Caitlin UltimoHealth / Symptoms & Solutions

10 Signs of Oral Problems in Cats

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.

10 Signs of Oral Problems in Cats

1. Bad Breath (halitosis)

A strong or offensive mouth odor—as opposed to normal “kitty breath”—indicates that something is amiss in your cat’s mouth. Your cat’s bad breath can be caused by periodontal disease, tooth resorption, infection, cancer or any number of mouth, tooth or gum disorders, all of which are likely to cause pain.

2. Difficulty Eating (dysphagia) or Loss of Appetite

If you notice your cat avoiding his dry cat food, chewing on only one side of his mouth, dropping food from his mouth while eating (also called quidding), or vomiting unchewed food, you might be seeing signs of a cat in pain.

3. Drooling (ptyalism)

Drooling while eating can signal oral problems in cats. Especially watch out if the drool (or your cat’s water dish) is tinged with blood.

Drooling can be caused by gingivitis in cats as well as cervical line lesions, or any other sources of dental pain.

4. Chattering

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 his face or grooms. It is 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.

5.  Pawing at or Rubbing His Face

Usually seen with acute pain, a cat may try to get the pain out of his mouth by pawing at the mouth.

6. Excessive Yawning or Teeth Grinding (bruxism)

If oral pain is severe enough, your cat might have difficulty closing his mouth.

7. Head 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 his head excessively or tilt his 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.

8. Decrease in Self-Grooming

In general, if a cat doesn’t feel well, he stops grooming. Gingivitis in cats and other oral problems can make grooming painful, so if you notice that your cat isn’t grooming as often, or if his coat looks greasy, flaky, matted or unkempt, then it is time to take your cat to the veterinarian for an exam.

9. Pulling Away or Meowing When Touched Near the Mouth

Resorptive lesions and gingivitis can be so painful that a cat who normally enjoys being pet on the head or scratched on the chin can become head shy or aggressive when touched.

10. Changes 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 his face, that abnormal aggressive behavior might be a reaction to pain.

At-Home Cat Dental Care

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.


By Dr. Sarah Wooten and Helen Jablonski

Featured Image: via iStock.com/sdominick

Share: