My Cat Has Red and Swollen Gums - Stomatitis in Cats
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As with any disease which ends in -itis, stomatitis is a type of inflammation. In this case it is the inflammation of the mouth and gums. However, in cats, it is most commonly seen in the gums alone. It is very closely related to gingivitis. In fact, what we call stomatitis in cats is sometimes referred to as gingivostomatitis. While it can be very damaging and uncomfortable for cats, it is also often not diagnosed for long periods. Since cats are good at hiding pain, they may not alert us to the problem until it is acute.
AnimalWised looks into one of the main reasons why your cat has red and swollen gums; stomatitis. We discuss its possible causes, symptoms and treatment.
What is stomatitis in cats?
Feline stomatitis or gingivostomatitis is an infectious disease which leads to inflammation of the gums and surrounding mouth areas. The evolution of the problem is slow, but it is also chronic. For this reason it is sometimes referred to as Feline Chronic Gingivostomatitis (FCGS). A cat with red and swollen gums will likely have a version of stomatitis or gingivitis.
What causes stomatitis in cats?
We know that the prevalence of stomatitis in cats is somewhere between 0.7% and 12%. In the USA alone, this means the amount of cats affected is somewhere between 500,000 and 11 million cats. However, the causes of feline stomatitis are relatively poorly understood. What is generally believed is that the causes are multifaceted.
Some underlying factors including periodontal disease caused by bacterial or viral infections are believed to be part of the cause. However, immunity related issues are also considered an important factor. This is why cats with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV - also known as feline AIDS), feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and other conditions leading to immunosuppression are linked to stomatitis.
The disease will progressively cause lesions in the mucosa of the oral cavity, i.e. the gums. This means the gums are not only red and swollen, but will likely be bleeding. The longer we leave diagnosis and treatment, the more problematic and less treatable will be the condition. In order to protect your cat from the possible dangers of stomatitis, we should look at their mouth regularly for any symptoms of stomatitis. We detail these symptoms below.
Symptoms of stomatitis in cats
The beginning of stomatitis is inflammation of the gums, something which it has in common with other types of gingivitis. The inflammation can be focal or diffuse, i.e. in one part of the mouth or all over, respectively. From these early symptoms, it will progress to develop these other issues:
- Ulcerative lesions in the oral cavity and tongue
- Bleeding gums
- Excessive salivation or drooling
- Bad breath
- Difficulty eating
- Weight loss
- Pain, especially when the mouth is manipulated
- Tooth loss
Since the cat has pain and sensitivity in their mouth, it can make eating difficult. This is especially the case if the majority of their diet is based on hard kibble. The discomfort the cat experiences may be sufficient to prevent them eating at all. This discomfort can also result in the cat not grooming as much as before. If their mouth hurts, they are less likely to want to lick themselves. Since cats are such hygienic animals, if they stop
If the cat stops eating, they will lose weight, lack energy and generally feel run down. However, since the problem is believed to be related to immunodeficiency diseases, we need to be aware of other symptoms. We also need to be aware that the cat is likely more vulnerable to disease in general thanks to a compromised immune system. Feline stomatitis can affect cats of any age and it can help promote other dental problems in cats such as periodontal disease in cats.
Treatment of stomatitis in cats
If your cat has red and swollen gums, the veterinarian will suspect stomatitis. They will need to carry out various tests to diagnose the problem. These tests will usually begin with a physical examination of the oral cavity. They will need to run histological tests, meaning they will need to take a sample of the tissue and look at it under a microscope. They may also carry out a blood test to confirm the specific problem.
Treatment will depend on the individual cat and the degree to which the infection presents. However, it is very important to note that stomatitis is chronic and has not cure. Treatment of feline stomatitis involves managing symptoms and alleviating any related pain. It will also be helped by continuing treatment for any underlying conditions which may be exacerbating the stomatitis.
Since the causes of feline estomatitis are multifaceted, the treatment method also needs to be involved. Animal dentists refer to the treatment approach as COHAT which stands for Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment. This may include:
- Pain medication
- Immunotherapy for any related conditions
- Antibiotics for secondary infections
- Interferon therapy if there is a viral disease
- Tooth extraction
Tooth extraction will occur in advanced and severe cases of stomatitis in cats. For this reason, it is likely they will need a dietary change and will only be able to eat wet food. When the condition is too progressed and the prognosis is bad, the cat may not respond to treatment. In these cases, the cat may be euthanized.
Caring for a cat with stomatitis
As we have stated above, the treatment of stomatitis in cats consists of symptom management. There are other things you can do at home to help improve their quality of life. They include:
- Change the cat's feed to a soft-food diet. This will prevent the pain of trying to eat hard kibble. However, we need to be aware of any nutritional changes this causes the cat as it can lead to problems such as obesity.
- Your cat may be scared and frightened, perhaps not wanting to eat on their own. In these cases, you can help by reassuring the cat during feeding time.
- If the cat has lost severe weight, your veterinarian may recommend providing some supplements until they get their appetite back.
Since the causes of stomatitis in cats are relatively unknown, it is difficult to implement prevention methods. However, you can help them maintain general oral hygiene by cleaning the cat's teeth a minimum of once a week. Since it can be difficult to do so, our article on how to clean a cat's teeth might be useful.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Has Red and Swollen Gums - Stomatitis in Cats, we recommend you visit our Infectious diseases category.
1. Winer, J. N., Arzi, B., & Verstraete, F. J. M. (2016). Therapeutic Management of Feline Chronic Gingivostomatitis: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 3, 54.
2. Rodrigues, M. X., et al. (2019). The subgingival microbial community of feline periodontitis and gingivostomatitis: characterization and comparison between diseased and healthy cats. Scientific Reports, 9, 12340.