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10 Signs of Cat Tooth Pain

An orange tabby cat is laying on an examination table, a veterinarian wearing blue scrubs is leaning over it, holding it's mouth open with a gloved hand.

Cats are masters of hiding their pain, a survival skill used by their ancestors to avoid revealing their vulnerability in the wild. This can make it difficult to identify when something is wrong, especially when it comes to dental issues! After all, most cat owners aren’t inspecting their cat’s teeth on a regular basis. Today, I’m going to share 10 signs of cat tooth pain and what you can do if you suspect that there is a problem.

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If you’ve ever experienced a toothache, then you know how incredibly painful it can be.

Imagine, then, experiencing this ongoing pain without being able to tell someone that you are suffering or asking for help.

That is why, as a loving cat owner, it is so important to familiarize yourself with the signs of dental problems in your feline friend.

Before we dig into the most common signs of cat tooth pain, I want to take a moment to talk about the importance of prevention and proper cat dental care.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, approximately 70% of cats will experience some form of oral disease by the age of 3.

The most common dental problem experienced by cats is Feline Periodontal Disease.

Feline Periodontal Disease Is an oral infection that is caused by bacteria found in dental plaque that has been allowed to build up on a cat’s teeth.

Let’s take a step back and consider that for just a moment… The most common dental problem can be prevented through the regular cleaning of plaque and tartar from a cat’s teeth.

If dental care wasn’t part of your cat’s regular grooming routine, I’m sure it is now!

Related: ‘Why Is My Cat Eating Litter?

Not only will brushing your cat’s teeth regularly help to eliminate the risk of unnecessary dental pain, but it’s also going to help spare your bank account.

The cost of dental care products is far less than the cost associated with treating oral disease.

Consider picking up a cat-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste, dental water additive for pets, cat dental care treats, and even cat dental care toys to prioritize dental health today!

Another step that you can take to optimize your cat’s dental health is to feed a high-quality dry cat food.

Oral care/dental health foods are designed to remove plaque and tartar from your cat’s teeth naturally while they are eating.

The goal is to keep your cat’s teeth clean and free from plaque in order to avoid dental problems altogether.

Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Even with the best care, some cats will still develop tooth pain that will require professional treatment.

Which takes us back to the original topic of this post…

A grey medium-haired cat with a white chest and face is sitting on a table while a brunette woman wearing a blue long-sleeved shirt is holding up it's gums to look at its teeth.

10 Signs of Cat Tooth Pain

#1 – Bad Breath

Okay, your cat’s breath likely isn’t overly ‘pretty’ to begin with. Kitty breath, cause by the food that they are eating, is no bed of roses.

However, if you notice that your cat’s breath is even worse than usual, take note!

Many mouth, tooth and gum disorders are caused by the development of an infection in your cat’s mouth.

In addition to causing your poor kitty pain and discomfort, these infections also tend to create an ‘off’ odour that can be picked up in your cat’s breath.

#2 – Red and Swollen Gums

Not all cats will allow you to take a look at their mouth, however, if your cat is willing to let you take a peek, check the colour of their gums.

Health gums in a cat are pink in colour.

If notice that their gums are red and/or swollen, that could be a sign of gingivitis.

While you are examining your cat’s gums, take a look at the condition of the teeth themselves.

Check for loose/missing teeth, broken teeth, or any exposed roots. These are both signs of a problem.

#3 – Changes in Eating Habits

Pay attention to how much your cat is eating. If he/she is experiencing dental pain, it may be difficult to eat dry cat food, leading to avoidance or chewing off to one side.

Some cats will try to eat only to drop the food from their mouth.

In other cases, your cat may try to eat while avoiding pain by swallowing their food whole. This often causes the cat to then vomit unchewed food.

Related: ‘How to Stop Your Cat from Scratching Furniture

#4 – Unexplained Weight Loss

If your cat has been experiencing pain for a while, you may not have noticed a change in their eating habits.

However, if your cat is unable to eat normally for a length of time, the lack of proper nutrition may cause sudden and unexplained weight loss.

#5 – Drooling or Jaw Chattering

Your cat may start producing an excessive amount of saliva as a response to whatever oral problems they are experiencing.

Take note if your cat starts to drool (or drool more than usual if they normally drool to some extent).

Jaw chattering refers to shaking or quivering in the jaw area.

It is often a direct response to pain in the teeth following grooming, eating or any other activity that acts as a trigger.

