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Gingivitis is the early stage of periodontal disease in cats and if caught early, it’s often reversible with proper dental care. In this guide, find out more about the symptoms, causes and ways of managing this condition.

What is gingivitis in cats?

Just like humans, cats are prone to gum or periodontal disease. The most common is gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums that can cause the gums to feel red and swollen. Gingivitis occurs when bacterial plaque accumulates in the mouth, usually where the gums and teeth meet.

It can range from mild to severe, and although most cats have mild symptoms, it can become more severe if left untreated, causing receding gums, tooth loss and potentially other health problems.

Gingivitis in kittens

Mild gingivitis can occur when a kitten’s adult teeth are coming through. Symptoms such as swollen red gums and pain when eating might be similar to teething as it can come around the same time. It might go unnoticed but if the infection persists, it can develop into a more serious problem resulting in gum or bone loss. Find out more about kitten teething.

Signs and symptoms of gingivitis in cats 

It may not be easy to spot if your cat has gingivitis as the disease develops within your cat’s mouth. If it becomes more severe, you may also notice changes in their behaviour. Some of the signs include:

If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your vet right away. It is best not to wait for the more obvious signs to appear, but to frequently check your cat's teeth and take them for regular vet check-ups.

Causes of gingivitis in cats

Most often, gingivitis is caused by an accumulation of bacteria and plaque. Other factors may also play a role, such as:

How gingivitis is treated in cats

Depending on the extent and cause of the gingivitis, treatment can vary. Treating gingivitis has a much higher chance of success if the disease is caught early when it’s mild.

Your vet will examine your cat’s teeth, make a diagnosis and recommend professional dental cleaning that includes plaque and tartar removal. 

In more severe cases, infected or loose teeth will need to be removed. Treatment may also include antibiotic and/or anti-inflammatory treatment to control the disease. 

If your cat's gingivitis is caused by an underlying disease, that disease should be treated first along with gum disease treatment.

What to feed a cat with gingivitis

To maintain your cat’s good oral health, it’s recommended to feed them a balanced diet that is also moisture-rich.

Having dry food that’s specifically designed for dental care may be helpful to help reduce plaque buildup on teeth. However, soft food for cats with gingivitis is easier to eat as it doesn’t require as much chewing which can increase the pain. 

For cats that only eat canned food, an occasional dry food biscuit or dental treat may help but regular tooth brushing is useful for a variety of diets. 

If unsure what you should feed your cat, especially if they had teeth removed or are in pain, consult with your vet for advice. 

How can I stop my cat from getting gingivitis?

To prevent your cat from getting gingivitis or it getting worse, alongside a good diet it’s also important to practice home dental care. 

Regular tooth brushing with a pet-specific toothbrush and toothpaste is the most effective way to prevent plaque buildup. 

However, most cats are not used to teeth brushing and it may take gradual training and positive reinforcement until they feel comfortable. Ask your vet for advice or to show you how it’s done to help your cat feel more at ease. Learn more about brushing your cat’s teeth.

We recommend regular teeth brushing for cats at any age but starting it when they’re kittens will work best for them to get used to it. 

Find out more about cat dental care

How to get your cat used to getting their mouth checked

Regular home checkups are important to spot gingivitis at an early stage. Getting your cat used to having their mouth inspected may take some patience and practice. Follow the steps below to help them become more comfortable.

  • Check their breath. If your cat’s breath has a particularly unpleasant or unusual odour, it could indicate they have an infection of their gums. Other health conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease may also cause this so it’s important to get them checked out
  • Start slowly. Gently touch their face and tilt the head back slightly as you open their mouth with your thumb and index finger. If your cat is uncomfortable, keep the sessions short and come back another time. It is important not to force it if they tense up or become too resistant. Find out more about spotting signs of stress in cats
  • Examine their teeth. Look from side to side while checking the teeth and gums. Healthy cat teeth should not have excessive yellowing or darkening, this could indicate there is a buildup of plaque and tartar. Gums should appear pink in colour, and redness or any swelling may show there is an infection
  • Reward with a treat. Once you’re done, offer your cat a treat as part of their balanced diet. This way it will help them associate it with a positive experience
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