How to Tell If a Cat Has Dental Problems

Updated June 19, 2018

Dental disease is one of the most common problems to affect cats. A build-up of plaque and tartar can cause inflamed gums and mouth tissues, known as gingivitis. Dental disease can be extremely painful, causing your cat to stop eating. It can also lead to infection and other serious health problems. To prevent dental disease, inspect your cat's teeth regularly to check for any problems, and take your cat to your veterinarian for regular dental cleanings.

Observe your cat when it eats. A cat with dental problems will have trouble chewing its food or may chew on only one side of its mouth. Take note if your cat refuses crunchy dry food or treats and primarily eats wet canned food. Your cat may also vomit soon after eating because it does not chew the food enough for proper digestion. If a cat has pain in its teeth, it will not want to chew very much and may even stop eating in extreme cases.

Smell your cat's breath. Wait until your cat is calm or sleepy and slip your finger into the side of its mouth to open it slightly. If you smell an unpleasant odour, your cat may have periodontal disease. Bad breath can indicate an infection of the gums due to a build-up of tartar. This condition can lead to tooth loss and other serious health problems if the infection spreads.

Feel the sides of your cat's mouth to check for swelling, irritation, redness or drool. If your cat paws at its mouth or drools excessively -- especially if the drool contains blood -- it can indicate a dental problem or infection. Your cat may also react to your touch with a yelp or other indication of pain. If your cat cannot close its mouth, it has a dental issue that requires examination by a veterinarian.

Inspect your cat's gums and teeth. If you see red or swollen gums, pus, brown or yellow deposits on teeth or exposed tooth roots along the gum line, your cat has a form of dental disease or gingivitis. Lift the lip on the sides of your cat's mouth to get a more detailed look at the teeth and gum line. Yellow or brown deposits indicate a build-up of plaque and tartar and require professional cleaning by a veterinarian. Use the flashlight and dental mirror to more closely inspect any suspicious areas in your cat's mouth.

Closely inspect your cat's teeth to check for black spots that indicate cavities or any broken teeth. Gently touch any teeth that appear loose to see if they move. Gingivitis can lead to a condition known as periodontitis, which leads to an infection of the tooth bed, loosening the tooth.


Cats in pain from dental issues may become more aggressive toward you or other animals in your home. Wait until your cat is calm and sleepy before inspecting its mouth. If your cat shows signs of aggression such as hissing, flattened ears, fidgeting tail or growling, stop what you are doing and inspect its mouth later. Use specially formulated cat toothpaste and a toothbrush to keep your cat's teeth clean and prevent dental problems. Place your cat on a special food to encourage dental health and provide it with chew toys to help keep its teeth clean.


Gingivitis can indicate your cat suffers from FIV, kidney disease or another type of infection, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Treat dental disease of any type quickly to prevent the loss of teeth and spread of infection.

Things You'll Need

  • Flashlight
  • Dental mirror
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About the Author

Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.