Also known as gingiva, the gums are a pink mucous membrane surrounding the dental bone and teeth. Healthy gums will be a light pink colour and should be shiny and firm to the touch. The gums should fit snugly around the tooth, with no pockets or redness along the margins.
Changes in the colour of gums
Some diseases and disorders can affect the colours of the gums, and during a physical examination, your veterinarian will check the colour of the gums for signs of illness.
- Blue-tinged gums – Cyanosis (lack of oxygen).
- Chocolate brown gums – Methemoglobinemia.
- Pale gums – Anemia, blood loss, shock.
- Yellow gums – Jaundice.
- Bright pink/red gums – Heatstroke, carbon monoxide poisoning.
Black spots on gums
Flat, black spots can occur on the gums, especially in orange of silver cats. This is a harmless condition known as lentigo and is perfectly normal.
What diseases can affect the gums?
- Gingivitis – This is the mildest form of periodontal disease and is characterised by an inflammation of the gums. Symptoms include red gums, especially along the margins, bad breath, receding gum line, drooling. Left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease (see below).
- Periodontal (gum) disease – Left untreated, gingivitis progresses to periodontal disease, in which the gums begin to shrink, bone is lost and teeth become loose.
- Gingival hyperplasia – A condition in which the gums begin to enlarge. It may affect a single tooth or the entire mouth. Certain drugs and plaque may play a role in the development of this condition. Other symptoms you may notice include bad breath and bleeding gums.
- Abscess – A dental abscess can occur anywhere in the mouth and is a firm, round mass on the gum.
- Stomatitis – is a chronic condition characterised by inflammation and ulceration of the soft tissues in the mouth. Other symptoms include drooling, difficulty eating and bad breath.
What are the signs of gum problems in cats?
- Red gum margins where the gums meet the teeth
- Gums which bleed easily.
- Bad breath.
- Ulcers on the gums.
- Reluctance to eat.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
Capillary refill time
Capillary refill time (CRT) is a simple method to determine the amount of blood flow to the tissue. A slow capillary refill time can be indicative of shock, dehydration and heart problems. A quick CRT can occur in a cat affected by heatstroke.
To test the CRT, place your finger on the cat’s gum and apply a small amount of pressure, this will cause the gum to turn white (blanche), once you remove your finger, count how many seconds it takes for the area to return to the normal pink colour. In a healthy cat, it should take between 1-2 seconds. Less than 1 second or more than 4 seconds are both medical emergencies.