The mouth can be a busy place for the millions of bacteria that live there. While some aren’t always dangerous, others, if allowed to remain in the mouth for long periods of time, can attack the teeth and gums. The irritation and infection within the mouth that is a result of these harmful bacteria is known as periodontal disease or gum disease. When we imagine gum disease, we often think of our own oral health, but rarely do we imagine the oral health of our pets. However, over 80% of cats show early signs of gum disease by the age of three, making it one of the most prevalent diseases for our feline friends.
What is periodontal disease? How is it caused?
Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is a condition where bacterial growth within the mouth causes irritation and infection of the surrounding and supporting tissue of teeth. It is most often caused by food particles and bacteria accumulating along your cat’s gum line forming into plaque. Just like in humans, if not brushed away, this plaque can irritate and inflame the gums and eventually calcify and turn into tartar. Over time, the buildup will occur underneath the gum line and lead to the separation of your cat’s gums from the teeth. These gaps will foster more bacterial growth leading to bone loss, tissue damage, infection, loss of teeth, and more.
Periodontal disease in cats can be caused by a variety of factors. Certain breeds are prone to developing periodontal disease due to the likelihood of developing crowded teeth. Other factors include grooming habits, toys, and poor nutrition as they can also cause buildup if toys are dirty or your cat cleans himself or herself frequently. Diet plays an important role as certain foods may create more buildup of food particles or may not promote oral health as good as other brands. Speak with your veterinarian on what you can do in terms of diet to keep your cat’s teeth healthy. Cats with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop infections that can lead to the onset of gum disease.
Cats can also develop another form of gum disease known as stomatitis, which is severe inflammation of all of the gum tissue. If left untreated, stomatitis can infect other soft tissues within the mouth. This type of gum disease occurs in cats with an overactive immune response to even the smallest amounts of plaque and tartar.
What are the symptoms and stages?
The detection of periodontal disease can be subtle and your cat may not show obvious symptoms until the disease progresses into a more advanced stage.
Common symptoms of periodontal disease include:
- Red or bleeding gums
- Discharge from the mouth or nose
- Signs of irritation in the mouth such as facial swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Gum recession
- Pawing at the mouth
- Excessive drooling
- Tooth grinding
- Discolored teeth
- Loose teeth or loss of teeth
- Bad breath
There are several stages of periodontal disease, and if detected and treated early it can often be reversed. There are four stages of periodontal disease, with stage one being the most minimal and stage four being more advanced.
- Stage 1– Stage 1 is known as gingivitis. Just like in humans, gingivitis is inflammation and irritation of the gums. There is no separation of the gumline from teeth at this stage. This stage can be treated and reversed.
- Stage 2 – In stage 2, gum separation has begun with around 25% of attachment loss between teeth leading to gaps that can allow for more bacterial growth and infection.
- Stage 3 – In stage 3, the gum separation level has reached 30% of attachment loss with obvious signs of gum recession.
- Stage 4 – Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of periodontal disease with over 50% attachment loss between gums and teeth. Roots of teeth are often exposed, and some tooth loss has occurred.
Treatment begins with a thorough examination where your veterinarian will look inside your cat’s mouth for red and inflamed gums. Your veterinarian may gently press on the gums which may cause them to bleed easily or release discharge, signaling the need for a deep dental cleaning. Under anesthesia, your veterinarian will perform several procedures such as probing to reveal the distance of gum separation from the tooth. X-rays will also be performed to reveal the condition of your cat’s teeth as some symptoms such as bone loss occur beneath the gums.
After a diagnosis, treatment will begin. The course of treatment depends on how advanced your cat’s condition is. Early stages can be managed with daily brushing, routine professional cleanings, and prescribed fluoride or other products to minimize the development of plaque or antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections.
For cases that are diagnosed as stage 1 or stage 2 periodontal disease, a thorough dental cleaning above and below the gums will be done to remove plaque and tartar. Any gaps found between the gumline and teeth will be cleaned with antibiotics to prevent infection along with other medications to regenerate gum tissue to close the gaps.
For more advanced cases such as those of stage 3 and stage 4 periodontal disease, a full cleaning is still necessary for your cat, but it is also imperative for the diseased teeth and tissue to be removed. Surgery may be needed to expose infected roots so that they can be cleaned and treated properly. Tooth extraction, bone replacement, and other surgical procedures may be necessary depending on the extent of damage from periodontal disease.
Follow-up treatment for periodontal disease consists of good at-home dental care and frequent dental care exams from your veterinarian.
The best way to fight periodontal disease is by maintaining good oral hygiene for your cat with regular brushing. Brush with animal-safe toothpaste as human toothpaste can contain harmful ingredients to your cat. Each pet is unique, so speak with your vet on how often you should brush your cat’s teeth and what products are best for your cat. Cats can be trained to accept brushing overtime when trained slowly and rewarded positively for their cooperation. Prescription diets and dental treats are also available for those who are less willing to have their teeth frequently brushed.
For more information on periodontal disease in cats, please contact our office today.