Have your cat’s gums turned black, or were they always a dark color? Black cats, in particular, will often have black or dark-colored gums. This is only a concern if the color of your cat’s gums has changed suddenly.
Cats usually have black gums due to lentigo simplex. This is a benign condition that’s most usually associated with older, orange felines. The darkness on the gums is just freckles. If the bumps are raised and painful, it can be a sign of cancer. Your cat’s gums could just be stained. Food, liquids, and blood can cause temporary staining. Alternatively, the darkening could have occurred due to gum disease.
If your cat’s gums have changed color all of a sudden, this is much more concerning. Some cats naturally have black gums, which is completely normal. It’s a sudden change in color that all owners need to look out for.
What Does It Mean When a Cat’s Gums Are Black?
If your cat has orange fur, having black gums is rarely a concern. As discussed, orange cats are prone to the harmless condition called lentigo simplex. The black color on your cat’s gums is just freckles.
For other colors of cats, black gums merit further investigation. Be alert if your cat’s gums are yellow or blue, as this suggests possible issues with the liver or a lack of oxygen. Other explanations include:
- Temporary staining
- Bleeding due to trauma
- Tooth and gum disease
Tooth and gum disease will leave your cat in pain, refusing to eat and drink. Your cay may also show uncharacteristic signs of aggression.
Lentigo simplex is an inherited condition. It causes black spots and freckles to appear on the cat’s gums. These freckles are known as lentigines, the plural for lentigo. These spots can also appear on and around a cat’s nose and lips. These signs, coupled with black gums, are usually sufficient to self-diagnose lentigo simplex.
Your cat does not need to have pure orange hair to be affected. Tortoiseshell and calico cats are just as likely to exhibit these symptoms. Cream or silver-colored cats may also have this harmless condition.
Cats of these colors are more affected than others due to melanocytes. These are cells that provide a cat’s fur with pigmentation. Orange fur has a slightly less stable genetic code than more binary shades. This means that the melanocyte periodically returns to a default shade of black.
There is no way to prevent lentigo simplex. It is not aggravated by sunlight, or any other external factor. If your cat carries the genes, it will develop black freckles. This usually happens later in life, so you may notice it more as your cat advances in years.
The freckles are not cancerous, and will not itch or cause pain. All the same, it is recommended that you take the time to learn the difference between lentigo simplex and a cancerous bump.
As mentioned, the black freckles and spots associated with lentigo simplex are painless. The freckles will also be flat against your cat’s face.
If the freckles are raised, and your cat is in distress, further investigation is needed. Try to touch the dark bumps. If the cat shies away from contact, there is a chance that the spots may be cancerous. Take your cat to see a vet.
Staining of the Gums
Your cat’s gums may be temporarily stained. While this not necessarily a long-term issue, neither is it something that can be ignored. Cats’ mouths attract bacteria. Whatever is causing the staining will feed this bacteria, and this can lead to gum disease.
Consider if the staining has been caused by food. This is rare, as quality cat food is not black. Dry food can form a paste in the roof of the mouth, but, again, this is rarely black.
If the staining does not relate to your cat’s food, check for signs of toxicity. Your cat may have lapped at oil from a garage floor, or have consumed another animal’s stool. Symptoms of toxicity include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Low body temperature
- Muscle tremors
- Difficulty breathing
- Foaming at the mouth
Consider if your cat drank stagnant or muddy water. Cats prefer to hydrate from a ‘natural’ resource. Your cat may have drank dirty water from a plant pot or puddle outside. This leaves your cat at risk of infections, including:
If your cat has staining on the gums, you should brush your cat’s teeth and clean its mouth. Also, monitor your cat for odd behaviors.
Cleaning a Cat’s Mouth
If you need to clean a cat’s mouth, you’ll need the following:
- A soft toothbrush
- A feline-friendly toothpaste
You’ll need to keep the cat still while you brush its teeth and gums. Most cats will loathe the experience, so wear gloves for your own protection. Once you’re done, encourage the cat to drink water. This, in turn, will wash away any remnants of the stain.
Bleeding in the Mouth
If your cat is bleeding inside the mouth, it may have experienced head trauma. Cats that roam outdoors can be prone to accidents. Cats prefer to hide signs of injury, so you may not know about it. The blood will have dried and congealed, lending itself to the black appearance.
Check your cat for signs of external bleeding. If you cannot find any, you should carefully observe your cat’s behavior. Any of the following symptoms are warning signs of a head injury:
- Lack of coordination
- Twitching and seizures
- Lack of response to a stimulus
- Swelling around the face
- Excessive sleeping
Take your cat for x-rays and scans to assess the extent of any damage. If you find no signs of a head injury, consider medical explanations for bleeding in the mouth. These can include:
- Sores and ulcers
- Insufficient blood clotting
- Tooth resorption into the gum
- Side-effects of medication
- Mouth cancer
Gum disease (periodontal disease) is an issue that almost any cat aged 3+ will face it at some point.
