The most common warning sign of feline periodontal disease is “bad breath.” This foul odor results from the activity of the bacteria that cause the formation of plaque, and ultimately, dental calculus (tartar).
Responsible and caring cat owners should be aware of the early warning signs of feline periodontal disease. If the condition is spotted and treated early, its progression can be stopped before permanent damage and serious complications occur.
Warning signs your cat may have oral or dental issues:
- bad breath
- inflamed gums that bleed easily
- gums that appear red
- receding gums
- sensitivity around the mouth
- pawing at the mouth
- missing or loose teeth
- reluctance or difficulty eating
- poor appetite
- pus leaking from around affected teeth
- stomach problems
- resorptive lesions on the teeth
If you notice any of these signs, seek veterinary advice right away.
How does a veterinarian diagnose feline periodontal disease?
Along with the symptoms noted above, a veterinarian will use several criteria to assess your cat’s oral health before assigning a Grade to your pet’s condition. Your cat will be examined to determine the health of his gums, along with the amount and distribution of plaque and tartar. If necessary, a more extensive exam under anesthesia may be required.
The depth and extent of “pockets” between the tooth and the gum will be measured using a calibrated probe. Pocket depth in excess of .5-1 mm may indicate problems below the gumline.
X-rays may also be taken. Radiographs will allow your vet to see the extent of any damage that has occurred below the gumline and if resorptive lesions on the teeth are present.
Once your vet has completed a visual assessment of your pet’s condition, a Grade will be assigned. Then, a suitable course of treatment will be prescribed.
Treatments for feline periodontal disease
The treatment given to your cat will depend on the periodontitis Grade that has been assigned by your vet. Your vet may elect to prescribe antibiotics for your cat a few days prior to his dental procedure. Throughout the professional prophylaxis procedure, your pet will be under anesthesia.
Grade I and II treatment
Cats with Grade I or Grade II gingivitis will be treated via a routine “prophy,” or professional prophylaxis. This procedure is similar to a scale and polish that you may have regularly at your own dentist.
Any buildup of plaque and tartar is removed from your cat’s teeth using ultrasonic or handheld scaling devices. Polishing is then performed to remove any tiny scratches from the tooth surface. Even minor abnormalities can leave the tooth predisposed to the formation of plaque and tartar, whereas a shiny, smooth surface makes it much more difficult for plaque to accumulate. An in-depth examination of every tooth and the whole oral cavity of your cat’s mouth are carried out to check for signs of disease.
A gentle lavage is performed to remove any lingering plaque and debris that may be left in the “pockets” or below the gumline.
Plaque prevention gel, fluoride, and/or veterinary dental sealant may then be applied to provide protection for the gingival sulcus.
Grade III and Grade IV treatment
Your cat’s teeth will be scaled to remove plaque and tartar. Then, depending on the severity of your pet’s condition, your vet will opt for one or a combination of the following treatment options:
Root planing involves the removal of residual tartar, along with diseased dentin and cementum, and smoothing of the tooth root surface.
This advanced procedure involves the removal of any diseased connective tissue and epithelium.
All of these procedures are highly specialized and are typically carried out by a qualified veterinary surgeon.
A gingivectomy is performed if the cat has excess gum tissue that creates an extra-large, bacteria-friendly pseudo pocket between the gum and the tooth. Removing this excess tissue can help in preventing future periodontal disease.
Periodontal surgery and therapeutics
Where bone and root damage has occurred, a flap of the gum over the tooth root is opened up, allowing access to these deep structures. Removal of diseased structures and other procedures may be needed and should be performed by a veterinary dentist.
When a tooth cannot be saved or reparative procedures are impractical, tooth extraction may be carried out.
Brachycephalic (flat-faced) cats, such as Persians or Himalayans, have a higher risk of developing gingivitis and periodontal disease.
In brachycephalic breeds, the teeth are often crowded together. This can allow large amounts of plaque to accumulate, due to the hindrance of the normal cleansing mechanisms within the mouth.
Further, flat-faced cats are inclined to open-mouth breathe, leaving them prone to dehydration of the oral cavity and thus more tenacious plaque.
How to prevent feline periodontal disease
In order to avoid the suffering and health problems that can be caused by feline periodontal disease, be sure to have your cat’s teeth and oral health checked by your vet as part of your pet’s annual health check and vaccination regimen. If your cat has been diagnosed with and received treatment for severe periodontal disease, you may need to have him checked every couple of months.
How to address feline periodontal disease
- Monitor your cat and seek veterinary advice immediately if you spot any of the symptoms of the condition.
- If your cat is a brachycephalic (flat-faced) cat, be sure to pay closer attention to his oral health.
- Veterinary diagnosis of periodontal disease is made via clinical examination and X-rays.
- Grades I and II are reversible. Grades III and IV will require more extensive treatment and frequent checkups.
- Your cat will be required to undergo a general anesthetic during his treatment.
- Home care.