Dental disease is quite common among older cats. Like many diseases, there are degrees of severity ranging from mild tartar build up, to gingivitis and, most severe, stomatitis. Cats with stomatitis have mouths that are extremely painful. If you’re able to look into the mouth of a cat with stomatitis, you’d see that the gums, back of the mouth and tongue are bright red and ulcerated.
By the time the disease is that advanced, the teeth are also affected. However, this might not be immediately noticeable since the breakdown starts below the gum line. With time, that breakdown will progress to include the rest of the teeth. Cats with this disease usually have quite bad breath.
How do I know if my cat may be suffering from Stomatitis?
The most obvious symptom of stomatitis is a painful mouth. Signs that your cat may be suffering from a painful mouth include weight loss, a decreased appetite, dropping food outside of their dish, poor grooming habits and lots of salivating. These are all good indicators that something is bothering your cat and should be seen by a veterinarian.
What starts this painful disease?
It’s the body’s immune system reacting to the bacteria that live in plaque. After a few days, plaque turns into tartar. Tarter is a hard, dark brown material that discolours teeth, causing bacteria to stay in the mouth. The immune system kicks into overdrive to try and get rid of those germs, but in the process, it also ends up attacking the teeth and other tissues in the mouth. The only solution is to remove the tartar from the teeth (de-scaling) and remove any tooth that is diseased. Unfortunately, this can often be a majority of them. Combined with this, we use medications such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to reduce pain and the quantity of bacteria. Getting rid of the diseased tissue and bacteria from the mouth is what allows healing to start. For most cats, this is enough to stop the disease forever, but for the odd cat, they can need more antibiotics in the future to keep those bacteria under control.
Once the dental cleaning and tooth extractions are done and the antibiotics have been started, the mouth heals rapidly. Within a few days, you can expect your cat to start eating and grooming normally again.
Written by Dr Alana Parisi