both are very much the same. If you keep that in mind, you will likely know a healthy feline’s gums when you see and inspect them.
Gum colors of concern…
- White gums can indicate blood loss or shock. This can be due to an undiagnosed disease or severe physical trauma.
- When the entire gum area is bright red, this can be an indicator of a heat-related illness, such as heat stroke or toxicity. This is different from a red gum line, which is often a sign of a dental disease.
- Blue or purple gums is an indication that your cat may not be receiving enough oxygen. This should be considered an emergency, and medical attention should be provided as soon as possible.
- Gums that are yellow in color or contain a hint of yellow coloring could signal health issues that involve the liver. Cancer of the liver or liver failure is a possibility, so don’t delay in getting a complete check-up.
If you are still confused about what’s a healthy gum color for your cat, you should consult your vet and learn more about the breed of your cat. The more you know about your cat’s genetic makeup, the easier it will be to identify a gum colorization or general health issue.
What are the Causes of Black Gums?
Black gums are primarily caused by the onset of bacteria. If food becomes trapped between teeth or in the gum line that area can become a breeding ground for bacteria and infection. Often starting with inflammation, over time an ordinary pink gum can become discolored.
During this stage, it is common for plaque to develop on the teeth (or tooth) nearest the bacterial growth. Once plaque interacts with natural saliva, the area will create tartar. This chain of events is similar to what is seen in humans who have poor oral hygiene.
As this cycle progresses, the result is often browning or blackening of the gums. In more severe cases, the teeth that have been affected may begin to crack. Once pain and cracking occur, it is common for the cat to stop eating or refuse to eat hard foods.
- Black gums can also be due to trauma. If your cat receives a blow to the face or mouth, the gums can become damaged. You need to watch out for bleeding and any signs of loose teeth. Black gums due to everyday dental issues take time to develop. If your cat’s gums have turned black in a short period (24 hours or less), then trauma could well be the explanation.
What is Lentigo Simplex?
Found in calico, orange, and cats with tortoiseshell markings, lentigo simplex is a genetic condition where dark markings develop on a cat’s lips, nose, and mouth. These markings can also spread to other areas of the body.
Lentigines, as the markings are called, can get larger over time and new markings may develop. It is common for cat owners who are unfamiliar with this condition to mistake the markings for dirt or bacteria because of dark specs that can develop on the nose.
Requiring no treatment, lentigo simplex is cosmetic. However, the development of a legitimate skin condition around the face can often be ignored and assumed to be the spread of lentigo. This is the only downside of these markings and their development
If you are concerned about your cat’s markings and worried as to why various markings have appeared, please consult your vet. Markings that are raised and tender could be a sign of a serious condition.
How Common is Dental and Gum Disease in Cats?
These often occur because cats use their mouths for many activities.
Some examples include…
- Hunting and stalking
- Playing (grabbing a toy, stick, etc.)
- Curiosity (Cats love to feel things with their mouths)
If your cat spends time outdoors, it is likely they will encounter various critters. Picking up birds, field mice, lizards, and even small snakes can make a cat’s teeth and gums susceptible to issues.
Anything that irritates the gums can cause swelling even if no serious harm has come to the cat’s general health.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Gum Disease?
There are a host of other signs to look for if you suspect a severe dental and gum issue. While appearance is critical, monitoring your cat’s behavior can also provide a valuable insight into the severity of the issue.
Noted below are several of the symptoms…
- Constant bad breath
- Redness and bleeding along the gum line
- Drooling (Saliva and small traces of blood)
- Difficulty chewing hard foods
- Rubbing of the mouth with the paws
- Complete loss of appetite
- Missing or loose teeth
- Facial swelling due to irritation and infection
- Discharge from the nose
- Gum recession
If any of these symptoms become apparent (in conjunction with discoloration), you should consult your vet.
While most dental and gum issues can be resolved, don’t force your pet to endure pain. Waiting for an oral health condition to resolve itself is unwise. This will only lead to more pain and a worsening of an existing condition.
Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease
If your cat has black gums (not from trauma), there is a chance that gingivitis is the cause or a contributing factor.
Hallmarked by discoloration of the gums, gingivitis can cause your cat’s gums to swell and bleed. This bleeding can be made even worse during the brushing process. As gingivitis worsens, it is common for receding gums to appear and holes to develop between a cat’s teeth.
- Gingivitis is the earliest stage of periodontal disease. The condition can be treated and cured if proper care is received.
- It is estimated that more than 80% of all domestic pets (3 years and older) will endure at least one bout with gingivitis.
It is regarded as the number one clinical medical condition that is diagnosed in dogs and cats. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, periodontal disease is more prolific than any other ailment.
Defined by plaque and tartar forming on the tooth, this disease eventually spreads to the gum line. Periodontal disease can trigger inflammation, infection, and eventually tooth loss if not treated quickly.
- More than 85% of cats over the age of 4 are affected by periodontal disease.
How Can You Prevent and Treat Dental Disease?
