How to Beat Cat Gingivitis for Good

What is Feline Gingivitis?

Feline gingivitis is inflammation of the gums, or gingiva, in cats. It is caused by a buildup of plaque on the teeth, which is a sticky film made up of food particles, saliva, and bacteria (1). As plaque accumulates, it causes irritation and inflammation along the gumline. The bacteria in plaque also release toxins that damage the gums and underlying bone (2).

The signs of feline gingivitis include (3):

    a cat with inflamed gums.

  • Red, swollen gums
  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Pus between teeth and gums
  • Loose or damaged teeth

If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, a more severe inflammation affecting deeper gum tissues and tooth roots. Feline gingivitis is common in cats and requires veterinary treatment to prevent ongoing dental disease.





Causes of Feline Gingivitis

The main cause of feline gingivitis is plaque buildup. Plaque is a sticky film composed of food particles, saliva, and bacteria that adheres to the teeth and gums. Without proper dental hygiene, plaque will accumulate and begin to harden into tartar. The bacteria in plaque release toxins that cause inflammation and irritation of the gums, leading to gingivitis.

Some of the most common bacteria implicated in feline gingivitis include Porphyromonas gingivalis, Tannerella forsythia, and Prevotella intermedia. These bacteria thrive in the mouth and release toxins that attack the periodontium (the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth). As gingivitis worsens, the inflammation can spread deeper below the gumline and damage the ligaments and bone that hold the teeth in place.

Poor dental hygiene is another major contributing factor. Cats are prone to gingivitis if owners do not regularly brush their teeth or provide dental treats/chews. Tartar and plaque buildup exacerbates inflammation. Saliva also helps neutralize bacteria and acids in the mouth, so dehydration or decreased saliva production can increase the risk of gingivitis.

Underlying health issues may also make cats more prone to gingivitis. Conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, and immunodeficiency can impair healing and the body’s defenses against oral bacteria. Certain medications like steroids may also have immunosuppressive effects. Cats with abnormal tooth anatomy or misaligned bites are also at higher risk (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Risk Factors

an older cat with dental issues.

Certain factors can increase a cat’s risk of developing gingivitis:

Age – Older cats are more prone to gingivitis as plaque and tartar buildup occurs over time. Gingivitis is rare in kittens but becomes more common as cats get older.

Breed – Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like Persians and Exotics are more prone to gingivitis due to overcrowding of teeth and poor occlusion.

Diet – Dry food helps scrape plaque off teeth while wet food adheres to teeth. Cats that only eat wet food may be more prone to plaque buildup and gingivitis.

Other Conditions – Diseases like diabetes or kidney disease can increase susceptibility to oral inflammation. Medications that cause dry mouth also increase plaque buildup.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common signs of feline gingivitis include:

  • Red, swollen gums – This is usually the first noticeable symptom. The gums will appear inflamed and reddened, especially around the cheek teeth where plaque tends to accumulate.

  • Bad breath – Gingivitis causes a buildup of bacteria in the mouth which leads to a foul odor.

  • Bleeding gums – Inflamed gums can bleed easily, especially when eating or chewing on toys.

  • Loss of appetite – If the infection is severe, the discomfort may cause a loss of appetite.

  • Drooling – Excessive drooling can occur as swallowing becomes painful.

According to Source 1, red, swollen gums are usually the first noticeable sign of feline gingivitis. The gums will appear inflamed and reddened, especially around the cheek teeth where plaque accumulation is common.


Diagnosing gingivitis in cats starts with an oral exam by the veterinarian. They will look for signs of inflammation, redness, bleeding, and tartar buildup around the teeth and gums. The vet will also check for loose or missing teeth. Dental x-rays may be recommended to evaluate the health of the tooth roots and look for abscesses or other issues below the gumline that cannot be seen on an oral exam. Blood tests may also be performed, as severe dental disease can lead to infection spreading in the cat’s body.

According to Cornell Feline Health Center, “Diagnosis is made by examination of the mouth and teeth. Because of the pain associated with palpation of the mouth, cats may require sedation or anesthesia for a thorough oral examination.”



