What do a healthy cat’s gums look like?
Also known as gingiva, the gums are a pink mucous membrane surrounding the dental bone and teeth. Healthy gums will be a light pink color 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 color of gums
Some diseases and disorders can affect the colors of the gums, and during a physical examination, your veterinarian will check the color 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 or silver cats. This is a harmless condition known as lentigo and is perfectly normal. However, it is important to always have a veterinarian check any new or enlarging black spots as they may also be something serious such as melanoma.
Cat gum color chart
|Gum Color||What It Means||What You Should Do|
|blue||lack of sufficient oxygen||take cat to veterinarian immediately|
|pale/white||lack of sufficient blood flow/anemia||take cat to veterinarian immediately|
|bright red||infection, heat stroke, toxicity||take cat to veterinarian immediately if toxin or heat stroke|
|brown||toxicity, most likely acetaminophen||take cat to veterinarian immediately|
WordPress won’t let me add another row – need to do yellow – liver problem – take to veterinarian promptly
What diseases can affect the gums?
- Gingivitis: This is the mildest form of periodontal disease and is characterized by an inflammation of the gums. Symptoms include red gums, especially along the margins, bad breath, receding gum line, and 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. By age 2, 70% of cats will have periodontal disease.
- Gingival hyperplasia: A condition in which the gums begin to overgrow. 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. Abscesses may appear as a firm, round mass on the gums or be deep in the mouth, surrounding the roots of the teeth.
- Stomatitis: is a chronic condition characterized 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 that bleed easily
- Bad breath
- Ulcers on the gums
- Reluctance to eat
If you notice any of the above signs, 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, or heart problems.
To test the CRT, place your finger on the cat’s gums 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 color. In a healthy cat, it should take between 1-2 seconds. A CRT that is prolonged for more than 4 seconds is a medical emergency.
What you can do at home for better gum health/teeth health?
Like humans, cats need regular dental care to keep their teeth and gums healthy. The most effective way to keep your cat’s mouth healthy is daily brushing. Cats should be introduced to regular tooth brushing when they are kittens. Brushing must be performed with a small, soft-bristle brush and cat-safe (fluoride-free) toothpaste.
In addition to brushing, your feline friend will need regular exams and cleanings with their veterinarian. These procedures should be performed under general anesthesia to enable thorough subgingival cleaning as well as complete oral radiographs.
Frequently asked questions
What do pale gums mean in a cat?
- If your cat’s gums appear pale or white, it is a medical emergency. Pale gums indicate a lack of sufficient blood flow. This could be due to bleeding, both external or internal, cancer, or anemia. Anemia has many causes, including external and internal parasites, autoimmune disorders, blood parasites, and kidney disease.
What do cats’ gums look like when dehydrated?
- If your cat is dehydrated, their gums may feel sticky or tacky to the touch and have a slow CRT. This indicates lack of adequate hydration and can be an emergency.
What do sick cat gums look like?
- There are many illnesses that a cat may suffer from, and they each may have a different effect on the gums. Sick cats may have pale, white, blue, yellow, brown, or cherry red mucous membranes. If your cat’s gums appear abnormal, you should take them to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
What happens during a professional teeth cleaning visit for my cat?
- A dental prophylaxis, or “teeth cleaning,” is similar in many ways to a human cleaning with a dental hygienist. However, pets will require general anesthesia and an endotracheal tube to perform a safe and effective cleaning. “Anesthesia-free” cleanings are not effective, can be dangerous, and should be avoided.
- During the procedure, each tooth will be examined, charted, scaled, and polished. Intraoral radiographs will be taken to assess the health of the roots of each tooth. Further treatment, such as extractions, root planing, and gum surgery, may be necessary.