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Health & Wellness

How to prevent periodontal disease in cats

With some daily care, you can prevent and treat gingivitis and other forms of periodontal disease in your cat.

If you’ve noticed your cat has funky breath or trouble eating, they may have periodontal disease — aka infections and inflammation throughout their gums and the bone that surrounds and supports the teeth.

Unfortunately, most cats don’t show signs of periodontal disease until after it’s progressed to irreversible damage, so pay attention to that stink. Periodontal disease is one of pets’ most common health issues, but it’s totally preventable with the right care.

What is periodontal disease in cats?

Periodontal disease consists of two main stages: gingivitis and gum disease. Gingivitis in cats begins much like in humans, with a collection of bacteria mixed with other components, adhering to their teeth leading to stinky breath.

“The odor is caused by bacteria in the mouth that’s allowed to grow and multiply in a protected space between the tartar (a hard calcified deposit that forms on the teeth), the teeth and the gums,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, veterinary consultant for Fetch, says. “Over time, the gums become inflamed, which can also contribute to bad breath. If food or other material is allowed to accumulate in pockets of inflamed gum tissue, this can also contribute to the bad breath.”

Plaque (the sticky deposit on teeth in which bacteria grows) especially loves chipped teeth, an area of missing enamel or any other uneven surfaces. Eventually, plaque buildup turns into calculus or tartar, a brownish-gray covering on the tooth, which can’t be removed at home.

As plaque and calculus spread under a cat’s gum line, bacteria causes red, swollen gums. If left unchecked, the inflammation will begin to damage the soft and hard tissues surrounding and supporting the cat’s teeth, leading to periodontitis. From there, the cat may develop loose teeth and a receding gum line. You may notice signs that your pet is experiencing oral pain, such as reluctance to chew, pawing at the mouth or dropping food.

Periodontal disease can affect your cat’s overall health, so it’s important to pay attention to their teeth and mouth. An immune response triggered by inflammation in their mouth can allow bacteria to enter the body through the bloodstream — potentially affecting the cat’s heart, liver and kidneys.

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Preventing periodontal diseases in cats

Be sure to visit your veterinarian regularly for health exams, especially if you notice a change in your cat’s breath or behavior. Just like people, pets need comprehensive oral health assessments including:

  • A complete visual examination and dental charting.
  • Scaling below the gum line to remove the plaque and tartar.
  • Polishing that fills in microscopic defects in the tooth to help prevent future buildup.

“Periodontal disease is best prevented in general by removing plaque from the teeth daily before it can harden into tartar,” Dr. Singler says. “The best way to accomplish this is by brushing, but not many cats tolerate this.”  

To help your cat get used to brushing, parents should try brushing as often as possible, maybe even daily. For those cats that won’t sit still, you can consider dental treats, oral rinses, water additives and prescription-dental diets. Talk to your vet to determine which option may be right for your pet.

Treating periodontal diseases in cats

Periodontal disease is treated by removing tartar and cleaning up underneath the cat’s gum line.

“Advanced stages of the disease will often require tooth extraction, especially if they’re loose, fractured or infected,” Dr. Singler says. “All of this must be done under anesthesia, and dental X-rays are often necessary to fully evaluate the mouth’s health and determine the appropriate treatment. In some cases, pain medications, antibiotics or other medications may be needed.”

In some cases, a visit to a veterinary dental specialist may be needed. Specialists diagnose and treat oral disease and injury in pets with advanced treatments, such as those complicated tooth extractions, root canal therapy, orthodontics, restorations and advanced surgical techniques.

The extent of treatment required depends on how long the condition has been allowed to progress. Gingivitis is reversible, and although the damage caused by periodontal disease may not be, it’s never too late to treat it and prevent the condition from worsening. 

Consult with your veterinarian for a specific treatment and prevention program that’s tailored to your cat if you start seeing signs of periodontal disease. Your veterinarian can also identify signs of other oral issues, including tooth resorption, stomatitis, broken teeth, malocclusions, oral growths, retained baby teeth and many others.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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