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Signs of dental disease in cats

Q: Snowball, our 14-year-old cat, is drooling and losing his appetite. What could this be?

A: Two categories of concerns come to mind.

First, Snowball may have a problem in his mouth. If his teeth haven’t been professionally cleaned lately, he may have painful gingivitis related to tartar buildup. Even if you see no dental abnormalities, he may have a painful tooth root abscess that can’t be diagnosed without dental x-rays.

Alternatively, Snowball may have a mass in his mouth. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of oral tumor in cats. It most often occurs on the side of or beneath the tongue. Common clinical signs are drooling (sometimes tinged with blood), loss of appetite, foul breath and difficulty chewing or swallowing.

If Snowball doesn’t have an oral lesion, he may have a metabolic or other systemic problem. For example, chronic kidney disease diminishes appetite and can produce nausea, which sometimes manifests as drooling.

So, make an appointment for Snowball to see his veterinarian, who will examine him and probably do some lab work to make a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

Editor’s Note: Veterinarian Dr. Lee discusses treatment options for cat’s stomatitis—a painful mouth inflammation requiring teeth extractions.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at

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