This is usually caused by cavities in the teeth or having exposed roots.  

#6 – Decreased Grooming

Your cat’s grooming habits are generally a good way to identify any type of illness or discomfort.

Most cats, when they aren’t feeling well, will start to slack off on their self-grooming or stop altogether, causing their coat to look unkempt, greasy, or matted.

Even if you don’t suspect dental issues, contact your veterinarian if you notice a sudden drop in self-grooming.

#7 – Rubbing, Scratching or Pawing at the Mouth or Face

If your cat is suddenly pawing or scratching at its mouth, or rubbing it regularly against other objects, he/she may be trying to address some form of pain.

Just as we often rub or grasp at the source of pain in our own bodies, your cat is trying to find relief in any way possible.

Related: ‘The Benefits of Cat Grass for Your Feline Friend

#8 – Head Shaking or Head Tilts

Head tilt are often associated with ear problems, however, it’s not uncommon for pain and discomfort in the jaw to also impact the ear area.

If your cat is excessively shaking their head or suddenly holding their head at a tilted angle, this is a sign that something isn’t quite right.

#9 – Excessive Yawning or Difficulty Closing His/Her Mouth

If your cat is in enough pain, they may actually have difficulty closing their mouth.

They may keep trying, opening and closing their mouth repeatedly, or simply sit with their mouth partially open when they wouldn’t normally.

They may also start yawning excessively or grinding their teeth as a response to their discomfort.  

#10 – Changes in Behaviour/Irritability

Has your cat been showing changes in their overall behaviour and personality? When this happens suddenly and out of the blue, it’s always a red flag!

A cat that is in pain may be sensitive to being touched, especially on the face or around the mouth.

You may notice that your cat becomes irritable (or more irritable than usual) or they may become downright aggressive, growling at your or attacking you if you try to come close.   

Next Steps…

If you notice one or more of the above listed signs of cat tooth pain in your cat, even if you aren’t sure but suspect that there may be a problem, don’t ignore it.

In order to relieve the pain that your cat is experiencing, he/she may require pain killers for immediate relief and antibiotics to fight infection for long-term relief.

More extreme cases may also call for the removal of one or more teeth.

Left unaddressed, many dental conditions can progress causing even larger health concerns in your cat.

For example, if the infection from feline periodontal disease reaches the blood stream it can then travel throughout the body causing widespread organ damage.

If you suspect that your cat may be experiencing any type of oral or dental problems, contact your veterinarian immediately.

An orange tabby cat is laying on an examination table, a veterinarian wearing blue scrubs is leaning over it, holding its mouth open with a gloved hand. Text states 10 signs of cat tooth pain you should know!

Have you ever experienced dental problems with your cat? If so, what signs of cat tooth pain did your cat exhibit? Did I miss any important signs that you believe deserve a mention?

I’d love to hear all about your experiences in the comments below.

About Author

Britt is a digital/social media marketer and the owner of The Social Alternative. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending her time with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs Daviana and Indiana and their 2 cats Pippen and Jinx. A proud pet mom, she shares all her pet-related tips, tricks and funny pet antics on Shed Happens.

44 Comments

  • Michelle & The Paw Pack
    February 6, 2021 at 12:44 am

    Very informative! I don’t have cats, but many of these signs are very similar in dogs too. Dental care is so important, no matter what type of pet you have.

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 6, 2021 at 8:41 am

      Yes, it is very similar for dogs as well. Dental care is far too often overlooked but it can have serious consequences!

      Reply
  • Charity
    February 6, 2021 at 9:59 am

    These are such great signs to look out for. Thanks for sharing. I want to make sure my Toby is okay so I will definitely start upping his dental care routine at home!

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 7, 2021 at 12:17 pm

      The importance of dental care is far too often overlooked.

      Reply
  • Jana Rade
    February 6, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    Such an important recap. The signs are the same in dogs as well. It is so important to pay attention.

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 7, 2021 at 12:15 pm

      It is! I hate the idea that any of my pets may be in pain and not be able to tell me. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the signs.

      Reply
  • Saph
    February 6, 2021 at 2:08 pm

    Thank you for this! I have 3 cats all under 3 so I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for these signs now. Will also be investing in dental care products for them!
    Also signing up to your newsletter.
    Saph x

    http://www.simplysaph.co.uk

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 7, 2021 at 12:13 pm

      Investing in dental care products now can save you A LOT down the road (plus save your cats from unnecessary pain).
      Thank you for signing up!

