• Sun. May 19th, 2024

Periodontitis in Cats: Signs, Causes, and Treatments


Apr 4, 2023
cat with periodontal disease


cat with periodontal disease
Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

We care for our teeth every day, but did you know that our cats need dental care, too? If cats do not receive the dental care that they need, serious health issues may occur. Although it may start with very subtle changes, poor dental health can quickly escalate to more serious complications. Periodontitis is one of them.

Periodontitis is the inflammation of the tissues around the tooth. If you want to learn more about periodontitis and how it affects our feline friends, keep reading. This article will review the signs, causes and how to care for your cat if they suffer from this condition.


What Is Periodontitis?

Periodontitis is a form of periodontal disease. There are two primary forms of periodontal disease: periodontitis and gingivitis. Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums, and periodontitis is the later, more severe stage.

Periodontitis occurs when the supporting structures around your cat’s teeth become inflamed and diseased. These tissues comprise the gum, the alveolar bone, and the periodontal ligament. The condition often occurs in older cats, although cats of any age can experience it. Some cats may even display the disease as early as one year old.

Anatomy of a Cat's Tooth
You are free to use this image, but we do require you to link to PetKeen.com for credit

Cats with this condition often have large amounts of tartar buildup and suffer from inflamed or recessed gums. The surrounding ligaments supporting the teeth will be diseased, and they may break down. This deterioration can cause the tooth’s root to become exposed, further destabilizing it. It is not uncommon to see pus surrounding the diseased teeth due to a bacterial infection.

In periodontitis, tissue damage is severe and irreversible. Once the teeth and the surrounding support structures are damaged, they cannot be repaired. The damage will continue to progress, though there are many things that we can do for our cats to minimize the progression. That is why it is vital to prevent periodontitis whenever possible.

What Are the Signs of Periodontitis?

There are many indications that your cat has developed periodontitis, but not all of them are obvious, especially if you can’t look inside your cat’s mouth. If you are vigilant, you may notice subtle changes in your cat’s eating habits or certain signs like bad breath or mild drooling. However your veterinarian will be able to examine your cat, identify the changes, and determine the degree of the disease. Your veterinarian may need to put your cat under anesthesia to probe each tooth and measure the remaining level of attachment to establish the severity of the periodontitis.

Some signs that your cat has periodontitis include:

  • Foul breath
  • Redness along the gum line
  • Bleeding gums
  • Drooling, possibly bloody drooling
  • Constant pawing around the mouth
  • Difficulty eating, messy eating
  • Lacking appetite
  • Recession of the gums
  • Discharge from nasal cavities
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Swelling of the face
  • Wiggling or missing teeth
veterinarian examining cat's teeth
Image Credit: Sadasiva Pandava, Shutterstock

What Are the Causes of Periodontitis?

In most instances, periodontitis is caused by overlooked and untreated gingivitis. Gingivitis often progresses into periodontitis. Gingivitis is usually caused by the accumulation of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a film composed mainly of bacteria plus a collection of food particles, saliva, and other debris. The plaque sticks to the tooth, bacteria multiply, and new bacteria colonize. As the plaque builds up and matures, the gums become inflamed, turning red and swollen. The plaque will eventually harden, calcify, and turn into tartar (also called calculus). The periodontal ligament will lose collagen and the alveolar bone will be destroyed, leading to tooth loosening. A lack of oral hygiene care is often the cause of gingivitis developing and progressing into periodontitis.

It is important to know the predisposing factors that can lead to gingivitis, which may put your cat at a higher risk of developing periodontitis later on. Other than poor oral care, some of the risk factors include:

  • Infections. Many infectious diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukemia virus, and feline calicivirus are associated with a higher risk of gingivitis in cats.
  • Abnormal tooth alignment. Teeth that are positioned abnormally in the mouth (misaligned) and overcrowded are more likely to accumulate plaque and tartar.
  • Genetics. Some cats seem to be more predisposed to developing dental disease than others.
  • Eating soft food
  • Tooth Resorption. This painful disease refers to the formation of cavity-like lesions in the cat’s mouth, leading to gingivitis around its teeth.
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Diet. The type of food is thought to play a role in the progression of dental disease in some cats because wet food allows more plaque to form. However, the relationship between food and dental disease is complex.

