Painful conditions affecting the gums of cats are quite common.
The diet of the urban-dwelling cat and its sedentary lifestyle without the need to catch and tear up their prey are the main factors in the increasing incidence of these conditions.
The most common cause of gum disease is the build-up of calculus, or scale, on the teeth. This build-up acts as a sanctuary for plaque and the proliferation of bacteria. The tissues surrounding the build-up of these substances become inflamed and sensitive.
The gums then recede, exposing the deeper structures of the tooth and allowing infection to enter the space between the tooth and the bone, resulting in the eventual loosening and loss of the tooth. The calculus build-up is greatest in the molar teeth, but the canines and eventually the incisors may also be affected.
The cat may dribble excessively and have an unpleasant smell associated with the mouth and constantly wet fur. At first it tends to eat slowly, often preferring to chew only on one side.
As the gums become more painful and the teeth begin to become loose it may cry out while eating or claw suddenly at the painful area. When much scale has built up it is impossible for the owner to remove this with a brush using salt and water as described in some of the pet-care books.
Treatment at this stage must be carried out by a veterinary surgeon. The cat must be anesthetized so that all surfaces of the teeth can be scaled, usually with the aid of an ultrasonic scaler.
Having cleaned all the calculus from the teeth, one should change the diet from very soft tinned preparations to foods that require more chewing. Raw bones and large pieces of meat help to massage the gums and leave no residue.
Unfortunately if cats have grown used to one type of food they are reluctant to change, especially if the chewing is uncomfortable. If the cat absolutely refuses to eat its new diet, regular cleaning of the teeth is required to stop a further build-up of calculus.
A less common, but far more serious, problem is acute gingivitis or “trench mouth”. The unfortunate cat suddenly starts to salivate profusely and has a very unpleasant smell. It may cry out while attempting to eat and eventually approaches the food, appears to want to eat, but then turns away.
It resents attempts to examine its mouth. The tissues inside the mouth, including the gums, soft palate and pharynx are acutely inflamed and are often ulcerated.
The condition is caused by the proliferation of a mixed group of bacteria and is often very difficult to cure. Some relief is obtained with antibiotics given by injections. Unfortunately, recurrences are not uncommon.
Feline influenza organisms often cause ulcerations of the tongue and hard palate. Large areas of the tongue may be involved and naturally the animal is reluctant to eat. The ulcerations often precede the development of the other symptoms of cat flu such as sneezing and discharge from the eyes and nose.
Wounds from fighting are quite common. As the cat opens its mouth to hiss at an opponent it may be clawed in the tongue. These wounds often require suturing to prevent deformity of the tissues.
Foreign bodies such as needles and fish hooks can be embedded in the mouth and require anesthesia before removal. Fish bones commonly become wedged over or between back teeth.
An uncommon foreign body was encountered recently. A cat was presented which was making frantic attempts to dislodge something in its mouth. The tongue was markedly swollen and blue.
After anesthesia it was found that a complete circle of tissue arising from the aorta of a sheep’s heart had surrounded the tongue. As the tissue was semi-elastic, it had cut off the return circulation of the tongue.
Cats suffering from kidney disease often develop mouth infections. These complicate an already serious picture and further reduce the desire to eat.