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How can I help my cat with gingivitis?

Recently I received an email from Rachel Wager-Smith. Rachel revealed her desire to share her story about gingivitis in cats.

One of my cats, Annabelle, had a severe case of feline gingivitis when I adopted her and required a near full-mouth tooth extraction. I’d love to write an article that discusses this experience as well as researched advice for detection, treatment, and prevention of feline gingivitis.

Rachel Wager-Smith

Our team found this story to be very teachable for our readers; it will help you to realize the importance of gingivitis prevention and to understand how you can treat it.

Here it goes:

When I was 21, I moved into my first apartment without roommates. One of the first things I did was adopt a three-year-old cat named Annabelle. From the day I picked her up at the no-kill shelter, she was playful, friendly, and happy. We got along perfectly. Within an hour of getting her home, she curled up in my lap and watched TV with me like she had always been mine.

A few months later, Annabelle stopped eating. I switched her diet to wet food, thinking at first that she was simply a pickier eater than I first believed. She ate more, but soon began losing weight. That was when I took her to the vet and learned that she had a severe case of feline gingivitis.

Editor’s notice: soft-dry cat foods can be a good option for cats who have sensitive gums and enjoy kibble.

Anabelle the cat

Just like in humans, feline gingivitis is a gum disease caused by plaque buildup at the gumline, which leads to inflammation, pain, and occasionally even bleeding. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, anywhere from 50% to 90% of cats older than four have some form of dental disease, and PetMD.com says at least 80% of pets aged three and older have some form of gingivitis. However, most feline dental diseases aren’t just treatable but preventable with proper care.

The treatment for Annabelle’s gingivitis, unfortunately, was to perform extensive dental surgery to remove all her teeth. This is what is known as a full-mouth tooth extraction. Two surgeries were scheduled, and when all was said and done, all but two of her teeth were extracted. Luckily, a few weeks after her second surgery, she had fully recovered, and she is still healthy and happy over ten years later. She can even eat dry food without issue.

When I found out about Annabelle’s gingivitis, I was racked with guilt that I hadn’t taken her to the vet sooner. I was assured that some cats have a genetic predisposition to gingivitis, oftentimes due to overcrowding of the teeth. Certain autoimmune disorders can also cause a predisposition, but fortunately, Annabelle was free of any such illnesses. Further, given her age and the severity of her case, there was likely little that could have been done to prevent an eventual full-mouth tooth extraction.

Anabelle the cat who had gingivitis

That said, had I been better educated about the symptoms of feline gingivitis, I would have seen the red flags much sooner. And had I known the proper preventative measures against dental disease in cats, she may not have required such extensive dental surgery at such a young age.

The best way to prevent feline dental disease of any type is to regularly remove plaque by brushing your cat’s teeth. For real! It sounds out there, and it will take time and patience to get your cat used to the process, but it can be done. Just make sure to use the right cat toothpaste.

You should also ask your vet to perform a dental checkup at each visit, and schedule a professional tooth cleaning, as needed. Some cat treats and chew toys are also designed to help break down plaque and promote proper mouth hygiene. Further, dry food, in general, is better for your cat’s mouth health than wet food.

When it comes to detecting gingivitis, there are sometimes obvious symptoms such as bleeding of the gums or excess drooling, and some cats will paw at their mouths if they experience discomfort. However, the telltale symptom is red, swollen gums (healthy gums will appear a bright pink), sometimes accompanied by visible plaque buildup and/or bad breath.

Because these symptoms are not often easily detectable, it’s important to regularly examine your cat’s mouth for any signs of dental disease. It’s important to note, though, that a diagnosis of any dental disease can only be made by your veterinarian. However, there are some symptoms that should always be a red flag.

If your cat displays any irregularities in their eating patterns – especially if they stop eating or begin to lose weight – a trip to the vet is mandatory. Also, while cats aren’t known for minty fresh breath, if your cat’s breath becomes noticeably unpleasant, it’s probably a good idea to arrange for a dental exam, especially if the preventative measures discussed above don’t help.

Rachel Wager-Smith is a freelance writer, cat lady, and nerd. Her writings have been featured in InSession Film as well as personal blogs. She has been writing for over two-thirds of her life and enjoys a properly made cappuccino almost as much as a neat whiskey. She currently lives the quarantine lifestyle with her husband, one very smart cat, and one much less smart cat in Sacramento, California.

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