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What Is a Cat Dental Emergency? Health & Care Facts (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Samantha Devine DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on May 17, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

veterinarian checks teeth of the maine coon cat

What Is a Cat Dental Emergency? Health & Care Facts (Vet Answer)


Dr. Samantha Devine Photo


Dr. Samantha Devine

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dental pain and periodontal disease don’t just affect us. Our furry family members can develop oral infections, broken teeth, and even masses in their mouths. Our cats are stoic and don’t show evidence of pain. Let’s look at some signs your cat needs an urgent exam or treatment and what you can do.

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Dental Disease in Cats

Periodontal disease is common in cats, with over 80% of adult cats affected. Plaque formation can lead to an inflammatory response that causes gingivitis and can weaken the periodontal structures. Many cats also develop feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions. As many as 50% of adult cats may have resorptive lesions, where the tooth and root can become irreversibly damaged.

cat teeth resorption
Image Credit: Yaya Photos, Shutterstock

Signs of Dental Disease in Cats

Your cat is unlikely to show dental pain the same way we might, clutching at our faces or crying out in pain. You might notice bad breath, which is often associated with dental disease, but what signs might indicate the need for an urgent exam? Be aware of any of the following signs:

  • Drooling
  • Dropping food out of one side of the mouth
  • Bloody saliva or nasal discharge
  • Pawing at their face or rubbing their face across the carpet repeatedly
  • Withdrawn from normal activities
  • Decreased appetite
  • Visibly broken teeth or apparent missing teeth
  • Swelling of the face or a nasal deformity
  • Pus draining from below the eye
  • Unable to open and close their mouth

Dental Emergencies in Cats

There are several major causes of dental emergencies in cats. Many conditions come about slowly, so your cat has time to adapt to the discomfort, often not showing signs until the issue has progressed.

cat lying on the windowsill looking sick
Image Credit: Nata Aleks, Shutterstock

Traumatic Injuries

Your cat could develop a broken jaw, fractured tooth, or other facial injury if they are hit by a car, get attacked by a larger animal, or even fall. These injuries aren’t just excruciating; they can cause significant swelling, making it hard for your cat to eat, drink, and even breathe.

Fractured Tooth

Your cat could break a tooth when fighting or chewing vigorously. If the pulp cavity is exposed, it’s easy for your cat to develop an infection within the tooth. It’s also painful.

Tooth Root Abscesses

A tooth root abscess can develop after a fractured tooth, but it can also develop if the tooth has significant periodontal disease. Your cat’s face may swell on one side with a sore below the eye that may or may not have purulent drainage.

Oral Tumors

Oral masses can develop quickly and distort your cat’s mouth, making it hard for them to eat or drink. They can also cause bleeding from the mouth or nose. While the initial mass might not be an emergency (although it should be addressed as soon as reasonably possible), the complications from an oral tumor can be devastating.

Cat with oral or teeth tumor
Image Credit: Todorean-Gabriel, Shutterstock

Treating Your Cat’s Dental Emergency

If you notice something abnormal about your cat’s eating or drinking, facial deformities, or blood, you need to contact your veterinarian immediately.

Your veterinarian will start by taking a history and performing a physical exam and may ask the following questions:

  • Is there a chance your cat was injured such as while spending time outdoors?
  • Have you noticed a decrease in your cat’s appetite or energy?
  • Could your cat have been exposed to toxins?

Your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic tests, such as blood work, to rule out metabolic issues. While they might be able to perform a brief awake oral exam, your cat will likely need to undergo sedation or anesthesia to have a complete oral exam. Your veterinarian can take dental radiographs (X-rays) to look for dental disease at that time. Sometimes, your veterinarian may refer you to a specialty hospital for advanced imaging, like a CT scan.

Depending on their findings, your veterinarian will recommend treatment. Diseased teeth often need to be extracted. In some cases, a root canal is possible. Extreme conditions, such as stomatitis, could require that many of your cat’s teeth be extracted. Don’t worry if that’s true: cats do quite well post-extraction.

If an infection is present, your vet may prescribe antibiotics. They may recommend pain medications like Onsior or meloxicam to decrease inflammation. Supportive care, with fluid and food support, could be recommended.

Sometimes, laser therapy is used to decrease inflammation in the mouth. Your veterinarian might suggest it as an adjunctive therapy.

Preventing Feline Dental Emergencies

It can be challenging to prevent some dental emergencies for your cat. There are several good habits to get into that may help:

  • First, you should regularly brush your cat’s teeth with a pet-friendly toothpaste. Several companies have dental wipes, sprays, chews, and water additive products to fight plaque and tartar.
  • Don’t allow your cat outside unsupervised. Your cat could be at risk of being hit by a car, shot, or attacked by a dog, just to name a few things.
  • Schedule regular physical exams and at least annual dental cleanings under anesthesia to assess teeth and address any issues, ideally before they become an emergency.

man brushing cat's teeth
Image Credit: Kashaeva Irina, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is a loose tooth in a cat an emergency?

While a loose or broken tooth isn’t necessarily an emergency at first, it can quickly become one. Your cat should be evaluated as soon as possible so that your veterinarian can develop treatment recommendations. Pain can stop your cat from eating, and infections can spread throughout the mouth.

Can I pull my cat’s tooth out at home?

Do not attempt to remove your cat’s tooth at home, even if it’s loose. This is considered a surgical procedure and should be performed under anesthesia with pain control and nerve blocks on board. Pre-extraction and post-extraction radiographs (X-rays) must be taken to evaluate the root structures. You never know: the tooth could be broken below the gumline, and you might leave a root behind.

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Cat dental emergencies are serious. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you’re concerned that something could be wrong with your cat’s mouth. They’ll help you decide on a diagnostic and treatment plan to get your cat feeling better as quickly as possible.

Featured Image Credit: Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

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