Feline Frenzy. How Stomatitis Spreads in Cats

What is Stomatitis in Cats?

Stomatitis is an inflammatory condition affecting the mouth of cats. It causes severe inflammation in the mouth including the gums, tongue, lips, and throat according to PetMD (https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/mouth/c_ct_stomatitis).

The inflammation is painful and makes it difficult for the cat to eat or drink. Common symptoms include excessive drooling, bad breath, ulcers and redness on the gums and mouth lining, bleeding from the mouth, and loss of appetite, weight, or energy according to VCA Animal Hospitals (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/gingivitis-and-stomatitis-in-cats).

Stomatitis is a complex condition that can range from mild inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) to severe inflammation of the entire mouth.

Causes of Stomatitis in Cats

The exact cause of stomatitis in cats is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve an abnormal immune system response in the mouth. Several factors may contribute to the development of stomatitis:

Overactive Immune System: Cats with stomatitis often have an overactive immune system that sees normal bacteria and other organisms in the mouth as foreign invaders. This leads to chronic inflammation and ulcers in the mouth.

Bacteria, Viruses, and Fungi: While not a direct cause, bacterial, viral, and fungal infections in the mouth can trigger an inappropriate immune reaction. Calicivirus, herpesvirus, and feline immunodeficiency virus have been associated with stomatitis.1

Dental Disease: Accumulation of plaque and tartar on the teeth provide an ideal environment for bacteria to multiply. This bacterial overload exacerbates the immune response.2

Foreign Objects: Cats can develop stomatitis after trauma from foreign objects like bones, sticks or grass awns lodging in their mouth. These objects allow bacteria to enter the lining of the mouth.3

How Stomatitis Spreads in Cats

Although stomatitis is not contagious, the inflammation in a cat’s mouth can potentially spread to other cats under certain circumstances. Here are some of the ways stomatitis can spread between cats:

Through saliva: The bacteria and viruses that contribute to stomatitis can be passed from one cat to another through saliva. This is most likely to occur when cats groom each other or share food and water bowls.

From shared food/water bowls: When cats eat and drink from the same bowls, saliva can be exchanged, allowing stomatitis-causing germs to spread. Using separate bowls for each cat reduces this risk.

From grooming: As cats lick and groom each other, saliva is shared, which can potentially transfer the inflammation to the other cat. Cats from the same litter are especially likely to spread stomatitis through grooming.

Through respiratory droplets: Upper respiratory viruses can contribute to stomatitis in cats. Sneezing and coughing can spread these viruses through the air. Keeping sick cats isolated limits spread through respiratory droplets.

Risk Factors for Spread

Certain conditions can increase the risk of stomatitis spreading between cats in close contact. Some key risk factors include:

  • Multi-cat households – Cats housed together are in frequent close contact, increasing exposure risk. Stomatitis can spread through shared food/water bowls, mutual grooming, and shared litter boxes (source).
  • Shelters/colonies – Group living situations like shelters or feral colonies increase risk of transmission via shared resources and close quarters (source).
  • Shared litter boxes – Using the same litter boxes can facilitate spread through exposure to saliva or secretions (source).
  • Close contact – Direct interaction like play, nuzzling, or mutual grooming can increase exposure risk.

Minimizing close contact and sharing of resources can help reduce transmission risk. Isolating affected cats when possible is also recommended.

Preventing Spread

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent the spread of stomatitis between cats:

Isolate infected cats – Cats with active stomatitis should be kept separate from other cats in the home as much as possible. Give them their own room, litter box, food bowls etc. to limit contact and potential spread.

Disinfect bowls, toys, litterbox – Any items the infected cat touches should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected regularly. Use a dilute bleach solution or veterinary disinfectant.

Limit shared items – Do not allow sharing of items like food bowls, water bowls, toys, bedding etc. between infected and non-infected cats.

Limit contact with other cats – Restrict contact with other household cats or neighborhood/stray cats. Keep infected cats indoors. Do not allow mutual grooming or play that involves oral contact.

Vaccinate healthy cats – Ensuring all cats in the home are up-to-date on vaccines can help prevent infections that could lead to stomatitis flare ups. [1]

Diagnosing Stomatitis

There is no simple laboratory test to diagnose stomatitis in cats, though veterinarians may suspect the condition based on a cat’s symptoms and an examination of its mouth. The primary way vets diagnose stomatitis is by doing a thorough oral examination.

