Feline Stomatitis: A Pain in the Mouth

Stomatitis

Redness and swelling indicative of stomatitis

You can bet with a high degree of certainty that any medical condition ending in -itis is painful. Think appendicitis, neuritis and bronchitis. The suffix –itis means inflammation. Stomatitis means inflammation of the mouth, and in cats, the redness and swelling seen in the photo on the right characterizes feline stomatitis.

Don’t confuse stomatitis with gingivitis
This cat has gingivitis. The thin red line at the tooth-gum junction seen in the second photograph is gingivitis, which is much less painful and much easier to treat than stomatitis. Gingivitis is a mild, localized form of oral inflammation and stomatitis is more widespread.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis in a cat

Causes of stomatitis
A recent research publication reported on over 5,000 cats. Cats with oral disease were more likely to test positive for either feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Stomatitis was most strongly associated with FIV infection. An exuberant immune reaction to plaque buildup on the teeth has been suggested as a cause of stomatitis. Feline calici virus infection may be the trigger for the exuberant immune reaction against the plaque.

Recognizing stomatitis in your cat
You might not even know your cat has gingivitis unless you lift their lip and look in their mouth. Recognizing stomatitis in your cat is easier. Cats with stomatitis paw at their face, refuse their favorite cat food, drool and yawn. Sometimes you will notice blood in the drool or your cat screaming when she yawns. Any of these clinical signs should provoke a visit to your cat’s veterinarian.

Treatment of stomatitis
A professional dental cleaning will remove plaque, but in severe cases of stomatitis, teeth cleaning may not be enough to correct the problem on a long-term basis. Antibiotic treatment may also provide a short-term benefit through temporary reduction of bacteria levels in the mouth. If these measures do not resolve stomatitis and your cat is still painful, tooth extraction will likely be the next recommended treatment. How many teeth are extracted depends on the severity and location of the oral inflammation. A routine tooth cleaning and extractions of diseased teeth may cure or control the mild cases, but extraction of all molars and premolars is a common prescription. In some cases, removal of all the teeth, including the fangs and the tiny front teeth called incisors is necessary to control stomatitis. After a post-operative recovery period, cats can eat canned food and have an improved quality of life once the stomatitis has resolved. While this sounds drastic, research has shown 80% of cats have resolution of oral pain with tooth extraction.

Cat owner’s role in preventing stomatitis

  • Train your kitten to accept tooth brushing during kittenhood, and brush daily.  This will help to keep levels of plaque low.
  • Treat your cat with products designed to removed plaque and tartar as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Take your cat to the veterinarian for annual examination and recommendations about dental cleaning.
  • Keep your cat indoors to protect them against infection with the feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus.

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