Excessive drooling in cats is uncommon. In fact, drooling often goes unnoticed unless their owners find a tiny damp spot where the cat was lying down. Some cats are “happy droolers,” which means they drool when they feel exceptionally relaxed. However, if your cat begins drooling suddenly with no history or hypersalivation, it may be a cause for medical concern.
Cats typically drool intermittently and in small amounts. However, if you notice your cat drooling too much or if drooling is accompanied by other symptoms, such as lethargy, it’s critical that you see a vet. Some causes can be damaging to a cat’s health, but early detection helps.
When is Drooling Normal in Cats?
A cat’s mouth is continuously producing saliva to moisten food and prevent dryness of the mouth. Saliva also consists of antibacterial agents that help in wound healing and keeping your cat clean. Even healthy older cats may drool, and some kittens may dribble.
A small but significant number of cats also drool in response to positive stimulation. This is typically accompanied by purring, rubbing their heads against you or nearby objects or rolling over and exposing their belly submissively. In other words, some cats drool when they are feeling exceptionally comfortable and happy. During brushing, massaging or petting, your cat’s muscles relax, allowing its mouth to open and some of its saliva to drip down.
It’s also normal for cats to drool when they are nervous. Some cats may drool when they enter the vet’s office, while others may hypersalivate when they’re apprehensive during a car ride. Drooling under such conditions is often temporary.
Cats who drool when they are very happy or nervous may carry out this habit for the rest of their lives. However, if your cat starts drooling excessively suddenly when it never did before, you must take it seriously and consult your vet.
Furthermore, if your cat is drooling but stops quickly and starts acting normal, you don’t have to rush to the vet’s office. For example, if your cat starts drooling when it is stressed during a house party and stops as soon as your guests leave, it is not a cause for concern – but you should continue keeping an eye on your cat. If drooling is continuous and is accompanied by other symptoms, such as poor appetite, it is crucial that you see a vet immediately.
What Are the Causes of Drooling in Cats?
Seeing saliva dripping from a cat’s mouth is an unnatural sight. Unlike people and dogs, cats do not salivate when offered something tasty.
Since drooling is rarely normal in cats, it can indicate a severe medical issue. If you notice your cat drooling suddenly, here are some of the medical causes of the problem.
Dental disease is regularly the explanation. In such cases, cats drool to soothe the irritation in their mouths or throats. Sometimes if swallowing hurts, your cat may leak out saliva out of its mouth. Your cat may avoid eating food due to pain during swallowing or eating.
Common causes of mouth pain in cats include:
- Dental disease (gingivitis)
- Tumors or ulcers in the mouth
- Broken tooth
- A foreign body under the tongue
- Exposure to toxic chemicals
- Recent interactions with a toxic plant
- Injury (for example, if your cat chews on an electric cord and gets an electric shock)
Drooling may be accompanied by other symptoms such as:
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of interest in hard food
- Dropping food while eating
If your cat has an unusual mouth odor if its saliva is thick, blood-tinged or discolored, set up a veterinary appointment to find the underlying cause.
Feline resorptive lesions (FORL), which were originally called cavities, cervical line erosions, internal or external root resorptions and neck lesions, commonly result in dental disease in cats that can cause significant drooling and oral pain – according to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. FORL occurs in over 50% of adult cats where their teeth become functionally impaired due to dental resorptions. The lesions can occur very close to the region where the tooth meets the gum line.
FORL is often seen as a red line along your cat’s gums. Sometimes if a cat has excessive tartar on its tooth, the gum lesion may not be as apparent. FORL is a highly painful gum disease in cats that can cause mouth sensitivity, foul mouth odor, fractures of the teeth, drooling and inappetence. If left untreated, it can lead to chronic pain and subsequent weight loss in cats.
Viral respiratory conditions can result in ulcerations inside a cat’s mouth. This can cause mouth pain and an increased flow of saliva. Cats that live in shelters or multi-cat homes have a higher risk of respiratory infections. Stress is another risk factor.
Infections must be treated by a vet. However, you can take steps to prevent your cat from getting infected. Some of these include keeping your cat indoors, ensuring up to date on vaccinations, limiting interactions with other pets and washing your hands after handling other animals.
Kidney failure is the most common killer in cats. Kidney failure can be seen in acute or chronic conditions. Cats with chronic renal failure (CRF), also called chronic kidney injury, often show clinical signs of increased thirst, weight loss, dilute urine, increased urination (seen as larger clumps in the litter box), foul mouth odor, and excessive drooling.
Kidney failure occurs when your cat’s kidneys are unable to filter the waste products, creatine, and BUN, out of the body. As these waste products accumulate in the bloodstream, they create uremic ulcers in the stomach, mouth, and esophagus.
Kidney failure can lead to severe health conditions and even death. Therefore, the sooner you notice the signs, and the sooner you seek veterinary treatment, the higher the chance of your cat’s survival.
