Why Is My Cat’s Gums Black? The Truth Behind This Strange Symptom

Introduction

The gums of a healthy cat are normally pink in color. This is due to the healthy blood circulation in the gums. However, in some cases a cat may develop black pigmentation or discoloration in their gums for various reasons.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the possible causes of black gums in cats. We will cover the normal anatomy of a cat’s mouth, common gum colors, breeds prone to black gums, diseases that can cause it, diagnosis methods, treatment options, and tips for prevention.

By the end of this article, cat owners should have a better understanding of why their cat may have black gums and when it could indicate an underlying health issue needing veterinary attention.

Anatomy of a Cat’s Mouth

A cat’s mouth contains many important structures including the gums, which cover the jawbones and surround the teeth. The gums serve to anchor the teeth and protect the bones and blood vessels underneath. They are composed of firm connective tissue covered by a smooth and pink mucous membrane.

The normal pink color of a cat’s gums comes from the healthy blood circulation in the capillaries and blood vessels just under the thin surface membrane. The gums receive a constant blood supply which helps nourish the teeth and provides protection against bacteria and other pathogens.

Cats have short, sharp teeth designed for grasping, tearing and crunching food. The incisors at the front are used for biting and grooming while the pointed canine teeth help seize and kill prey. The premolars and molars in the back grind and chew food. A rough tongue covered in papillae helps cats lap water, groom fur, and rasp meat from bones (source).

Common Gum Colors in Cats

The most common healthy gum color in cats is pink. Pink gums indicate adequate blood flow and oxygenation. As cats age, their gums may fade to a lighter pink or pale pink color, which is also normal.

While pink is considered the default healthy gum shade, some cat breeds are known for having black or very dark gums. For these breeds, black gums are a completely normal variation.

Causes of Black Gums in Cats

There are several potential causes for black gums in cats:

Genetics play a role in some breeds being predisposed to having black pigmentation in their gums. Breeds like the Persian, Himalayan, and Exotic tend to have black or dark gum pigmentation naturally due to their genetics [1].

Certain diseases and medical conditions can also cause a cat’s gums to turn black or develop dark pigmentation:

  • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) – a chronic viral infection that suppresses the immune system
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) – a viral disease that weakens the cat’s immune system
  • Feline oral resorptive lesions – a serious gum disease that can cause lesions and decay
  • Gingivitis/periodontal disease – inflammation and infection of the gums
  • Melanoma – a type of skin cancer that can occur in the mouth
  • Metastatic cancer – cancers like melanoma that have spread to the mouth

In advanced stages, these diseases can cause the gums to turn black, purple, or very dark red as the tissue is damaged and dies. Only a veterinarian can diagnose the specific underlying cause through diagnostic testing.

Breeds Prone to Black Gums

Certain cat breeds are genetically predisposed to having black or dark gums, this is considered normal for these breeds. The most common breeds where blackish gums are typical include:

  • Siamese – Siamese cats tend to have grayish-black gums due to selective breeding for their distinctive colorpoints. The pigmentation in a Siamese cat’s gums matches the pigmentation around their nose and paws.
  • Persian – Some lines of Persian cats can have black/dark pigmented gums. This darker pigmentation is associated with their breed standards.
  • Bombay – Bombay cats, with their jet black coats, tend to also have black gums. This uniform black coloration is characteristic of the breed.

In these breeds, the dark gum coloration is linked to genetics and melanin pigmentation. It is not indicative of any health problem. The dark gums simply match the pigmentation and color standards for that specific breed.

Diseases Causing Black Gums

There are several feline diseases that can cause black spots or discoloration of a cat’s gums:

Melanosis and lentigo are benign skin conditions that create black spots on the gums, lips, nose and eye margins of cats, especially in orange, silver and light colored cats. The dark spots are caused by an increase in melanin production but are not harmful. However, they can be cosmetically unappealing.

More serious diseases like chronic kidney disease can also cause blackening of the gums in cats. As toxins build up in a cat’s body due to kidney dysfunction, it can cause oral pigmentation changes. The gums may turn black, purple or red as the disease progresses. Additional symptoms include increased thirst, weight loss, poor appetite and vomiting.

