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Spotting the Signs of Dental Disease in Cats

Dental disease is one of the most common health concerns for cats. Here we show you how to promote dental health and identify problems.
Woman checking her cats teeth
Even with the very best care, it’s likely that your cat will experience an oral health issue at some stage in their 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 that can help prevent and manage dental disease. 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 below the gumline.
At first the bacteria are invisible to the naked eye, and they form a soft biofilm across your cat’s teeth known as plaque. Plaque then 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 and/or bleeding gums.
As the inflammation intensifies, it can spread into the surrounding tissue and bones that support the teeth causing worsening disease and even tooth loss. Periodontal disease is a severe condition for cats as the infection can sometimes 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 descriptions below: 

Stage 0 - Clinically Normal

Healthy-looking teeth.

Stage 1 - Gingivitis Only

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

Stage 2 - Early Periodontitis

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

Stage 3 - Moderate Periodontitis

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

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?

Some cats are more susceptible to dental disease. Their chances of developing the condition can 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 baby teeth and bite irregularities are also at greater risk of developing dental disease.

Speak to your veterinarian for advice about dental health.

How can I help 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 targeted at eliminating plaque before it can calcify.

Illustration of a toothbrush


The number one preventive treatment for dental disease is brushing to reach every tooth surface, and scrub away most of the plaque before it can harden. 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


Feline dental chews can be effective at helping remove plaque, especially if they contain anti-bacterial nutrients. However, they must be used in combination with brushing as they don’t scrub canine teeth 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


A veterinarian may recommend nutritionally balanced dental food. Dental diets have a special kibble shape and texture to scrub teeth.


Illustration of a female vet

Veterinary Care

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

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