Gingivitis is a dental problem that can affect both people and other animals including cats, and is often the first symptom of the beginning of periodontal disease. Learning how to identify gingivitis in cats is important for their owners, as this can help to reverse it and so, prevent more serious problems from developing later on that can be harder to tackle.
Gingivitis affects the gums rather than the teeth themselves, and leads to redness and inflammation.
In this article, we will look at how gingivitis can affect cats in more detail, including how the condition occurs and what can be done to treat it. Read on to learn more.
One of the main reasons for why we as people brush our teeth is to remove food debris and bacteria, which can all cause dental problems such as plaque, tartar and sore or damaged teeth and gums.
Plaque is a type of bacteria that adheres to the surfaces of the teeth, which is usually brushed off each day when we clean our teeth-however, few cats have their teeth brushed regularly, and this means that nothing is done to deal with the plaque that forms.
When the plaque is not removed, it begins to form into a much harder substance-what we call tartar-and this cannot be removed by simple brushing alone, but needs to be chipped and scraped off the teeth.
Because tartar is thin and adheres strongly to the teeth, it ultimately follows the path of the teeth up to the gums, where it continues to grow under the gum lines. Tartar and plaque irritate the blood vessels of the gums, which leads to a breakdown in the elastic collagen within the gums, swelling, redness, and sometimes pain.
Over time, the tartar and plaque-causing bacteria releases toxins that are harmful to the gums, and destroy the tissue of the gingiva itself, which cannot then be repaired. At this point, the cat’s teeth and gums are likely to be painful, and the teeth themselves may begin to decay.
However, identifying the beginnings of gingivitis means that the cat’s teeth can be cleaned or sorted out with a veterinary dental procedure, halting the problem and preventing pain, gum damage and potential tooth loss.
Gingivitis can affect any type or age of cat, but it is rarely seen in cats younger than three. Cats with immune-suppressant conditions such as FIV are at slightly higher risk than others.
Unless you brush your cat’s teeth, it is highly likely that they will have some form of gingivitis once they are over the age of five, and the older a cat is (assuming that they have not had the benefit of preventative dental care) the more likely it is that they will have gingivitis.
Just as is the case with people, how likely any two cats that have the same lifestyle are to develop gingivitis can be variable. Even with good dental hygiene, some cats will be more prone to dental problems than others.
However, whilst very few cat owners clean their cat’s teeth regularly, getting into a routine of gently brushing your cat’s teeth a couple of times a week can significantly reduce their chances of developing gingivitis and other dental problems, and whilst it is easier to start doing this when your cat is young, it is never too late to start!
Cleaning your cat’s teeth a couple of times a week also gives you the chance to check their teeth over and allows you to recognise any problems early on, making them much easier to treat.
All cats should see the vet at least once a year for their annual check-up and booster vaccinations, and this check up will also allow your vet to examine your cat’s teeth, and spot any potential problems. However, it is also wise to check your cat’s teeth over yourself every couple of months, and look for the signs of potential problems.
The main indicators of gingivitis in cats include red, sore or inflamed gums, particularly if this shows up as a thin red line of inflammation right where the teeth meet the gums. If the gingivitis is particularly bad, your cat may avoid eating hard food, may appear to eat very carefully and delicately, and even occasionally have bleeding gums, which is one of the clearest indications of a potential problem.
If your cat only has very mild gingivitis in the initial stages, you may be able to reverse it at home by a combination of gentle brushing and potentially, using a dental rinse in their mouths.
However, if this is not possible or your cat’s gums are very inflamed, you will need to book them in for a veterinary deep dental clean, which removes plaque and tartar, thoroughly cleans and polishes the teeth, and allows your vet to address any problems like cavities and broken teeth too.