      Reply
  • Tiffany
    February 6, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    I didn’t realize that you had to brush a cat’s teeth, and what a very informative post. 🙂

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 7, 2021 at 12:09 pm

      You’re not alone! A lot of people aren’t aware of the importance of it.

      Reply
  • Merry Sari
    February 6, 2021 at 8:49 pm

    I think the same symptoms also happen to my dogs. It’s good that I always ready (and my veterinarian too) whenever they are in pain. Thank you for sharing this x

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 7, 2021 at 12:07 pm

      Yes, dogs show pain in a very similar way. Knowing the signs and staying aware of what our pets are doing/if they are showing any will help you to address any issues before they suffer unnecessarily.

      Reply
  • Lucy
    February 7, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    I remember when my cat had a tooth problem, his biggest symptom was that he was eating with his head to the side, only chewing on the one side and his appetite went, thankfully it got fixed but it’s so worrying! x

    Lucy | http://www.lucymary.co.uk

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 8, 2021 at 9:35 am

      I’m glad to hear that he’s feeling better now. It’s so hard to see them suffering like that, isn’t it? Even if you’re actively taking steps to address it – you just want to take away all painand discomfort instantly.

      Reply
  • Sarah
    February 7, 2021 at 3:22 pm

    I don’t own cats but I know plenty of people who do, so I will be sure to pass this information onto them. It’s always important to know all facets of pet ownership, even when you don’t own that particular pet, because it may help out others who do own that type of pet.

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 8, 2021 at 9:34 am

      Thank you! Spreading the word is the most important thing that we can do, especially with basic preventative care like this. A lot of cat owners don’t take the steps to prevent periodontal disease simply because they don’t have the information to make an educated decision.

      Reply
  • Kamira Gayle
    February 7, 2021 at 3:51 pm

    Wow, I just read that up to 80% of dogs have periodontal disease by 3 years old and now cats at 70%? I had no idea this was a problem at such a young age. Practicing dental care and prevention isn’t always easy however it’s much better than having a high vet bill or something more serious down the line. I’m glad there are more options for cat parents like water additives and such. It makes it easier and more convenient to stay on top of Fluffy’s dental health.

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 8, 2021 at 9:32 am

      There are so many great options available out there! I know that brushing a cat’s teeth isn’t always possible – we have one cat that has NO interest in letting us do that either lol However, with the different products available we can still take care of her dental health 🙂

      Reply
  • Cathy Armato
    February 7, 2021 at 7:46 pm

    Excellent article, Brit! Cats and Dogs can experience health issues if their teeth go unattended and periodontal disease takes hold. Great list of all the thing to watch out for in cats that may indicate dental issues. It can be difficult to brush a cat or dogs teeth, so water additives and brushless toothpaste are an alternative to consider if a pet parent can’t brush a cat or dogs teeth.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 8, 2021 at 9:23 am

      Yes, there are a lot of great options. In some cases, the best option is to take them to a veterinarian for a professional cleaning, especially if it’s something that hasn’t been addressed over the years and the owners are just now realizing that they need to do something about it.

      Reply
  • Ruth Epstein
    February 7, 2021 at 11:39 pm

    So important and great post especially as they cannot speak so if we know the signs we can start addressing it.

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 8, 2021 at 9:22 am

      Exactly, they can’t just tell us that they are struggling, but they are communicating it in other ways!

      Reply
  • The+Dash+Kitten+Crew
    February 8, 2021 at 3:06 am

    Our Jack became reclusive when he needed dental care. I had to wait two weeks for them to do his surgery and I felt terrible he had to wait so long. He is now a huge cuddler and stays much nearer home.

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 8, 2021 at 9:21 am

      The wait is the hardest part – you want to relieve their pain but you’re left feeling helpless. I’ve been there before. I’m glad to hear that Jack’s feeling much better now.

      Reply
  • Sophie Harriet
    February 8, 2021 at 4:55 am

    Thank you for this important and informative post! Last time my cat had her vet checkup, the vet said that she would probably need to have her teeth cleaned next time she comes in. I haven’t noticed any of the signs on this list, so hopefully she is okay for now. I have tried cleaning her teeth myself in the past but she won’t let me! x

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 8, 2021 at 9:15 am

      Most cats won’t let you clean their teeth if it isn’t something they were introduced to early in life. It’s not exactly natural to allow someone access to their teeth like that, so they don’t feel ‘right’ exposing their teeth to you. You can work up to it but in many cases, it’s better to look at the other options including veterinary cleanings, cleaning treats/toys, etc.

