Cat With Open Mouth

Q. My veterinarian says my cat has stomatitis. Can you tell me more about this?

A. I’m so glad your veterinarian has diagnosed this condition. Not because I’d wish it on any cat — because I surely don’t — but because it makes me very unhappy to think about how many cats are suffering without owners as observant as you are. Now that you know your cat has such a painful condition, you can work with your veterinarian to help your cat.

What Is Stomatitis?

Stomatitis, also known as Feline Lymphocytic Plasmacytic Stomatitis/Gingivitis (LPSG), is a painful condition in which the gums and other tissues in the mouth become inflamed and ulcerated. It’s sometimes referred to as an extreme case of gingivitis, but that really doesn’t begin to express how incredibly miserable a cat with this condition can be. Imagine living in constant pain, and having every bite you take make you feel even worse. This condition can be caused by a number of factors, such as periodontal disease, viral infection, immune-mediated diseases, as well as exposure to toxins.

Many cat lovers have no idea what’s going on inside their cat’s mouth. They will often bring their cat in to the vet because he’s drooling or has stopped eating (or seems to want to eat, then doesn’t — understandable under the circumstances). Because of the pain, these cats may not groom themselves well or often. And I’m sure it doesn’t surprise anyone that a cat with such a condition will often have bad breath. A cat with stomatitis may also start hiding more, or become cranky. When you think about what it’s like to have “just” a toothache, you can well imagine how a cat with stomatitis feels.

While the problems can (and really should) be noticed during a comprehensive wellness exam, it’s more likely that a cat sees a veterinarian for stomatitis when the pain symptoms become severe enough to be noticed. These cases really make me wince when I think about how much these kitties hurt. Just pressing on the swollen tissues in an infected cat’s mouth can cause them to bleed. Radiographs often reveal the feline version of cavities — reabsorbed teeth that only add to the misery.

How to Treat the Problem

While stomatitis can’t always be prevented, proper dental care can help curb periodontal disease and the bacterial infections that can lead to some cases of stomatitis. Getting a kitten or cat used to regular oral care may help prevent problems before they become so painful.

The good news is that your cat is getting the help he needs. The bad news is that stomatitis can be very difficult to manage once it has reached this painful stage. Anti-inflammatory medications typically provide short-term relief, while in many cases the extraction of most, if not all, of the cat’s teeth will ultimately be needed, along with dedicated long-term care at home and at the veterinarian’s.

Shocking as it may seem to remove so many teeth, it won’t stop your cat from eating   — and in fact, it may be the only long-term treatment that will relieve oral pain while he’s having a meal.

I know this all sounds gloomy, but in fact with appropriate veterinary care and a dedicated owner, many cats do well for the rest of their lives after the initial extractions. They’re happy and comfortable, and return to the loving personalities they had before the misery began.