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Gingivitis in Cats: Signs, Causes & Treatment

Cats who don't receive the proper oral hygiene are at risk of developing a painful condition known as gingivitis. In this post, our Cordova vets share symptoms, causes, and treatment for gingivitis in cats. 

What is gingivitis in cats?

Gingivitis happens when the gums (or gingiva) that surround the teeth become inflamed. This painful condition is caused by plaque that is allowed to accumulate on the teeth and turn into a hard substance known as tartar. As tartar builds up it begins to erode away at the gums, creating pockets between the gum line and the teeth that can become infected. 

The disease has different stages, which range from mild to severe. If your cat's gingivitis is allowed to progress to the severe stage, known as periodontal disease, they will likely experience significant pain and are at risk of losing their teeth.

Professional veterinary dental treatment is needed to treat severe cases. 

Signs of Gingivitis in Cats

Common signs of gingivitis in cats are:

  • Difficulty eating or not eating at all
  • Difficulty picking up toys or food
  • Bad breath
  • Red or swollen gums, especially around the area of the inner cheek
  • Drooling
  • Plaque or tartar build-up on the surface of the teeth

Causes of Gingivitis in Cats

Common causes of gingivitis in cats include:

  • Autoimmune Diseases
  • Old age
  • Soft Food
  • Bad Dental Care
  • FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus)
  • Crowded teeth

Diagnosis of Gingivitis in Cats

Cats are good at hiding pain. They may not show any signs of discomfort and be eating normally even if they are in severe oral pain, making dental disease difficult to spot.

Bringing your cat in for an annual dental exam is essential to the detection of dental disease, as a vet is often able to identify signs of conditions while observing an animal and checking for symptoms listed above. 

Treatment for Cats with Gingivitis

Gingivitis treatment focuses on eliminating accumulated plaque and dental calculus. In cases where the teeth cannot be saved, your veterinarian will recommend an extraction. Dental exams for cats are typically done with the use of anesthesia. This allows your vet to thoroughly clean and examine each tooth as well as take any required X-rays. 

If your adult cat's teeth are overcrowded, or if they have leftover baby (deciduous) teeth, your veterinarian may recommend a tooth extraction to help prevent further dental issues. 

The frequency of dental checkups will be determined by the degree of periodontal disease in your cat. Cats with severe gingivitis will likely have to visit more often. In some cases, your regular veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified veterinary dentist for the treatment of severe cases of gum disease or other oral health issues that are out of the scope of a general practitioner. 

Maintaining Your Cat's Teeth

At-home dental care is essential for preventing gingivitis in your feline friend's mouth in the first place. Cat-specific toothbrushes and toothpaste are available for purchase at pet supply stores and can help prevent gingivitis when done regularly. Brushing should be introduced gradually and consistently so that cats become accustomed to it.

Get your cat familiar with toothbrushes and toothpaste

Leave snacks on the counter near the toothpaste and toothbrush so cats can associate something positive with them. You can also place a dab of toothpaste for them to lick off your finger so they get accustomed to it.

Get your cat used to you touching their mouth

Start slow. Begin by gently massaging their front teeth and gums for as long as they will let you. Do this daily, trying to reach farther into their mouths each time. This is all about building trust. Once you and your cat are comfortable, introduce a cat toothbrush (or piece of gauze if they cannot get used to the toothbrush). 

Again, you will have to start slow, aiming to brush a few more teeth each time. 


With your cat used to the toothbrush, toothpaste, and you touching their mouth, it should be easier to brush their teeth. Brush along the gum line for about 15 to 30 seconds, only on the outside of the teeth, and reward them with a treat afterward.

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