Kidney disease in cats is often treated by a veterinarian with:
- IV fluids
- Blood work monitoring
- Stomach protectants
- A low protein diet
4) Swallowing a Foreign Object
If your cat has ingested something that tastes foul or toxic, one of its initial reactions may be drooling. Sometimes ingesting a toxin can also cause oral erosions, which can also result in drooling.
Swallowing a thread with a needle attached or a foreign body that can get caught in the tongue, the back of the throat, or the soft or hard palate can result in oral pain and drooling. Your cat may also find it challenging to close its mouth. If the foreign body, such as a fish bone, is lodged in the esophagus, saliva has no place to go. Therefore, it will start pooling in your cat’s esophagus and spill out of its mouth.
If you notice a string hanging out of your cat’s mouth, avoid trying to pull it out. A string that has been ingested can wrap around vital oranges, such as the stomach or intestines and pulling can result in significant, irreversible damage. Therefore, take your cat to the nearest vet immediately. If you notice anything else in your cat’s mouth, it’s still best to get a vet to remove it as not only can an attempt to remove it at home cause injury to your cat – it can also put you at risk of getting bitten.
If swallowing is uncomfortable, your cat may paw at its mouth and try to vomit. Inability to swallow properly may cause lack of appetite and unexplained weight loss in cats. If you suspect your cat’s drooling is caused by a foreign body, a veterinary exam, x-rays, and sedated oral exams may be needed to remove the object and alleviate symptoms.
5) Cat Salivating After Medicine
Medication can also cause your cat to hypersalivate. One cat’s reaction towards its medicine may be entirely different for another’s, and while one cat may not have any reaction, another may begin drooling. In most cases, bitter medicines can cause your cat to drool. If you’re administering a specific medication for the first time, ask your vet about possible side effects, such as drooling, and what you should do about it.
6) Corrosive Poisons
Cats can’t metabolize chemicals and medicines as effectively as dogs do. This is due to their altered liver metabolism, called glucuronidation. Household products such as cleaning and laundry detergents, liquid potpourri, and floor cleaners can be corrosive to cats.
Corrosion from chemicals can result in burns in the mouth, tongue, esophagus, and stomach. If accidentally ingested, such chemicals may result in poisoning and severe drooling.
If you suspect that your cat was recently exposed to a corrosive chemical, carefully and gently flush out its mouth with water. After flushing, offer your cat something it will enjoy drinking, such as chicken broth to help flush out the esophagus and weaken the toxin inside the mouth. If you have doubts, contact your vet or ASPCA Animal Poison Control.
7) Poisonous Plants
According to research by Mark S. Thompson, plants containing insoluble calcium oxalate crystals can lead to intense burning of the mouth if your cat accidentally ingests one.
Some examples of plants that are poisonous to cats include:
- Peace lily
- Calla lily
- Elephant ear plant
- Umbrella plant
- Mother-in-law’s tongue
Insoluble calcium oxalate in plants cause minimal poisoning in cats – but they can cause unpleasant reactions. If you have one of these plants and you suspect your cat may have gotten into it, gently flush its mouth with water, followed by a tasty drink. Veterinary attention isn’t typically necessary unless there are inappetence and profuse vomiting.
Plants such as Easter lilies are more dangerous and deadly to cats, so it’s best not to have one in the house if you have pets.
Nausea and vomiting can have many causes, such as gastrointestinal inflammation, kidney disease, and liver disease. If you notice that your cat is feeling nauseous or is vomiting, accompanied by other symptoms such as poor appetite, see a vet.
Following the examination, your vet may advise lab work to obtain a closer look at your cat’s blood cells, urine content, and organ function. The results can help your vet determine the next diagnostic steps and treatment options.
9) Emotional Stimuli
Cats drool if they’re excited, scared or anxious. If your cat has nausea, the uneasiness before vomiting may result in drooling. Cats are rarely driven in a car, unless they’re being taken to the vet. Such trips can bring back bad memories for your cat, making your cat apprehensive and nauseous.
Some common signs of anxiety include, open-mouth breathing and panting. To make your cat more comfortable during its car ride, try putting your cat in a carrier in the back seat. Don’t drive anywhere for a while to let your cat adjust. Then, slowly drive around the block and repeat this routine as needed to alleviate motion sickness.
If your cat drools due to fear or anxiety, it will generally stop once its emotions subside.
Some cats drool when they are calm and relaxed or are enjoying being cuddled or rubbed. This is common in cats and is a physiological response to feeling happy. Sometimes cats also drool while sleeping, again because they’re so relaxed. This kind of drooling often indicates a satisfied and comfortable cat.
Injuries to the mouth can result in severe drooling. Oral injuries can occur if a cat has chewed on an electrical cord and has suffered an oral burn. If your cat has recently gotten into a fight with another cat, any injury to the mouth, such as a broken jaw can cause drooling. Although it may not be easy to find proof of an injury from just looking at your cat, looking out for visible signs such as drooling may indicate that you should see a vet.
