Health & Wellness
If your ordinarily hungry cat has been leaving their bowl of hard kibble half-eaten or shies away from you petting around their face, something is likely up. These two symptoms are signs of stomatitis in cats but are also common for several other cat-related illnesses. So it's essential to know all about stomatitis in cats to help differentiate what's actually affecting your feline friend.
“Stomatitis, or feline chronic gingivostomatitis (FCGS), is a painful, inflammatory disease of the mouth and gums,” Dr. Elizabeth Devitt, DVM, an on-staff veterinarian at Fetch by The Dodo, says. “Cats with this condition often drool or have bad breath, and because they’re experiencing pain in their mouths, they may stop eating, lose weight, stop grooming themselves and often dislike being touched around the face.”
The disease isn’t contagious between cats, but it’s wise to keep your stomatitis-positive cat separated from other pets to avoid any physical contact, exacerbated pain or general distress, Dr. Devitt advises.
“Unfortunately, the exact cause of stomatitis isn’t yet known,” Dr. Devitt says. “But some triggers for developing the disease include viruses, bacteria and dental disease. Regardless of the stomatitis cause, cats either have an overactive response to dental plaque and bacteria or a poor immune response that perpetuates the inflammation.”
Stomatitis affects less than 5% of cats, so it’s not very common. And because there isn’t a definite cause, there's no foolproof prevention method. That being said, you can reduce your cat’s risk of developing stomatitis by checking their mouth regularly (weekly, if not more frequently) for signs of inflammation and maintaining optimal oral hygiene.
Your veterinarian is a great resource to consult about best practices for dental care and teeth-brushing tips. Screening might help to ensure other feline-related viruses, like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or feline leukemia virus (FeLV), aren’t contributing to stomatitis.
According to Dr. Devitt, there’s no specific test to diagnose stomatitis in cats. However, she adds that other systemic diseases or dental diseases, like periodontal disease, can show similar symptoms in cats.
“Your cat’s clinical signs and an oral exam, if they're not in too much pain to allow it, can help lead to a diagnosis,” Dr. Devitt explains. “Blood work, screening for viral diseases, oral tissue biopsies and dental X-rays may also be needed to rule out any other causes.”
Stomatitis is extremely painful for cats, so it’s wise to talk to your veterinarian about a treatment plan ASAP. Usually, a resolution is found in a combination of treatments, Dr. Devitt explains. For example, your veterinarian might recommend a mix of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, pain relief and dental care. But more severe cases might require further intervention.
“Many cats require oral surgery to remove all the teeth affected by the cat’s immune response, which may sound extreme," Dr. Devitt says. "But, typically, the affected cats are much more comfortable after the inflammation subsides and can resume normal eating and grooming habits and return to a higher quality of life."
If your cat has mild stomatitis, ask your veterinarian about swapping out their hard kibble for a softer option to minimize any eating-related pain. And you’ll want to confirm with your vet that brushing your cat’s teeth is OK before pulling out their toothbrush. Sometimes, brushing their teeth can actually cause your cat more pain.
The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’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. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.
Photo by Federica Melegari on Unsplash