Chronic Feline Gingivostomatitis

By: Debra Nossaman, DVM

TVMA Member
North Richland Hills, TX

Published October 2016

Gingivostomatitis in cats is a severe inflammation or ulceration of the oral tissues. It is frequently debilitating and causes the following clinical signs:

  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty eating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Weight loss
  • Reclusive behavior

Some cats experience so much pain they may be observed crying out and/or dropping food when attempting to eat.

Even the tissues in the back of the throat can become red, swollen and irritated, making it extremely painful for the cat to swallow.

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Cat with gingivostomatitis.

Current data suggests that this disorder may have an immune-mediated etiology but is generally considered to have many contributing factors.

There is no effective treatment or cure for this debilitating and painful condition. Cats with this disorder rarely respond to medical treatment without meticulous oral hygiene, which is difficult to achieve in a cat with a painful mouth. Steroids have been used to provide initial relief. However, when steroids are used long-term, they lose their effectiveness and can cause adverse side effects.

Other treatment options can include interferon and cyclosporin to help block the immune system’s attack on the tissue and laser therapy to help with healing and irritation, but these options still remain palliative at best. Antibiotics in conjunction with any of the above treatments may provide some benefit by decreasing the amount of bacteria in the plaque build-up, which may be a trigger for the cat’s immune response. But again, this relief is generally temporary.

Greater than 80 percent of the cats afflicted with this disease can experience complete relief by extraction of all their teeth. Fortunately, cats that have all their teeth removed can still eat effectively. However, even after all of the teeth have been removed, some cats may require additional medical treatment. The cats with this disorder that have extractions performed earlier in the course of the disease have a greater cure rate and tend not to require further treatment. This is in contrast to the cats in which medical management of this disease was tried for a number of years. In other words, the sooner all the teeth are removed, the greater the chance for a complete cure.

Studies show that cats experience pain similar to humans. However, they tend to hide their pain because they have evolved not to show pain or signs that would be regarded as a weakness by other members of their species or even by other species. Therefore, annual exams with your family veterinarian are recommended to identify and treat this problem as soon as possible.

Debra Nossaman, DVM, is a graduate of Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and lives in North Richland Hills, Texas. Dr. Nossaman currently works at Dallas Veterinary Dentistry & Oral Surgery located in Southlake, Texas.