Reviewed and updated on May 12, 2020 by Emily Fassbaugh, DVM
Gingivitis is considered the earliest stage of periodontal disease. However, this stage is reversible with proper care. More than 80% of pets 3 years or older develop some form of gingivitis.
Here’s what you need to know about gingivitis in cats and how you can help protect your cat’s dental health.
What Is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gingiva, or gums.
In the early phases of gingivitis, some plaque is present and there is a mild redness of the gums, but the gingival surfaces are smooth. Plaque is the result of food, debris, bacteria, dead skin cells, and mucus that collects on the teeth. Plaque forms within 24 hours on clean tooth surfaces.
The gums respond to plaque with swelling, collagen loss, and inflammation of the gingival blood vessels.
In advanced gingivitis, cats will have moderate-to-severe redness in their gums, irregular gum surfaces, and plaque and calculus under their gums. Dental calculus is calcium phosphate and carbonate mixed with organic matter.
The gingival sulcus, or gum pocket, is the narrow space between the inner wall of the gum and the tooth. As gingivitis develops, the bacteria that’s present in these pockets changes, releasing toxins that destroy the gingival tissue.
Signs of Gingivitis in Cats
Some signs of cat gingivitis include:
Red or swollen gums, especially on the side of the gums facing the inner cheeks
Variable amounts of plaque and calculus on the surface of the teeth
Causes of Cat Gingivitis
Plaque accumulation is one of the main causes that leads to gingivitis in both cats and dogs. Here are some predisposing factors that can lead to gingivitis in cats:
Bad chewing habits
Not receiving oral health care (no dental cleanings, teeth brushing, etc.)
How Is Gingivitis Diagnosed in Cats?
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your cat, taking into account the history of symptoms and possible conditions that might have led to gingivitis.
You will need to give a thorough history of your cat's health and the onset of symptoms, such as:
When the bad breath began
What your cat typically eats
Whether your cat has had trouble eating/chewing
Whether your cat has had any previous health conditions
What routines you follow to keep your cat's teeth clean (if any)
Which cat dental products you use
Part of the physical exam involves closely examining your cat's mouth to identify their condition. Your veterinarian will then make an appointment with you to bring your cat in for a dental exam.
During the dental exam, your cat will be anesthetized. Your veterinarian will check the depth of the gum pockets and the amount of plaque and bacteria on the surface of the teeth. They will remove all of the plaque and calculus and pull any teeth that are infected, damaged or too crowded.
Your veterinarian may also recommend radiographs (x-rays) of the teeth to determine if the gingivitis has progressed to periodontal disease and to look for infection at the tooth root. The tooth surfaces will be polished, and the teeth will be reexamined after cleaning.
How Can You Treat Gingivitis?
If the teeth are overcrowded, or if your adult cat has baby (deciduous) teeth, your veterinarian may remove some of the teeth. Your veterinarian will teach you how to clean your cat's teeth, and you should make appointments for follow-up examinations.
The frequency of dental exams will depend on the stage of periodontal disease your cat is diagnosed with. They may be scheduled once a year or more frequently if your cat has reached a more severe stage of disease.
Maintaining Your Cat’s Oral Health
You can help maintain your cat's oral health care by brushing or rubbing their teeth with a special finger pad once a day, or by brushing or rubbing their teeth at least twice a week with a veterinary toothpaste.
Your veterinarian may also give you a veterinary antibacterial solution to squirt on your cat's teeth or to add to your cat’s drinking water to decrease plaque buildup.
There may be some dietary supplements, specific foods, or toys that can help you maintain your cat’s dental health as well. Talk to your veterinarian about what is appropriate for your cat.
Featured Image: iStock.com/FaST_9