During the oral exam, the vet will look for key signs of stomatitis including severe inflammation of the gums (gingiva) along with ulcers and redness on the gums and mouth lining. The vet will also check for loose teeth, excessive plaque buildup, and abnormal growths.

Vets may take biopsies of the gums and mouth lining to analyze the cells and determine the extent of inflammation present. Bloodwork can also be done to check for underlying issues or infections that could be contributing to the stomatitis.

Owners may notice symptoms at home like halitosis, drooling, decreased appetite, and weight loss. However, only a veterinarian can officially diagnose stomatitis in cats through a professional oral examination and potential biopsies.

Treating Stomatitis

There are several main options for treating stomatitis in cats. Since stomatitis is often secondary to dental disease, a full dental cleaning and extraction of diseased teeth is often the first step. Anti-inflammatories and steroids like prednisolone are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief (1). Antibiotics may also be used to control secondary infection. More aggressive treatments aim to modulate the cat’s immune response. These include cyclosporine (2), interferon therapy, and removing all premolar and molar teeth. Strong pain medication is also an important component of treatment. With proper therapy, most cats can experience significantly improved comfort and quality of life. Treatment is tailored to each patient based on factors like disease severity, cost, and owner preferences.

1. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/gingivitis-and-stomatitis-in-cats
2. https://www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?pId=22915&catId=124644&id=8896564&ind=189&objTypeID=17


The prognosis for cats with stomatitis varies depending on the severity of the condition. Mild cases of stomatitis often respond well to treatment like antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and professional dental cleanings. According to PetMD, up to 90% of cats who undergo full mouth extractions experience a complete resolution of symptoms. However, stomatitis is considered a chronic condition, so even after successful treatment, recurrence is possible.

For cats with more severe stomatitis that is not resolved with extractions, the prognosis is more guarded. These cats may require lifelong management with medication, special diets, and frequent veterinary care. According to VCA Hospitals, the prognosis needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. While full recovery is possible with aggressive treatment, some cats continue to experience symptoms and pain despite therapy. Euthanasia may be considered for cats with refractory stomatitis that significantly impacts their quality of life.

Overall, stomatitis can be a challenging condition to treat but many cats go on to live happy lives with proper veterinary care and management at home. Close monitoring and follow-up exams are important, even after symptoms resolve, since recurrences are common. With a combination of extractions, medication, and dietary changes, the prognosis for stomatitis is fair to good for most feline patients.

Impact on Cat’s Health

Stomatitis can have a significant impact on a cat’s health and quality of life. The inflammation and ulceration is extremely painful for cats. According to PetMD, the lesions make it difficult and painful for the cat to eat, swallow, and even open its mouth.

The pain and difficulty eating often leads to weight loss in affected cats. PetMD states that cats with stomatitis often lose weight and become undernourished due to their inability to eat properly. This weight loss can become life-threatening if the cat cannot get adequate nutrition.

Stomatitis may also cause noticeable behavior changes in cats. The Bolingbrook Veterinary Hospital explains that cats with this condition tend to avoid chewing due to the pain it causes. Owners may notice their cat prefers wet food or does not eat dry kibble anymore. Cats may also exhibit anti-social behavior, aggression, and other signs of discomfort.

According to Trico Animal Clinic, stomatitis significantly reduces a cat’s quality of life. The constant pain makes it difficult for cats to engage in normal activities and behaviors. Prompt treatment is necessary to manage pain and ensure cats can maintain proper nutrition.

When to See a Vet

If your cat is displaying any of the following symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Loss of appetite or not eating
  • Lethargy and isolation

These can all be signs of stomatitis in cats. According to PetMD, inflammation and ulcers in a cat’s mouth from stomatitis can be extremely painful and make it difficult for them to eat. This can lead to weight loss, lethargy, and other concerning symptoms.

It’s important to have your vet examine your cat’s mouth as soon as you notice any suspicious symptoms. They can help diagnose the issue and determine the best treatment options, which may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, or tooth extraction surgery in severe cases.

The earlier stomatitis is detected in cats, the better the chances of successful treatment and preventing complications. So schedule that vet appointment without delay if you suspect your cat may have this painful mouth condition.

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