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 the gums has changed suddenly.
A common explanation for black gums in cats is lentigo simplex. This is a harmless condition, most commonly associated with older, orange felines. The darkness on the gums is just freckles. Be sure that your cat’s gums are not stained. Staining can be caused by food, liquids, or blood. Also, ensure your cat does not have gum disease.
If your cat’s gums have changed color all of a sudden, this is much more concerning. Some cats always have black gums, which is absolutely fine. 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 nothing to worry about. Orange cats are prone to a harmless condition called lentigo simplex. The black coloring on your cat’s gums is just freckles.
In any other cat, black gums merit investigation. Black is not the most concerning shade that a cat’s gums can turn. Be alert if your cat’s gums are yellow or blue. This suggests issues with the liver, or a lack of oxygen.
Other explanations for black gums could include:
- Temporary staining
- Bleeding through trauma
- Tooth and gum disease
Tooth and gum disease can be a major concern. It will leave your cat in pain, refusing to eat and drink. Your cay may also behave aggressively.
1/ Lentigo Simplex
Lentigo simplex is an inherited condition in cats. It causes black spots and freckles to appear on the cat’s gums. These freckles are known as lentigines, the plural for lentigo. The spots can also appear on and around a cat’s nose and lips. These signs, coupled with black gums, are usually sufficient to diagnose lentigo simplex.
Lentigo simplex most often strikes cats with orange fur. Your cat does not need to have pure orange hair. Tortoiseshell and calico cats are just as likely to show the symptoms. Cream or silver-colored cats may also carry the condition.
These cats 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 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 appropriate genes, it will develop the black freckles. This usually happens later in a cat’s life, so you may notice it more on a senior cat.
Lentigo simplex is harmless. The freckles are not cancerous, and will not itch, tickle, or cause any pain. All the same, it is advisable to learn the difference between lentigo simplex and a cancerous bump.
2/ Cancerous Cells
As mentioned, the black freckles and spots associated with lentigo simplex are painless. They will also be flat against your cat’s face.
If you spot raised black bumps and freckles, or your cat appears to be in distress, investigate. Try to touch the bumps. If the cat shirks away from such contact, the spots may be cancerous.
It’s possible that the bumps are benign tumors. Do not take any chances, though. Take your cat to see a vet.
3/ Staining of the Gums
It is always possible that your cat’s gums are temporarily stained. While this not necessarily a long-term issue, neither is it something to ignore. Cat mouths attract bacteria. Whatever is causing the staining will feed this bacteria, potentially leading to gum disease.
Consider if the staining has been caused by food. This is rare, as quality cat food is not black. In addition, the jelly found in wet food enables a cat to swallow it whole. Dry food can form a paste in the roof of the mouth, but again, this is rarely back in color.
Ensure that a senior cat is eating a diet appropriate for its age. Senior cat food does not just contain carefully selected vitamins and minerals. It is also cut into smaller pieces. This makes it easier for an older cat with weaker teeth to chew and swallow.
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. Your cat may even 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. This may seem unlikely, as cats rarely drink in the house. This is because cats prefer to hydrate from a ‘natural’ resource, though. Your cat may have drained 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, clean its mouth as a matter of urgency. Afterward, watch your cat for any strange behaviors. Most cats experience no long-term issues from stained gums, but caution harms nobody.
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
Cleaning a cat’s mouth is similar to brushing a child’s teeth. You’ll need to keep the cat still while you gently brush its teeth and gums. Unfortunately, most cats will loathe the experience. Wear gloves for your own protection.
Focus on cleaning the gums and any stained areas. Brush the teeth at the same time. The staining may have reached them. This will make plaque and tartar harder to spot.
Once you’re done, encourage the cat to drink. This, in turn, will wash away any remnants of the stain. Add a little tuna juice or meat stock to your cat’s water to tempt it in.
4/ 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 the black appearance.
Check your cat thoroughly for any signs of external bleeding. If you cannot find any, 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 the damage. Your cat may be experiencing other internal bleeding that needs to be assessed.
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
All of these are concerning, but the most likely explanation is gum disease.
5/ Gum Disease
Gum disease (periodontal disease) is common in cats. Almost any cat aged 3 years or older will face it at some point. Periodontal disease is also more serious than it sounds. It is painful, and often 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 a cat’s teeth. You must know the symptoms, though. A cat with gum disease will display the following warning signs.
- 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, 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, though is sometimes brought on by infections or stress.
Whenever 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 in the meantime. This bacteria forms a dental 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 your cat’s teeth.
Plaque starts out 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 teeth from gums. This makes the gums look 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 is further along.
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. Some senior cats will not be eligible for this treatment, though. An older cat with a weak heart 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 sometimes referred to as gingivostomatitis.
A cat living with stomatitis will display more symptoms than standard gingivitis. This is because stomatitis causes swelling and inflammation around the mouth. This will leave the cat in pain.
The first sign of stomatitis is a cat with 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.
Thankfully, stomatitis can still be reversed before it leads to full-blown periodontal disease. The approach will be similar to treating gingivitis. The mouth must be cleaned thoroughly. The cat may also be prescribed antibiotics. This will manage the swelling.
6/ Periodontal Disease
Once periodontal disease takes hold of a cat, it unfolds over three 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. This means that your cat’s teeth will start to weaken within the mouth. They may become loose as a result.
Your cat’s gums will swell, and possibly bleed. This will lead to a black appearance. Any tartare on your cat’s teeth will also become increasingly visible.
At this stage, the damage to your cat’s teeth is done. Senior cats may lose teeth, as the structural integrity was already weak. The mouth of the cat must still be regularly cleaned, though. This will prevent the condition from spreading further.
Moderate Periodontal Disease
By the time a cat has moderate periodontal disease, its health is in danger. The gums will be visibly and clearly black, as the teeth are considerably separated from the gums. By this stage, your cat will be in significant pain.
At this stage, the bacteria will also move into the cat’s bloodstream. This can cause a range of issues. Dental surgery becomes essential, even in senior cats. If the periodontal disease is not halted, the cat will steadily sicken more and more.
Your cat will likely require root canal surgery in the infected teeth. If this is not an option, the teeth will need to be removed.
Severe Periodontal Disease
Severe periodontal disease should be treated as a medical emergency. Your cat’s teeth are at risk of dropping out naturally at this point. Bacteria will also affect the bones.
The cat’s gums will be pure black, and likely bleeding or even releasing pus. Chewing will be painful to the point of impossibility. Unless your cat can be treated with laser surgery, teeth will likely have to be removed.
Cats can still live without teeth. In fact, it will be a relief to be free of pain. You will just need to adapt your cat’s diet to exclusively soft foods.
If your cat is acting normally, it is likely fine. Brush its teeth to be on the safe side. If your cat is showing signs of pain or discomfort, book in an immediate teeth-cleaning session.