If you notice the early warning signs of gingivitis, reach out to your vet right away to prevent periodontitis.

cats teeth check by vet, periodontitis
Image Credit: Calculus, Shutterstock

How Do I Care for a Cat With Periodontitis

Cats that have signs of gum disease will need to be taken to the vet. Your vet will diagnose your cat and make a treatment plan. The destruction that periodontitis causes cannot be treated without a professional, and your cat must be put under anesthesia for treatment.

Your veterinarian will likely remove the tartar and plaque buildup on your cat’s teeth. The damage to your cat’s teeth and surrounding supportive structures cannot be reversed. Because of this, there is a high chance that some of your cat’s teeth will need to be extracted (only the ones that are damaged). This is the best, most humane way to help your cat recover from periodontitis. Your vet will try to save as many teeth as possible. However, in most cases, removal will be required because otherwise the diseased teeth will be a source of pain and inflammation.

After the affected teeth are removed and your cat’s mouth is professionally cleaned, continuous follow-up appointments will be necessary. For the most part, this continual treatment will require you to care for your cat’s teeth regularly. Brushing your cat’s teeth consistently will go a long way toward preventing another flare-up of gingivitis or periodontitis. By using various feline dental care products, you can take an active role in managing your cat’s oral health.

You may also need to bring your cat to the vet regularly (weekly, quarterly, or biannually). Your veterinarian may prescribe medication such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and painkillers as your cat recovers from the condition. The prognosis can vary depending on the disease’s severity and the cat afflicted. While periodontitis cannot be reversed, cats can improve to a great extent with the right treatment.

vet checking cat's teeth
Image Credit: PRESSLAB, Shutterstock

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Do You Prevent Periodontitis in Cats?

Like most dental issues, periodontitis is best managed through preventative methods. If you can put in the work before your cat develops gingivitis or advances to periodontitis, you will save time, money, and worry while sparing your cat severe pain.

The most effective method of preventing dental disease in cats is to avoid the accumulation of plaque and tartar on the teeth. Brushing your cat’s teeth is one of the most helpful ways to slow the growth of plaque and tartar. There are many feline toothbrushes and toothpastes on the market, so you will have plenty of options. Under no circumstances should you use human toothpaste on cats. Human toothpaste contains ingredients that, if ingested, could cause serious health problems for your cat.

Water additives, diets, and treats can also be used to cut down on tartar buildup. To ensure that a product is effective, search for the seal of acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council.

How Do You Brush a Cat’s Teeth?

Brushing your cat’s teeth may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. You will get your cat used to it gradually and it can potentially increase the bond between you and your feline friend. Once you have your feline toothbrush and toothpaste, you can prepare your cat for regular teeth cleanings. Training your cat to accept tooth cleanings will make the experience much easier for both of you. First, find a quiet place where you and your cat can be alone.

Close the door and sit your cat in your lap or on a countertop. Your cat must first become used to you touching their face, particularly around the cheek area. You can start by stroking their cheeks and gently lifting their lips. Once your cat is used to this, dip a cotton swab or feline toothbrush into tuna water, for example, and then gently press it to your cat’s teeth. The tuna water will not clean your cat’s teeth, but it will help to establish a positive association with the toothbrush. Then, carefully pull back your cat’s lips and press the brush to the teeth again. It may take several days or weeks before your cat is comfortable with this step.

Once your cat is adjusted, you can start trying to brush your cat’s teeth, paying particular attention to the front and side teeth. It might be a good idea to only start with a few teeth the first time, especially if your cat is nervous. As time passes and your cat grows more comfortable, you can implement teeth cleanings into your routine.

Vet cleaning cat teeth
image credit: Pixel-Shot, Pixabay



Periodontitis is a severe and painful condition that can result in the loss of teeth. Since the disease is progressive, you must work to identify and stop gingivitis before it progresses to periodontitis. Better yet, you can take steps today to keep your cat’s teeth clean and combat the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Although your cat may need to adjust to teeth brushing, eventually, it will grow accustomed to it.

Featured Image Credit: Germanova Antonina, Shutterstock

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *