We’ve noticed that our seven-year-old cat, Fluff, has bad breath. Her teeth also look bad, the gums are red and a little blood shows. Can you tell us what’s wrong?
It sounds like Fluff has gingivitis (gum infection) caused by a severe build-up of tartar. Since cats can’t brush their own teeth, the normal plaque from food hardens into tartar and covers the teeth.
When this hard, bacteria-filled build up comes in contact with the gums, the result is an infection which can enter the bloodstream and trigger problems in other parts of the body, notably the heart and kidneys. The infection also can spread to the roots of the teeth loosening them and causing abscesses. This probably accounts for Fluff’s bad breath and bleeding gums.
Some cats encounter tartar problems at young age while others seem to develop only minimal dental problems over their lifetime. Some factors can influence tartar formation.. For example, chewing specially formulated dry food helps scrape off the plaque before it hardens into tartar. Some viruses which live in a cat’s upper respiratory system can irritate the gums and cause tartar build up. The Chlamydia and calici viruses, for example, can infect the gums as well as nasal passages and cause chronic problems. We can vaccinate against these two viruses but not against the herpes virus which is another culprit.
Unless Fluff has had problems with sneezing attacks and virus infections, her problem probably is just the result of time. I suggest you have your veterinarian examine her mouth and determine the best course of action.. A thorough dental cleaning under anesthesia will most likely be recommended. With Puff under anesthesia, your veterinarian will be able to determine which teeth may need to be removed due to abscess formation or root disease. Depending on the severity and amount of root damage, he or she may remove a tooth or two. Because of the bleeding, he may prescribe a few days of antibiotic pills or liquid to restore gums to normal.
Humans prevent such problems by brushing their teeth – obviously, an impractical solution for most cats, though not for some dogs. There are some excellent prescription diets and other products available that have been proven to significantly help keep the teeth clean and prevent the formation of tartar. However, regular dental cleaning performed by your veterinarian should be a part of routine health care.