Poor kitty isn’t eating, doesn’t seem to care about grooming, and keeps sneezing. Before you assume it’s just a cat cold, check inside your pet’s mouth. If you see swelling, redness, maybe even pus along an area of the gums, your cat may have a tooth abscess, which should be treated right away to avoid further discomfort and additional health problems.
Causes of a Cat Tooth Abscess
An abscess tooth may begin with a fractured tooth. Older felines with weak teeth are more at risk for a tooth fracture. If your pet chews on something too hard a tooth may split or a piece of it might actually break off, leaving an opening to the root. Bacteria can then get into the sensitive area under the gum and cause an infection. Your cat’s immune system will attempt to fight the infection by sending an army of white blood cells to the area, but these white blood cells build up to create a pus-filled pocket known as an abscess. As pressure builds inside this pocket, your cat will feel pain if anything touches it – food, your hand, even the rub of kitty’s own mouth against the inflamed gum.
Another common cat problem that can cause a tooth abscess is feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion (FORL), which is sometimes also referred to as just TR, for tooth resorptions. With this disease, the cats’ own cells eat away their teeth from the outer layer (enamel) to the inner, soft part of the tooth. The process leaves sores, or lesions, at the gum line. If the FORL isn’t caught early, it can become infected and lead to a tooth abscess. It’s estimated that a third of domesticated cats will suffer this disease during their lifetime.
Periodontal disease caused by a buildup of plaque on your cat’s teeth, can also lead to oral infections and abscesses.
One of the signs of periodontal disease and other dental problems in cats may be bad breath. Drooling, loss of appetite, scratching or pawing at the side of the mouth with the abscess, and bleeding from the mouth are also significant warning signs. Your cat may stop grooming because it’s painful. As the abscess worsens, your cat’s face may swell and the area may feel hot. If the abscess irritates the nasal canal, your cat may also start sneezing a lot.
Cats tend to mask pain very well, so don’t expect your cat to “tell” there’s a problem. Be aware of any of these changes in behavior or use of the mouth since they could point to a dental problem that needs to be treated as soon as possible.
Treatment for an Abscess Tooth
If you or your vet spot the signs of an abscess, a diagnosis can be made from a thorough physical. Sometimes, though, your vet will want to get dental x-rays to confirm the cause of the problem. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection and get rid of the pus, but your vet or a dental specialist will need to remove the affected tooth. Your cat will need to be given anesthesia for the tooth extraction.
Cats over three years of age are at increased risk of dental problems, so paying close attention to an older cat’s mouth is very important. You can check your cat’s teeth regularly and be sure your vet looks them over at regular examinations. The best defense against infections, though, is a good cleaning regimen that includes brushing your cat’s teeth at home. Start by using a cat toothbrush and cat toothpaste for cleanings once a week and build up frequency as your cat gets used to the routine.
More on Dental Health
How to Prevent Dental Health Problems in Cats
Cat and Dog Dental Disease
19 Products That Clean Cat and Dog Teeth
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.