Spotting the Signs of Dental Disease in Cats

Woman checking her cats teeth
Dental disease is the most common health concern for cats. Here we show you how to identify and prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease and look at some of the cat dental care treatments a veterinarian may recommend.
Even with the very best care, it’s likely that your cat will experience an oral health issue at some stage in its life.

Whether it’s bad breath, swollen gums, pain, or tooth loss, dental disease can significantly affect a cat’s quality of life. In the most severe cases, it can even cause an infection that spreads to other parts of the body.

Thankfully, there are a range of therapies available to prevent and treat dental disease and many are highly effective. But first, let’s look at what dental disease is and how you can spot the tell-tale signs. 


What is dental disease? 

Dental disease is a progressive condition caused by a build-up of bacteria in the gums. 

At first, the bacteria are invisible to the naked eye, and they form a soft biofilm across your cat’s teeth known as plaque. Within 24 hours, plaque starts to calcify into a hard, yellow material called tartar. 

Plaque can spread into the gum line, causing the gums to become infected and inflamed. This condition is referred to as gingivitis and is typically identified by red, bleeding gums. 

As the infection intensifies, it spreads into the surrounding tissue and eventually the bones, causing bleeding gums and tooth loss. Gum disease or periodontal disease is a severe condition for cats as the infection can spread to affect other areas of the body, such as the heart and kidneys.

What are the signs of dental disease?

Depending upon the stage of your cat’s dental disease, you may see a variety of signs, including: 

  • Bad breath 
  • Inflamed, swollen gums
  • Pain
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss and reduced muscle mass
  • Inactivity
  • Less interaction with the family

How can I tell if my cat has dental disease?

Choose a time when your cat is calm and your home is free of distractions, then gently handle their muzzle, raise their lip, and compare their teeth to the chart below: 


Stage 0 of cat dental disease

Stage 0 - Clinically Normal 

Healthy-looking teeth.

Stage 1 of cat dental disease

Stage 1 - Gingivitis Only

Your cat may have bad breath, some tartar build-up, and reddening of the gums.

Stage 2 of cat dental disease

Stage 2 - Early Periodontitis

You may notice their breath smelling stronger, redder gums, more tartar, and some teeth discoloration.

Stage 3 of cat dental disease

Stage 3 - Moderate Periodontitis

This stage is characterized by very bad breath, a large build-up of tartar especially on molars, very discoloured teeth and very red gums. Your cat may favour chewing on one side. 

Stage 4 of cat dental disease

Stage 4 - Advanced Periodontitis

You will likely notice your cat has severe bad breath and may show signs of pain, such as being head shy or dropping kibbles when they chew. 


Are some cats more prone to dental disease than others?

If you don’t remove the plaque from your cat’s teeth, they’ll be susceptible to dental disease. Their chances of developing the condition will be further affected by: 

  • Size
  • Breed
  • Age
  • The crowding of their teeth

Persian cats have flat-shaped heads, which makes them predisposed to teeth crowding. This means there are more places for food to become lodged, potentially leading to dental disease if their teeth aren't cleaned properly. 

Cats with retained teeth and bite irregularities are also at greater risk of developing dental disease. 

Speak to your vet for advice about your cat’s specific dental requirements. 

How do I prevent my cat from getting dental disease?

Plaque is soft and relatively easy to remove, but once it’s hardened into tartar, it becomes much more difficult to clean. That’s why cleaning cat teeth is about eliminating plaque before it can calcify. 


Illustration of a toothbrush

Brushing

The number one preventative treatment for dental disease, brushing scrubs away plaque before it can harden and can reach every tooth surface. It’s recommended to brush your cat’s teeth every day. For tips and advice, read our article: Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: A Step-By-Step Guide.


Illustration of cat teeth

Chewing

Feline dental chews can be effective at removing plaque, especially if they contain anti-bacterial nutrients. However, they must be used in combination with brushing as they don’t scrub fangs or incisors. Cat chew toys also risk causing tooth fractures if they’re made from hard materials like bone or nylon. 


Illustration of cat food

Nutrition

A vet may recommend nutritionally balanced dental food to help prevent dental disease and gingivitis. Royal Canin’s dental cat food has a special kibble shape to scrub teeth and nutrients that help reduce plaque and tartar build-up. 


Illustration of a female vet

Veterinary Care

Your veterinarian is your cat's dentist. They can help diagnose dental disease in your cat and provide care to manage it. Gingivitis and periodontal disease are both painful conditions and require treatment and professional dental cleaning before you can begin home remedies like brushing. So, if you suspect your cat is suffering from dental disease, contact your vet before taking further action.