What Is a Stomatitis in Cats?

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on January 06, 2022
4 min read

Stomatitis is a painful inflammation of the soft tissue inside a cat's mouth. It's similar to gingivitis, which is a type of gum disease. Stomatitis, though, affects the mucosal tissue, such as the lips, tongue, roof, and floor of the mouth. 

Stomatitis is painful, and cats who have the condition may not want to eat. Some will try to eat, then hiss or cry when chewing hurts. They might also show signs of pain when they yawn or move their mouths to groom themselves. Their behavior and demeanor might change due to constant pain in their mouth.

The tissue inside your cat's mouth will look red and swollen. They might drool excessively, and there might be traces of blood in their saliva. Cats with stomatitis can have chronic bad breath, as well.

The cause of stomatitis in cats isn't clear, but experts believe that it results from an overactive immune reaction. The immune systems of cats that have frequent viral or bacterial infections may start attacking healthy tissue in their mouths, causing swelling and pain. Cats with weak immune systems due to FIV or FeLV infection may be more prone to developing stomatitis.

Immune overreaction to the bacteria in typical dental plaque might be a factor in stomatitis. If plaque builds up on a cat's teeth, their immune system might launch an overflow response and trigger stomatitis. Making sure your cat gets good dental care, including professional cleanings, might prevent this condition from developing. 

Some researchers think there might be a connection between stomatitis and a type of bacteria called Bartonella henselae. This microorganism is commonly found in cats with stomatitis. It's also present in unaffected cats, though, so there is no definitive link.

Your vet might suggest cleaning your cat's teeth to see if that will help. Removing the plaque on your cat's teeth can reduce the immune response to bacteria in the mouth. This will alleviate some of the symptoms and make your cat more comfortable.

A professional dental cleaning for a cat requires anesthesia. While your pet is with the vet for the cleaning, they can take the opportunity to check for other issues, such as infections or injury.

Feline medications such as antibiotics and steroids to reduce inflammation might provide temporary relief of swelling and pain. Experts have found that the symptoms return, though, as soon as cats stop taking the medicine. Steroids, meanwhile, aren't a good option for long-term care because they become less effective over time. They can also lead to side effects such as increased hunger and thirst, increased urination, and difficulty healing from other illnesses or injuries.

Natural treatments for stomatitis in cats have not been tested or studied. You can ask your vet about natural remedies that might reduce symptoms or help with dental hygiene in cats. At-home dental care, such as brushing your cat's teeth (if the cat will allow it), may help keep the bacteria in their mouth at a minimum.

The most effective intervention is removing the cat's teeth. This might seem like a drastic move, but it has the best record of helping cats with chronic mouth pain. Removing teeth soon after diagnosis usually results in better outcomes than waiting to try extraction.

If you decide to move ahead with tooth extraction, your vet will extract any affected teeth, which may mean removing all of them. This is effective for most cats, and they experience a dramatic reduction in symptoms afterward, though some cats continue to have swelling and pain and require continued care even after having their teeth extracted.

Cats can tolerate life without teeth well. They are often happy to be free of pain and able to eat normally again. Cat teeth are not designed for chewing, so they are already accustomed to eating food without breaking it down the way a human would. Immediately after surgery, your cat will need soft food due to the stitches in their gums. After that, you can return to your cat's usual diet.

Stomatitis is not life-threatening to cats, but it can lead to complications that affect your cat's life and health. Inflammation in the mouth is very painful, which may lead cats to stop eating. Weight loss, loss of energy, and personality changes are common. Poor nutrition can lead to other health problems, including kidney issues if the  cat isn't getting enough fluids.

If your cat is having mouth pain that doesn't get better, talk to your vet. If your cat has stomatitis, the sooner you get treatment, the more comfortable your cat will be.