The treatment for feline gingivitis focuses on improving dental hygiene, providing antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and administering pain medication.

To improve dental hygiene, the cat will need a professional dental cleaning under anesthesia to thoroughly remove plaque and tartar from the teeth and below the gumline. This helps reduce bacteria, inflammation, and facilitates healing. Many times dental x-rays are taken to evaluate the tooth roots and look for signs of infection. Extracting severely damaged teeth may be necessary.

a cat getting its teeth cleaned.

Vets commonly prescribe antibiotics like amoxicillin or clindamycin for several weeks to treat bacterial infection and support the cat’s immune system. Anti-inflammatory medication like steroids may also be given to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief.

Pain management is important, both during dental procedures and for a few days after. Vets often administer injectable pain medication, but may also prescribe oral medication like buprenorphine to give cats at home.

With proper treatment, most cases of feline gingivitis can be successfully managed. However, gingivitis may return if preventative dental care is not continued at home.

Home Care

There are several things you can do at home to help care for a cat with gingivitis:

Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is important for preventing plaque buildup that can lead to gingivitis. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and cat-safe toothpaste. Take it slow and make it a positive experience for your cat. According to The Dodo, your vet may recommend using an oral rinse after brushing to help fight stubborn plaque.

Feeding your cat a dental diet designed to help clean teeth and freshen breath can also help reduce plaque buildup. There are prescription dental diets as well as dental kibble options.

Regular veterinary visits are important for professional cleanings and to monitor your cat’s oral health. Your vet can assess the severity of gingivitis and provide any additional treatments needed, such as antibiotics or tooth extractions.


With proper treatment and care, the prognosis for feline gingivitis is often good. In many mild to moderate cases, gingivitis will resolve completely with professional dental cleanings and ongoing home dental care [1]. However, gingivitis can recur quickly if home care and regular professional cleanings are not maintained. In fact, feline gingivitis often comes and goes in cycles if underlying causes like tartar buildup and plaque are not continually managed.

Unfortunately, without proper treatment and prevention, feline gingivitis can progress into a more serious condition called periodontitis. Periodontitis causes destruction of the tissues and bone surrounding teeth and can lead to tooth loss. For this reason, ongoing dental care and regular veterinary cleanings are imperative for cats diagnosed with gingivitis, in order to prevent worsening of the condition over time.


Preventing gingivitis in cats revolves around controlling plaque buildup. Here are some key ways to prevent gingivitis:

brushing a cat's teeth.

Regular dental cleanings by a veterinarian are important to fully remove plaque buildup and tartar from a cat’s teeth. Professional cleanings allow veterinarians to assess oral health and treat any issues. Cleanings are recommended at least annually for most cats based on risk factors.[1]

Brushing your cat’s teeth daily is the most effective way to remove plaque at home. Use a soft-bristled brush and cat-friendly toothpaste. Introduce brushing gradually and make it a positive experience with rewards.[2]

Dental diets for cats are formulated to scrub the teeth during chewing and disrupt plaque. They may contain additives to limit plaque production as well. However, dental diets alone are usually inadequate for preventing significant plaque buildup.[3]

Addressing other health issues like diabetes can help manage gingivitis risk. Any condition that suppresses the immune system or causes inflammation can increase susceptibility to oral infections.

When to See a Vet

It’s important to take your cat to the veterinarian if you notice any signs of gingivitis. Key symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Red, swollen gums – inflammation and swelling of the gums is a hallmark sign of cat gingivitis.
  • Loss of appetite – dental pain from gingivitis may cause your cat to eat less.
  • Bad breath – persistent bad breath or halitosis can indicate gum disease.
  • Bleeding gums – inflamed gums often bleed easily, especially during eating or tooth brushing.
  • Drooling – excessive drooling is sometimes seen with painful gum infections.

The earlier gingivitis is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome for your cat. Left untreated, gingivitis can progress to much more serious dental disease and tooth loss. It’s recommended to have your veterinarian examine your cat’s teeth annually or biannually and whenever you notice any of the above symptoms.

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