Keeping your cat indoors reduces the likelihood of injury, caused by getting hit by a car or attacked by a rival cat over territory. Trauma to the luxated temporomandibular joint, or a jaw fracture, can lead to excessive drooling due to the inability to close the mouth. If you suspect your cat is drooling due to a mouth injury, a thorough oral exam and x-rays may be needed to make a diagnosis.
Cats with flat faces, such as Persians have a higher risk of heatstroke, which can cause drooling. Although heat stroke isn’t as common in cats as it is in other animals, too much time under the sun or not drinking enough water can be detrimental to a cat.
Therefore, always have fresh, clean water available for your cat. In the summer, make sure your cat has some shady places to keep cool. On hot days, keep your cat indoors, never leave your cat inside a parked car and limit its exercise and playtime to prevent your cat from overheating.
12) Neurological Disease
Paralysis or damage of the cranial nerves that are responsible for controlling swallowing can result in drooling – although this is very rare.
According to research published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, seizures may inhibit your cat from swallowing, causing excessive drooling, before, after or during a seizure.
13) Oral Cancer
Feline oral squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cancer in senior cats within the age of 12 to 13 years. Although not as common dental inflammation, oral cancer can be aggressive and can occur anywhere from the tip of the cat’s tongue to the back of its throat. This type of oral cancer is especially common in cats that are white and have less pigmentation.
Clinical signs of oral cancer in cats include:
- Mouth odor, drool or abnormal salivation in older cats. Many people mistake that older cats have smelly mouths, but in most cases, it is indicative of a severe health condition.
- Difficulty chewing or chewing on one side of the mouth. Look out for unusual ways of chewing food. Cats with dental disease, such as gingivitis may continue to eat normally, but the presence of a tumor under the tongue or in the mouth may make it increasingly difficult for your cat to chew. If your older cat has an oral tumor, it may only chew on one side of the mouth, causing food to fall out from the other side.
- Reluctance to eat. Due to the pain of an oral tumor, your cat may show less interest towards its food or stare at its food bowl, without attempting to eat. This can also cause weight loss.
- Facial swelling or bloody drool. These signs may be because the condition has progressed. Sometimes people mistake this stage of oral cancer for an oral infection or abscess.
Diagnosing oral cancer in cats can be tricky as tumors typically occur on the floor of the mouth or under the tongue. Some cats may not let you fully inspect their mouths, especially if it involves checking deep under the tongue. If your cat doesn’t allow the vet to perform a complete inspection of the mouth, minor sedation may be necessary.
If the vet cannot find a tumor during the physical examination, blood tests may be required. This may be followed by complete sedation to look through the oral cavity more carefully.
Oral tumors grow quickly and aggressively. Therefore, surgery is often the first course of treatment. If the tumor is detected early, it may be removed via dissection. However, tumors involving the tongue can be challenging to remove without affecting the quality of your cat’s life.
Chemotherapy and radiation with a veterinary oncologist is another option. Although this may not always treat cancer completely, it may increase life expectancy and improve quality of life.
What to Expect at Your Vet’s Office
If drooling is ongoing, you will need to see a vet to find out the underlying cause. Your vet will scrutinize your cat’s mouth to make sure it is clear of any lesions, tumors, injuries or signs of dental disease. The vet may also manipulate your cat’s jaws and examine its teeth and tongue for any possible pain reaction.
If the cause isn’t apparent, the vet may ask the owner some specific questions regarding what the cat ate recently, use of household detergents or whether they have any poisonous plants in the house. Knowing your cat’s medical history is also crucial at this point.
If your cat’s physical exam and history don’t show signs of disease, your vet may begin a few diagnostic tests. This includes an endoscopy or radiograph to detect the presence of any internal obstructions. The vet may recommend blood work to rule out kidney or liver disease, which is highly common in older cats.
When in doubt due to unusual behaviors such as drooling, it’s always best to take your cat to the vet. Cats are highly skilled in hiding pain and discomfort as any signs of sickness can increase their risk of being picked on by a more dominant cat. In most cases, your cat’s condition would have progressed significantly before it starts showing any signs.
How to Prevent Drooling in Cats
Since drooling is usually caused by oral conditions, brushing your cat’s teeth regularly to prevent tartar and bacterial buildup that lead to painful gum inflammation can help. Abscessed teeth are also common in cats that are given too many treats and not enough teeth brushing. To prevent your cat from struggling while it is brushed, try using a fish or chicken-flavored toothpaste and a small fingertip toothbrush designed for cats.
If you’ve never brushed your cat’s teeth before, try getting your cat used to being held for a few minutes at a time. Later, get it acclimated to being brush rubbed across the gums only. If it is hard for you to brush your cat’s teeth, discuss the possibility of using a fluoride solution. This can be added to cat fountains with your vet.
Cats with periodontal disease can find it difficult to eat. Therefore, talk to your vet about any nutritional supplements or special food that can be added to your cat’s diet. Wet food is generally easier to consume by elderly cats with fewer teeth as it requires much less saliva to be processed inside the mouth.