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How to Tell If Your Cat Has a Toothache

Updated November 21, 2016

Like humans, cats can experience a toothache. But like a young child, pets cannot express their symptoms when a health problem is present. So it's up to the pet owner to look for symptoms of illness, disease and infection in a cat. Periodontal disease, also known as dental disease, is the most common cause of toothaches in cats. A broken tooth can also result in a toothache. The symptoms of a toothache may be subtle at first, but as the cat's condition gets worse, the symptoms will be more pronounced. A toothache is a sign of a larger problem, and prompt veterinary attention will be required.

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  1. Look for signs of inappetance and a refusal to drink normally. For a cat with a toothache, eating and drinking can be painful. This might begin with the cat refusing to eat his entire meal and, over time, he might only eat soft cat food and ultimately refuse to eat anything at all.

  2. Monitor the cat for obvious mouth-related abnormalities like drooling and areas of facial swelling. Drool might be clear or blood-tinged. Facial swelling can arise over the course of a few hours in the event of facial trauma that's led to a broken tooth. Facial swelling can arise over the course of a few days in the case of an infection due to feline dental disease.

  3. Monitor the cat's mouth for a strong, foul odour. In the case of severe periodontal disease, an abscessed tooth or serious gum infection, the cat's mouth may have a foul smell that's slightly sweet, similar to the odour of rotting meat.

  4. Examine the cat's mouth for signs of tooth damage by lifting the cat's lips and looking at the teeth under a bright light. A freshly broken tooth will be obvious; the end will be jagged and the core of the tooth will be pink. Bleeding may be present. A chipped tooth may be less obvious, but you can see abnormalities by comparing teeth on each side of the mouth--if you drew a line down the centre of the cat's mouth, the teeth would appear to be a mirror image.

  5. Examine the cat's mouth for signs of periodontal disease by lifting the cat's lip and looking at the gums under a bright light. The cat's teeth will appear brown because of tartar accumulation. The gums may be inflamed, bleeding and infected. The gums may also be receded in some areas, exposing the root of the tooth. Some teeth may have obvious abscesses and cavities.

  6. Record all symptoms observed in your cat in a notebook. Record observations daily and bring these notes along to the veterinarian. A clear record of symptoms helps in diagnosis of pet health problems.

  7. Tip

    If a cat won't eat because of a suspected toothache, offer warm canned cat food (if it has chunks, you'll need to place it in the blender). You can mix in a bit of clam juice or tuna water to turn the cat food into a milkshake consistency that will not require chewing. A meat-flavoured baby food can also be offered, though you must select a variety that's onion-free, as onions can cause anaemia in dogs and cats. If a cat won't drink due to a suspected toothache, provide warm clam juice or tuna water to encourage drinking and to prevent dehydration. Warming the fluid will prevent discomfort; hot or cold shocks the exposed nerve in the tooth, causing pain. Brush your cat's teeth daily using a special pet-friendly toothpaste and toothbrush to avoid decay and periodontal disease. The longer you wait to treat a sick pet, the longer the pet's recovery and the more expensive the vet bills. This is why it's vital to bring your cat to the veterinary clinic as soon as you notice symptoms of a problem. You can schedule a teeth cleaning for your cat on a biannual basis. The cat will be put under anaesthesia and the veterinarian will remove tartar accumulation (which cannot be removed by brushing the cat's teeth). During the dental procedure, any abscessed or damaged teeth will be repaired or pulled. Regular dental cleanings will prevent toothaches, serious infections and the development of potentially deadly periodontal disease. Older cats are more prone to toothaches and dental problems.


    If left untreated, periodontal disease can be potentially deadly in cats. Infection can enter the bloodstream via the damaged teeth, leading to systemic infection, organ damage and ultimately, death. If a cat is showing obvious signs of a toothache, a timely visit to the veterinary clinic is vital, especially if a cat is not eating properly or if swelling, bleeding and a foul odour is present. The cat's condition can decline swiftly, leading to hospitalisation and very costly vet bills. Sudden, uniform facial swelling is not caused by a toothache. This is because of an allergic reaction and should be treated immediately, as the cat's windpipe might swell, causing him to be unable to breathe.

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Things You'll Need

  • Bright light
  • Notebook
  • Pen

About the Author

Mia Carter
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