Imagine your gums slowly becoming inflamed, not to mention painful, as a result of plaque buildup on your teeth…
This is gingivitis - the first stage of dental disease and the leading cause of tooth loss in cats.
Gingivitis is certainly an unpleasant condition, but it’s possible to prevent long-term damage before it has a chance to progress to dental disease. Below we’ll take a look at the symptoms, causes and treatments of gingivitis in cats, and explore some of the proactive measures you can take (at any stage of your feline friend’s life) to keep their gums and teeth in tip-top shape.
Feline gingivitis - what’s the deal?
Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums, caused by plaque that has built up on teeth over time. Plaque hardens to form tartar, which acts as a foundation for bacteria to start building up at the base of the gums.
Left untreated, this bacteria moves deeper toward the base of the tooth (under the gums), resulting in swelling, infection and discomfort - sometimes even bleeding. There’s also the risk of gingivitis spreading to other parts of the mouth and bacterial toxins entering the bloodstream, which poses a risk to the entire immune system.
In a nutshell, gingivitis is an oral health nightmare that pet guardians want to avoid. It’s also an issue that can be prevented!
Symptoms and causes
Cats can be aloof, so it can be often hard to spot a dental issue like gingivitis until your kitty is in quite a lot of discomfort. Here are a few telltale signs to look out for:
- Red/swollen gums
- Bad breath
- Visible plaque buildup on teeth
- Weight loss & loss of appetite
- Changes in behavior
The biggest contributing factors to this condition are age, breed, and diet.
Older cats are more likely to suffer from gingivitis due to a lifetime of plaque (if it’s been allowed to build up over the years!), while short-nosed breeds such as Persians or British Shorthairs often have crowded or misaligned teeth (a result of their unique face shape/too many teeth trying to fit inside a small jawbone!) which can be difficult to keep clean.
Then there’s diet.
Highly processed cat foods (many traditional dry kibbles) are full of added carbohydrates, which stick to teeth. If your cat has been eating these foods for years, there’s a high chance their teeth are harboring high levels of plaque!
Treating gingivitis in cats
The first step in treating gingivitis is consulting your vet, who can perform an oral exam. If there’s excessive plaque buildup on your cat’s teeth, they may suggest a cleaning process called ‘scaling’ that allows the vet to safely scrape off plaque and tartar.
After your vet has restored those pearly whites, it’s time to move forward with a prevention strategy based on good nutrition.
The optimal diet for healthy gums and teeth
A moisture-rich, high-meat diet (in other words, a raw or raw alternative diet) will keep your cat’s gums and teeth healthy as it offers natural teeth-cleaning benefits. Here’s why:
Big cats and domestic cats share the same dental structure - they’ve got big canine teeth designed to rip and tear a carcass. The chewing of raw meat and bones naturally scrapes away plaque and polishes teeth.
Raw meat is also rich in natural digestive enzymes, which are little molecules that help your cat break down their food and utilize it effectively throughout their body. These enzymes play a vital role in your cat’s overall health.
Raw alternative food (+ raw meaty bones)
Don't like handling raw meat? ZIWI Peak is a great alternative.
You’ll be pleased to know there’s no gathering and chopping of organs, bones and seafood required - it’s all done for you! Plus it’s as nutrient-dense as a raw diet, but can be safely and conveniently stored in your cupboard (and served for up to 8 weeks after opening).
ZIWI Peak has none of the starchy additives that cling to teeth and cause plaque buildup. It’s also a good idea to give your cat a few raw meaty bones each week to help give their teeth a thorough clean, and visit your vet for regular check-ups.
Preventing gingivitis and gum disease is easier when you have the basics sorted out. If you feed your cat a high-quality, biologically-appropriate diet and take them to the vet for regular check-ups, you’ll be able to stay on top of their oral health and catch any issues before they have a chance to progress.