      Reply
  • Rebecca Sanchez
    February 8, 2021 at 8:07 am

    Hey Britt – this is a great post! I love the quality information and things too look for in a cat with dental issues. The act of lessening their grooming is not one that I would have thought of – but totally makes sense. I’m sharing with my readers!

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 8, 2021 at 9:14 am

      That’s one of the less obvious signs, but sometimes the less obvious signs are the ones that we’ll actually see. They really are masters of hiding pain.

      Reply
  • Beth
    February 8, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    When my dog cracked her tooth, she didn’t display any signs of pain, but her breath was terrible. Since oral health problems can lead to other health issues, the vet opted to extract her tooth.

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 8, 2021 at 7:42 pm

      Bad breath is definitely a good sign that something’s not right!

      Reply
  • Sweet Purrfections
    February 8, 2021 at 9:43 pm

    Thank you for sharing this information. Dental health is so important. I’ve been lucky with all of my cats in that they’ve had excellent dental health with no problems.

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 9, 2021 at 8:31 am

      We have been lucky as well, but I’m definitely aware that it could change anytime in the future. While we can go to great lengths to care for their dental health, I know that there are some aspects we can’t always predict or prevent. That’s why it’s so important to gather as much knowledge as we can.

      Reply
  • Rachel Duerden
    February 10, 2021 at 6:25 am

    Thank you, Britt, for sharing these signs of gum disease. I will be checking my cats’ mouths more often. 😀

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 10, 2021 at 7:22 am

      Thank you! It’s an easy step to help your cat avoid unnecessary suffering.

      Reply
  • Rosie Ireland
    February 11, 2021 at 7:36 am

    It’s crazy that I never think of dental health for cats. I’m not a cat owner but I do have a few local cats that I feed in my garden – I’d have them if I could haha

    Rosie

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 12, 2021 at 5:00 pm

      It’s something that is so often overlooked!

      Reply
  • Lisa
    February 15, 2021 at 11:15 am

    Excessively bad breath is one of the things I’m always on the lookout (smellout?) for now as it was a clue for one of our older cats. If I had cats from kittens, I’d get them used to having their mouths checked and their claws clipped (by me) but all our cats are older and came to us as adults so they’d have my hand off it I tried to check now! Great tips though, Britt, because toothache is agony 🙁

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 15, 2021 at 9:29 pm

      That’s definitely something that I wish I had done when our cats were younger. We got them used to us clipping their nails but we overlooked the importance of getting them used to us inspecting their mouths as well. I would change that moving forward.

      Reply
  • Erica (The Prepping Wife)
    February 19, 2021 at 5:57 am

    My little orange turd has bad teeth, and really needs them cleaned and some possibly pulled. We had to change his food from dry to wet not too long ago because he slowed way, way down on eating and was just sleeping all the time. I so wish that I had started brushing his teeth when he was a baby, so he would be accustomed to it as he got older. Thankfully the switch in food made a BIG difference, and he lost some weight (this is a good thing, because he was fat) but is grooming himself far more and back to his normal self. He won’t let me anywhere near his mouth, but we’ve at least corrected part of the problem for now and he seems pretty happy.

    Reply
    • Britt
      February 19, 2021 at 9:09 am

      I wish I had started to introduce our cats to it at a younger age as well. We can easily brush the dogs’ teeth but the cats have no interest in letting us near their mouths lol

      Reply
  • Suchita Senthil Kumar
    March 5, 2021 at 3:12 am

    I’ve never had a cat but I’m mindlown by the fact that cats hide their pain to make sure other animals don’t know of their vulnerability. I’m just amazed by these little creatures.

    Reply
    • Britt
      March 5, 2021 at 9:54 am

      It’s amazing how animals learn to adapt to prioritize their safety, isn’t it?

      Reply
  • Zachary Tomlinson
    March 16, 2021 at 3:33 am

    I had no idea that cats could get oral diseases by leaving tartar buildups unattended. I saw a couple of ads regarding pet tooth care recently and it got me curious. I should probably look for a veterinarian that can help me when I end up owning a cat.

    Reply
    • Britt
      March 16, 2021 at 12:52 pm

      It is a perfect example of how important the relationship between a pet owner and their veterinarian is.

      Reply

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