Feline gingivitis – a pain in the mouth

1st May 2018

Did you know that 80% of cats over 4 years of age have tooth and gum disease? There are several key triggers to the problem, so it helps to be aware and prevent the disease from taking hold.

What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis is the term we use to describe inflammation of the gums in the mouth. It’s most often seen on the gum line where the gums meet the teeth. You might see a red line or even some bleeding. For many cats and their owners, gingivitis can be quite a frustrating disease, as once it starts it is difficult to cure.

What are the signs?

Depending on the severity of the disease, cats will show one or more of the following;

  • Bad breath – we normally refer to this as halitosis. You might notice a particularly unpleasant smell from both the mouth and the coat.
  • Drooling saliva – a cat with gingivitis will be in pain and reluctant to swallow. Saliva may then start dribbling out of the mouth.
  • Pain – be aware that your pet may react to the pain if examined or touched. They may growl or scratch.
  • Reduced appetite – you might notice that your pet starts to avoid food, despite appearing to be hungry. They may also jump back suddenly when eating, and sometimes growl out of nowhere.
  • Weight loss in cats – if they can’t eat properly, they’ll soon start to lose condition.
  • Dull coat – the fur may appear dull if they stop grooming themselves properly.

What causes gingivitis?

Dental disease

This is probably the most common cause of gingivitis. If dental hygiene is poor, plaque soon starts to build up, with tartar and mineral deposits following. Bacteria will start to damage the enamel of the teeth and cause the gums to recede. Within a relatively short period of time, the teeth will become damaged and diseased.

Feline chronic gingivostomatitis (FCGS)

This is a particularly aggressive form of gingivitis, caused by a hypersensitivity to the bacteria in the mouth. Also known as lymphocytic plasmacytic gingivitis-stomatitis, it will cause ulceration of the gums. The inflammation can extend to the back of the mouth, onto the tongue and down into the pharynx. The inflammation persists despite antibiotics, steroids and dental cleaning.

Viral infections

There are several virus infections that can trigger gingivitis, including;

  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
  • Feline Leukaemia Virus (Felv)
  • Feline Calici Virus

At Bollington Veterinary Centre, we may advise a blood test to check for these viral causes of gingivitis.


Diabetic cats are more prone to gingivitis due to the high levels of sugar in their bloodstream. The bacteria that form plaque and cause gingivitis thrive on glucose.

Genetic predisposition

Certain breeds of cat are more prone to developing gingivitis than others. Some examples include the oriental type breeds such as the Siamese, Persian and Somali cats.

5 treatments we recommend

The golden rule to remember is the sooner gingivitis is treated, the quicker it will be controlled. Even with FCGS, it has a better chance of being managed well if treated in the early stages.

  1. Scale and polish – this is often our first recommendation. We’ll need the animal in for the day to clean the teeth whilst under an anaesthetic.
  2. Dental surgery - if damage is detected, such as cavities, caries, deep gingival pockets, abscesses or loose teeth, we may recommend that some teeth are removed.
  3. Dental health checks - follow up checks to see that the mouth is responding well are always recommended. We have skilled dental clinicians at our practice who will be willing to help. Your pet should ideally come two or three times a year for a quick check of the mouth to make sure the inflammation is controlled.
  4. Brushing – the most effective way to keep your pets teeth free from plaque and gingivitis is to brush them with a soft toothbrush. There are toothbrushes just for cats, so please ask our team for help choosing the most appropriate one. Don’t forget to use a pet toothpaste made for animals. Never use human toothpaste on your cat.
  5. Dry food - diet can have a significant impact on your cat’s dental health. Dry foods tend to be best, and there are actually some dry foods that have been specially made to help with cleaning teeth. Always make sure your cat has access to fresh drinking water if they have a dry food diet. Ask us for more information on the diets we recommend.


If you would like advice about your cat's teeth give us a ring