How easy it would be if our cats could tell us when their teeth, gums or mouth hurt? In reality, cats are experts at hiding pain. This instinctive behavior stems from their wild ancestors, when any sign of weakness could mean the difference between life and death.By the time a cat shows unmistakable signs of mouth pain, such as drooling or teeth chattering, dental problems usually are well advanced. Knowing the subtle signs of oral problems in cats and getting prompt care is critical to maintaining your cat’s quality and duration of life.
1Bad Breath (halitosis)
2Difficulty Eating (dysphagia) or Loss of Appetite
Chattering is when the jaw shakes or quivers. It’s most often a dental sign seen in cats who have resorptive lesions on their teeth. This painful condition causes cavity-like holes in the teeth, eats teeth away or turns tooth roots to bone. Chattering typically happens when a cat eats, washes their face or grooms. It's caused by shooting pain from the tooth root and can be loud enough to hear with your ears. Feline chattering is never normal and always indicates that something hurts in your cat’s mouth.
5Pawing at or Rubbing Their Face
Usually seen with acute pain, a cat may try to get the pain out of their mouth by pawing at it. They may also rub their face on furniture or other objects.
6Excessive Yawning or Teeth Grinding (bruxism)
If oral pain is severe enough, your cat might have difficulty closing their mouth. This could result in excessive yawning or teeth grinding.
7Head Shaking or Tilt
While head shaking or head tilts commonly are associated with ear problems, a cat in pain from dental disease may also shake their head excessively or tilt their head to the side of the mouth where the problem exists. If head shaking happens in conjunction with drooling or another sign on this list, dental problems are the prime suspects.
8Decrease in Self-Grooming
9Pulling Away or Meowing When Touched Near the Mouth
10Changes in Normal Behavior
Changes in your cat’s normal behavior might range from growling and aggressiveness to hiding and avoiding people. For example, if your normally sweet-tempered Maine Coon unexpectedly bites you when you go to rub their face, that abnormal aggressive behavior might be a reaction to pain.
Your feline friend will benefit greatly from regular preventive cat dental care at home. While tooth brushing with an enzymatic toothpaste, like Vetoquinol’s enzadent enzymatic toothpaste, is a good option, there are other cat dental care choices available that help reduce plaque and tartar accumulation.
If your kitty likes tasty cat dental treats, check out flavored versions, such as Greenies oven-roasted chicken dental treats or Greenies ocean fish dental treats. Alternatively, dental diets like Hill’s Prescription Diet dental care dry food or Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Dental Diet make it even easier to promote dental health in your cat.
Many pet parents don’t realize that their cats have mouth pain; they just sense that their kitties aren’t acting like themselves. That’s why paying attention to your cat’s behavior and habits—in addition to regular cat dental care and annual dental checkups by your veterinarian—is essential for monitoring your cat’s oral health.
Start looking in your cat’s mouth regularly at a young age so you can familiarize yourself with what is normal, and your kitten can be trained to allow helpful humans to look in his mouth.
Helen Jablonski contributed to this article.