Other diseases like Addison’s disease, liver disease and some cancers are also associated with black discolored gums in felines. That’s why it’s important to have a vet evaluate any gum color changes to determine if an underlying illness is causing the problem.

In almost all cases, treating the primary disease will help resolve secondary symptoms like gum discoloration. The outlook depends on the underlying cause and how quickly it’s addressed. With benign spotting, the dark patches require no treatment themselves.

Diagnosing the Cause

Veterinarians use a variety of methods to diagnose what’s causing a cat’s black gums. They’ll start by taking the cat’s full medical history and performing a thorough physical exam to check for signs of disease. The vet will pay close attention to the cat’s oral health, noting any dental issues, gum inflammation, masses, or other abnormalities in the mouth.

Diagnostic testing may include bloodwork to look for infections, kidney issues, or other systemic diseases. Urinalysis can also provide clues to overall health. X-rays allow vets to inspect the teeth roots and jaw for problems like infections or cancerous growths. A biopsy of the gums may be done to analyze tissue under a microscope.

Cultures can help identify bacterial or fungal infections causing gum issues. Feline leukemia and FIV testing checks for viruses that could produce oral cavities lesions. Full dental cleanings and exams under anesthesia often reveal underlying issues. With a combination of a full health workup and targeted oral exams, veterinarians can pinpoint what’s causing a cat’s black gums.

Treatment Options

The treatment for black gums in cats depends on the underlying cause. Identifying and addressing the root issue is key to resolving the gum discoloration.

For example, if kidney disease is causing the black pigmentation, the veterinarian may recommend special kidney-friendly food, subcutaneous fluids to improve hydration, and medications to help support kidney function. Lifestyle changes like feeding wet food, adding more water bowls around the home, and reducing stress can also be beneficial.

In cases of gum disease, a thorough dental cleaning by a vet along with daily tooth brushing and dental treats may be advised. Antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications could be prescribed to reduce infection and inflammation.

Melanoma and other oral cancers often require surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or immunotherapy. Catching it early and removing malignant tumors is critical.

Thus, proper diagnosis guides the treatment plan. Working closely with the veterinarian and following their recommendations provides the best chance of resolving the underlying issue and returning the cat’s gums to a healthy pink color.

Lifestyle Tips

It’s important for cat owners to take proactive steps to maintain their cat’s gum health through lifestyle habits and routine care.

Bring your cat to the veterinarian for regular dental exams, usually once a year. The vet will check for signs of gum disease, tooth decay, or other oral health issues. Early detection allows treatment to begin right away, before problems worsen.

Implement a dental hygiene routine at home too. Brushing your cat’s teeth daily using a soft-bristled toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste is ideal. Focus on the outer surfaces of the teeth and gums. Offer dental treats or chews to supplement brushing. These help remove plaque and tartar buildup.

Feeding crunchy kibble instead of wet food also helps scrub the teeth clean as cats chew. Choose a diet specifically formulated for dental health. Avoid soft, sticky foods that can get trapped between teeth. Stay hydrated by providing fresh water daily.

With diligent at-home care and regular vet visits, cat owners can help their furry friends maintain healthy gums and avoid issues down the road.

Summary

In summary, several things can cause black gums or spots in cats. Breeds with diluted coat colors like orange, silver, and light-colored cats are prone to lentigo, a harmless pigmentation condition. However, black gums can also signal serious illnesses like stomatitis, cancer, melanomas, or fungal infections. If your cat’s gums suddenly turn black or develop new dark spots, it’s important to have your vet examine them. An oral exam and dental x-rays can determine if there is an underlying disease causing the change in gum color. With prompt diagnosis, many conditions leading to black gums can be successfully treated. Regular toothbrushing and dental cleanings may help prevent gum disease in cats prone to dental issues. While black gums are not always a cause for alarm, a sudden color change warrants a trip to the vet to identify the cause and treat it if needed.

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