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Gray cat with open mouth

Watch for infected teeth in pets

Q: Barbie, my 20-year-old indoor cat, sneezes and coughs as though she’s trying to clear her stuffy nose. Her teeth are bad, too. She doesn’t wheeze, pant or have other breathing problems, and her appetite and energy are good. Any ideas?

A: Barbie’s bad teeth may be the source of her problem. If any of the roots of the teeth in the upper jaw are abscessed, the infection may have extended into her nasal passages and sinuses, causing the clinical signs you are seeing. Her mouth undoubtedly hurts, too.

Have your veterinarian examine Barbie. If her teeth and gums are infected, your vet will likely recommend teeth cleaning, dental x-rays and extraction of any infected teeth.

If you elect not to have these treatments done, your veterinarian may prescribe “pulse” antibiotic therapy to keep the infection under reasonable control. Typically, an antibiotic specific for oral bacteria is repeated for a week every month. It’s available in liquid form to make administration comfortable even for sore feline mouths.

Editor’s Note: Other signs of poor dental health in pets include: swelling or bleeding in the mouth, abnormal chewing or drooling, reduced appetite, and tartar-covered teeth. Complete dental hygiene is important: Here are five tips for keeping your pet’s teeth healthy.

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

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