What do healthy cat gums have to do with your kitty’s health? As it turns out…so much!
Not only are healthy gums essential to your cat’s dental health, but their appearance can also provide some important clues (and warning signs) about your feline’s overall health.
So here’s a helpful guide that’s all about healthy cat gums, what they should look like, and how you can use what you see to help keep your cat in good health.
Healthy Gums in Cats: What to Look for
When your veterinarian takes a peek inside your cat’s mouth during an exam, they can collect health data about your pet simply by examining your cat’s gums. From hydration, oxygenation, and red blood cell function to potential diseases, the appearance of your cat’s gums can reveal a lot.
Learning how to interpret what your cat’s gum condition is telling you could help you recognize signs of oral or overall health issues, so you can alert your veterinarian before they become bigger issues.
Monitoring Your Cat’s Gum Health
For an otherwise healthy cat, pet parents should ideally take a quick peek at their cats’ gums every week to monitor for emerging abnormalities. If your cat is unwell, you might want to increase that to daily gum checks to monitor for changes.
So what should you be looking for, when examining your cat’s gums?
If you gently press your cat’s gums or the inside of their lip, the surface should temporarily blanch (or pale) in color until blood returns to the tissue. This is known as capillary refill time (CRT) and it can provide key information about your pet’s blood flow and cardiovascular system. Normally, your cat’s gum color should return in under two seconds when pressed.
It’s worth noting that some cats have small black spots or splotches on their gums and the inside of their mouths. This discoloration is due to lentigo simplex, a benign condition (similar to freckles or age spots in humans) that requires no treatment.
Warnings Signs to Watch Out for
You should notify your veterinarian if your cat’s normally pink, moist gums exhibit any of the following changes:
- Color change: Gum discoloration, as discussed in further detail below, can indicate signs of systemic disease.
- Dryness: Moist gums indicate that your cat is likely well-hydrated. Dry gums are abnormal and could signal possible dehydration, which is cause for concern.
- Inflammation: Gums that become swollen or red, especially where the gumline meets the teeth, indicate dental disease. Inflamed gum tissue may also bleed easily and is definitely something you should report to your veterinarian.
- Lesions: Also alert your veterinarian if you notice raised tissue, gum injuries, or unusual masses on your cat’s gums, which require veterinary care.
- Overgrowth: Gums that look like they’re growing over teeth may indicate gingival hyperplasia (proliferative gum tissue), which can stem from dental disease and bacteria in the mouth.
Cat Gum Color Chart
Gum color can tell you a lot about your cat’s health. Color changes can indicate underlying health problems, many of which could be deadly without prompt veterinary attention and treatment.
Here’s a quick reference guide to cat gum color:
|Gum color||What it could mean||What to do|
|Pink||Normal and healthy||Nothing|
|Pale Pink or White||Abnormal, indicating possible anemia or low blood pressure||Contact your vet ASAP, especially if your cat is acting lethargic|
|Bright Red (gum margin)||Could indicate gingivitis||Schedule a dental checkup with your vet|
|Bright Red (entire gumline)||May signal heatstroke, an allergic reaction, or sepsis||Seek emergency veterinary care|
|Brick Red or Brown||Suggests certain diseases or possible ingestion of toxins, such as acetaminophen||Contact your vet ASAP|
|Yellow||Could indicate hemolytic anemia, liver or gallbladder issues||Schedule a vet exam for testing|
|Blue, Purple, or Gray||Sign of low blood oxygen||Seek emergency veterinary care|
|Black||Typically normal in cats with darker skin; however raised black spots could indicate an oral mass||If raised, schedule a vet exam for testing|
What Causes Unhealthy Cat Gums?
Many things can contribute to dental disease in cats. Here, we’ve outlined the most common causes of unhealthy gums in cats.
Poor dental hygiene and dental disease are the leading causes of unhealthy gum tissue in cats. Without proper care and cleaning, your cat’s mouth becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, which often leads to dental disease.
Changes in your cat’s gums may be the first indication of dental disease since the impact of bacteria on soft tissue is more visible than changes to hard tooth enamel or the roots below the surface.
Warning signs include inflammation of the gum line, known as gingivitis, receding gums, and excessive gum tissue growth.
Due to various genetic factors, certain cat breeds may face an increased risk of developing gingivitis and other dental disease that can affect the gums. At-risk breeds include:
Some underlying systemic illnesses can increase the risk of dental disease and poor gum health in cats. These include:
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
- Bartonellosis (the culprit behind cat scratch fever)
Though rare, the presence of oral tumors in cats is typically not a good sign, as many are, unfortunately, malignant. If you notice any raised masses in your cat’s mouth, or if your cat is suddenly drooling, dropping food, reluctant to eat, or experiencing halitosis (bad breath), schedule your kitty for a vet examination as soon as possible.
Why Healthy Cat Gums Matter
Healthy gums are essential for your cat’s well-being. Gingivitis, the inflammation of the gum line, is painful. As it progresses, it can lead to gum recession, exposing tooth roots and intensifying mouth pain and sensitivity.
Identifying and treating gingivitis early is crucial to prevent dental disease from progressing to periodontal disease, which can cause decay, bone loss, and infection, sometimes requiring extractions.
Severe dental disease allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream, affecting organs like the brain, heart, liver, and more. Dental issues have also been linked to cognitive dysfunction in older cats. Furthermore, dental problems can lead to poor nutrition and weight loss, due to pain while eating.
What to Do If Your Cat Has Unhealthy Gums
While an oral exam is part of your cat’s annual checkup, there’s no need to wait for your vet to tell you there’s a potential problem when it’s so easy to detect changes to your cat’s gum condition, color, or appearance at home.
If you suspect that your cat has unhealthy gums, it’s crucial to consult your veterinarian as soon as you notice worrisome signs or changes. Avoid home treatment, especially if your cat shows signs of illness like lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, or labored breathing. And remember: Very pale, bright red, yellow, or blue gums require immediate veterinary care.
How to Maintain Healthy Cat Gums
Preventative care is the key to maintaining healthy gums in your cat. This includes regular veterinary exams and professional dental cleaning when recommended by your vet.
Consistent at-home care and dental hygiene can also play a role in helping prevent dental disease and gum issues. Here are some effective preventive measures veterinarians recommend:
1. Daily teeth brushing with pet-safe enzymatic toothpaste
2. Water additives approved by the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council)
3. Dental treats
4. Dental wipes
5. Breath fresheners that also promote dental health
6. Dental diets for cats
7. Prescription dental diets
But remember that preventing other health conditions can also play a role in promoting gum health. Ask your vet about routine bloodwork and urinalysis to help detect early signs of health issues like kidney or liver disease, which can impact gum health.
Healthy cat gums are a vital part of your feline friend’s health. By understanding what to look for and how to maintain gum health, you can ensure that your cat enjoys a happy, pain-free life. Don’t hesitate to consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your cat’s gum health. Your cat’s comfort and well-being are worth it.