Periodontal disease is painful, and can be linked to other diseases. As Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology explains, gum disease frequently leads to feline calicivirus (FCV), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
Gum disease can be kept at bay by regularly brushing your cat’s teeth. A cat with gum disease will display the following symptoms:
- Foul breath
- Bright red, inflamed gums
- Swelling around the face and mouth
- Rubbing of the mouth
- Drooling and dribbling
- Refusal to eat
Of course, the cat’s gums may also turn black. This will be due to a combination of dried blood from the gums and spreading tartar.
Periodontal disease starts with gingivitis. If you capture this early enough, the problem can be resolved. Left untreated, your cat risks developing stomatitis, an inflammation of the gums.
If your cat is not treated at this stage, then periodontal disease becomes inevitable. This is irreversible and will eventually cause a cat to lose teeth.
Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease. It usually stems from poor oral healthcare, although it is sometimes brought on by infections or stress.
When your cat eats, food can become trapped between or below the teeth. Here, the food will slowly dissolve. Unfortunately, it feeds bacteria that live within your cat’s mouth. This bacteria forms a plaque on your cat’s teeth.
The Australian Veterinary Journal also suggests that soft food can cause gingivitis. Giving your cat food to sink its teeth into will clean its mouth. Soft food is more likely to slip into gaps in the teeth.
Plaque starts off colorless and can be difficult to detect. Over time, as the plaque spreads, it will darken. The plaque will eventually harden into tartar, which separates the teeth from gums. This is what makes the gums appear black.
Gingivitis is reversible, if captured. Unfortunately, the side-effects associated with gingivitis are rarely evident. Your cat will not display symptoms of periodontal disease until the condition has progressed.
To combat gingivitis, brush your cat’s teeth regularly. You should be aiming to do this multiple times per week. If brushing is not an option, take your cat for periodic professional cleaning.
This will involve placing your cat under a mild anesthetic and scraping away any tartar. This can reverse the onset of gingivitis. An older cat may be considered too high-risk for anesthesia.
If gingivitis is left untreated, a cat can develop stomatitis. Due to the connection to the previous condition, this is referred to as gingivostomatitis.
A cat with stomatitis will display more symptoms than standard gingivitis. This is because stomatitis causes swelling and inflammation around the mouth, leaving the cat in discomfort.
The first sign of stomatitis is a cat that normally has a healthy appetite refusing to eat. The cat is also unlikely to groom itself. It may also become belligerent and aggressive, especially if touched around the mouth.
Stomatitis can still be reversed before it leads to periodontal disease. The mouth must be cleaned thoroughly. Your cat may also be prescribed antibiotics to reduce the swelling.
Once periodontal disease takes hold, it unfolds over 3 stages. Even mild periodontal disease cannot be reversed, but the pain and symptoms can be managed. In some cases, this will prevent the disease from advancing.
Mild Periodontal Disease
If your cat has mild periodontal disease, the condition has spread from the gums to the teeth. Your cat’s teeth will start to weaken or become loose. Your cat’s gums will swell and may bleed, leading to a black appearance. Any tartar on your cat’s teeth will become increasingly visible.
At this stage, the damage to your cat’s teeth is irreversible. Senior cats may lose teeth, as the structural integrity was already weak. Your cat’s mouth must be regularly cleaned to prevent the condition from worsening.
Moderate Periodontal Disease
By the time a cat has moderate periodontal disease, its health is in danger. The gums will be black, and the teeth separated from the gums. By this stage, your cat will be in significant pain.
The bacteria will move into the cat’s bloodstream. This can cause a range of issues. Dental surgery is essential, even in senior cats. If the periodontal disease is not halted, the cat will become more ill.
Your cat will likely require root canal surgery for the infected teeth. If this is not an option, the teeth will need to be extracted.
Severe Periodontal Disease
Severe periodontal disease is a medical emergency. Your cat’s teeth are at risk of dropping out naturally, and bacteria will affect the bones.
The cat’s gums will be pure black, and likely bleeding or even releasing pus. Chewing will be extremely painful. Unless your cat can be treated with laser surgery, its teeth will likely have to be removed.
If your cat is acting normally and eating its food, it is likely to be doing fine. It probably has vertigo simplex. If your cat shows signs of pain and the freckles/bumps are raised, book in with a vet for further checks. It may need medical treatment or a professional teeth-cleaning session.