Mouth Problems in Cats
- Failure to eat. This is one of the first indications of mouth disease. In this case, not eating is caused by mouth pain rather than loss of appetite. The cat will often sit beside the food dish, giving every indication of wanting to eat, and may even begin eating, then drop the food quickly. If you attempt to examine the mouth, the cat draws back and struggles to escape. Not eating is a serious problem in cats. Even going 24 hours without food can cause changes in liver function.
- Unkempt appearance. Because the mouth is used for grooming, another indication of a cat with a sore mouth is lack of grooming. When grooming is accompanied by drooling, the hair on the cat's chin and chest may be dirty and wet. A painful mouth is one of the main causes for drooling. The drool may be discolored-either brown or red from infection or bleeding.
- Bad breath. A persistent, disagreeable odor from the mouth is abnormal. The cause should be determined so proper treatment can be given. Some causes of bad breath are stomatitis and gingivitis. Excess tartar on the teeth is another cause of bad breath (see Gingivitis). A cat with bad breath who drools and resists having her mouth opened may be suffering from an infection or a cancer in the mouth. She should be seen by a veterinarian. Kidney disease can contribute to bad breath and/or cause oral ulcers.
- Gagging, choking, drooling. These all suggest a foreign object in the mouth, tongue, or throat. If an object is not immediately visible, or if you can see it but cannot remove it, the cat should be seen by a veterinarian. Rabies should be considered if the mouth sags open and the cat drools or foams at the mouth. This same picture can be seen in a cat with severe respiratory distress or a cancer in the mouth.
- Difficulty opening the mouth or swallowing. This commonly occurs with head and neck abscesses and injuries to the jaws.
Growths on the Gums
About 10 percent of all feline cancers occur in the mouth, and the majority of these are squamous cell carcinomas (the same cell type that occurs on white ear tips). This cancer tends to start at the base of the tongue-perhaps from cats licking off carcinogenic substances while grooming. This cancer is also associated with exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke.
Cats with oral cancers tend to drool, may sit with the mouth partly open, and often go to the food or water bowls but simply sit and do not try to eat or drink. There is often a bad odor associated with the mouth.
Eosinophilic ulcers can occur on the gums at the back of the jaw behind the last upper molars, although they are more likely to occur on the upper lip.
Treatment: Squamous cell carcinomas of the mouth respond reasonably well to surgery, followed by radiation if they are caught early. This is not a cure, but potentially provides some added quality time.
This article is excerpted from “ Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.
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