Dental disease will be treated based on its severity. In many cases, a thorough cleaning can help to undo any damage. However, if a substantial amount of gum loss has developed then extensive dental procedures will likely have to be performed to secure the tooth (or teeth) that have been compromised.
Treatment procedures can include…
- Root canal
- Tooth extraction (The ASPCA notes that extraction is needed in 75% of all adult cats with dental issues)
- Root planing (Removal of crystallized tarter from beneath the surface of the tooth)
- Crown restoration (Dental cap to protect the tooth from a cavity, infection, etc.)
Although treatable, it is much easier to prevent an issue. This all begins with brushing and routine checkups.
Brush Your Cat’s Teeth
Brushing is essential for the prevention of teeth and gum problems. If you routinely check your feline’s gums and teeth and schedule vet exams your cat should remain healthy for many years.
Through the use of special pet toothpaste, you can brush your cat’s teeth using a child’s toothbrush. Just small, simple strokes can be quite effective. The use of mouth rinse can also fight bacteria while promoting healthy teeth and gums.
If you are fearful of harming your cat while brushing (or them you!), you may prefer to schedule an appointment with your vet. Note that dental treatment by a vet carries risks (especially for senior cats) due to the introduction of anesthesia.
Dental Treats for Cats
Dental diets and tarter and plaque control treats can be given to your cat to improve dental health. Many of these diets are less abrasive on the teeth. While some ingredients may change, the most significant difference is the texture.
Providing your cat with a steady diet of canned (wet) food can help to reduce the odds of food becoming trapped between teeth. Combining this with thorough cleaning can keep your feline on the better side of dental issues.
- Feed your cats the foods they are meant to eat. Digestible meats that are high in protein are not only good for general health but also good for dental hygiene. In many ways, these foods can act as a natural toothbrush. Too much hard food and too many cat treats can act like cookies for a cat. In the same way that human teeth can wear down under too much sugar, feline gums and teeth can fall victim to a poor diet. Limiting random snacks and feline-themed junk food can dramatically help your cat’s dental health.
Lip and Breath Inspection
Although not the most pleasant task, it does not hurt to sniff your cat’s breath from time-to-time. Serving as a way to gauge dental and gum health, your cat’s breath can be an early detector that something is wrong. You’ll be able to detect bacteria and infection.
Checking your cat’s lips is also essential. A healthy cat’s lips should be either pink or black. Black spots on the lips of a senior cat are common due to the aging process.
Awareness of Dental Conditions
Let’s explore several of the most common dental conditions and their symptoms…
Cancer of the Oral Cavity
Regarded as the fourth most common form of cancer in cats, cancer of the oral cavity can be fatal. Forming within the gums, tongue, jaw, lips, and roof of the mouth, it can be treated if diagnosed in the earliest stages.
Lumps inside the mouth, swelling of the face, drooling, tooth loss, bad breath, and weight loss are a few of the classic symptoms.
It is hallmarked by inflammation of the gums and ulcer formations within the tissues of the oral cavity.
While some breeds are more likely to get this ailment than others, stomatitis is seen in all breeds. This inflammation can begin just months after birth. Cats with this condition often resist eating or having their teeth examined because of the pain.
This is a condition where the body begins to absorb dentin which is the hard tissue under the tooth’s enamel. This can cause dramatic loosening of the tooth and lead to root exposure.
Affecting cats over the age of 5, the cause of feline resorption is unknown. Dental X-rays are required to perform a complete diagnosis. Signs of this condition include the desire to eat only soft food and swallowing food without chewing.
This ailment can occur in a single tooth or multiple teeth. This condition, unfortunately, requires tooth extraction. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine notes that tooth resorption is the most common cause of tooth loss in felines.
An estimated 30-70% of all cats show symptoms of this condition.
Common in all felines, most notably senior cats, teeth fractures can be caused by trauma to the mouth or an individual tooth. The tips of a cat’s canine teeth are the most susceptible to fractures.
Because the tissue of a cat’s tooth encompasses most of the entire tooth, just the smallest break can be painful. While fractures that occur above the gum line can be visible, some fractures take place deep below the surface.
Depending on the severity of such a fracture, extraction may be the only solution. All fractures should be taken seriously because if left untreated they can lead to abscesses and infection.
Teeth that are in abnormal positions due to a facial trauma or birth defect is known more broadly as malocclusion.
This condition can cause extreme gum pain (biting into tissue) as well as expose the cat to periodontal disease. Diagnosed through an oral exam, corrections to reduce the pain and help the affected cat chew normally can be achieved. Extractions and braces can be used.
Because cats learn how to mask pain and discomfort, it is up to you to conduct your own investigations. This includes gum health and other health ailments. Caring for your cat goes far beyond food, water, and petting.
Performing some basic checks on your cat is vital. While rubbing your cat’s head, take a quick look at their gums. One 30-second look could help you identify a problem at an early stage and get him or her treated quickly.