Dr. Nichol: Mouth pain, swelling of the gums, reduced appetite and excessive salivation – it’s miserable.
What we now call chronic oral inflammatory disease can go on for a lifetime. There are lots of possible causes, including an immune reaction to dental plaque, an upper respiratory infection called calicivirus, and feline AIDS. Behavioral stress may be a factor for some. It’s complicated.
Erosive damage (resorptive lesions) of the teeth, chronic gingivitis and smoldering bacterial infection can stir this pot but despite a whole lot of study, the quest for a specific cause has been unrewarding. No medication has truly helped. Siamese and Persian cats may have more severe disease than others.
There is only one reliable approach: full mouth dental X-rays to determine the extent of the disease followed by removal of every tooth. This sounds drastic, and it is, but attempts to avoid full extractions, with medications and other treatments, have only delayed the inevitable: all teeth must go.
Teeth are rather important, aren’t they? My cats and I want to keep ours. So, if some teeth appear to be OK, why not leave them and only remove the others? This strategy resulted in improvement for only 20% of cats in one study. They still needed long-term medication to control pain and inflammation. But when all teeth were extracted, 75-90% of cats were cured, going on to enjoy excellent pain-free lives. They felt great, ate fine and maintained a healthy weight. Eliminating a constant ache is among the most important priorities in our work. We need to do whatever it takes.
Regarding the risk to humans of this feline disease: I have found no evidence to suggest a connection. Chronic oral inflammatory disease of cats is only known to occur in cats. I’ve treated a whole lot of well-loved kitties who’ve suffered with this. I have never enjoyed the tedium of sacrificing every tooth but they feel much better in the end. I am thankful that we can cure so many – and that this is not a human disease.
Dr. Jeff Nichol, a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist, provides consultations in-person and by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.