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Gingivitis and Stomatitis in Cats

Cats are prone to chronic diseases of the mouth including gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and stomatitis (inflammation of the oral mucous membranes, usually the back of the mouth). The disease may also be known as ‘feline gingivostomatitis’.  The primary feature of this disease is severe inflammation of the gums where they touch the teeth.

What causes gingivitis and stomatitis in cats?

Although the exact cause is still unknown, many veterinarians believe there are probably a number of factors that contribute to the development of this chronic inflammation in the mouth and gums. It is primarily thought that some cats may have a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction to bacterial plaque. This is where severe inflammation is seen at the point where the tooth meets the gum line.

Are some cats more susceptible?

Cats who are immunosupressed have a greater tendency to have oral infections, which may be chronic.

Sometimes this disease can develop when the cat is very young. This is called a ‘juvenile onset’  form of disease. It may occur at 3-5 months when the permanent teeth are erupting and become more severe by 9 months of age.

What are the signs of chronic gingivitis and stomatitis?

Chronic gingivitis and stomatitis can cause severe pain. The animal’s behavior may change –  irritability, aggressiveness, depression or reclusiveness may be displayed. The cat may drool excessively, have difficulty eating or refuse to eat at all.  Some cats will go up to the dish as though they are very hungry (which they are) and then run from the food dish because eating is so painful. They will often have bad breath and may not groom themselves adequately. Their gums may bleed very easily.

How is the disease diagnosed?

During the physical exam, which may need to be done under anesthesia, multiple lesions are often seen. The lesions can be on the gums, roof of the mouth, back of the mouth, tongue, or lips. The area surrounding the back teeth is generally most affected.

What is the treatment for chronic gingivitis/stomatitis?

If the chronic gingivitis/stomatitis is due to a plaque intolerance, then it is essential to remove all plaque and keep it off.  This is accomplished through:

  • regular dental cleaning by your veterinarian, usually every six months
  • extraction of teeth in affected area including the root tips
  • daily home care including brushing if the cat tolerates it
  • medications such as cyclosporine, antibiotics or others as prescribed by your veterinarian
  • good nutrition, often accompanied by vitamin supplements
Unfortunately, even with this intensive care, the disease often progresses and sometimes the only way to cure the disease and eliminate the very painful lesions is to extract either all of the teeth behind the canine teeth (fang teeth) or extraction of all the teeth. The earlier in the course of the condition in which whole-mouth extraction is performed, the better the long-term prognosis. According to one study in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, in 60 – 80% of cats, the lesions resolved once the teeth were extracted. Whole-mouth extraction is vastly preferable to a life of oral pain and constant medication (and may be less expensive as well). After all the teeth are removed, the cat can eat wet and dry food normally. With vigilant monitoring and veterinary care, cats with stomatitis can live comfortable, happy lives.  Information compiled with support from Dr. Matson of Eastside Veterinary Dentistry 17025 Woodinville-Redmond Rd NE Woodinville WA 98072 425-820-7000.