In this blog we will discuss situations where it could be normal for your cat to drool, followed by some examples of when it may be more of a concern. If in doubt it is always best to get your pet checked by a vet.
It may be normal for your cat to drool when they are:
- happy or relaxed. This happens most with cats that like to knead on soft blankets or your lap. When kittens are feeding, they knead their mum’s teats to stimulate milk flow. It’s thought that some adults retain this behaviour, performing it when they feel secure and relaxed. Some cats may drool when kneading, thought to be due to the memory of food anticipation.
- acutely stressed or fearful, such as during a trip to the vets. Other signs of acute stress or fear are wide eyes, flattened ears, a low stance, hissing, growling or even aggression.
- travelling. This may be due to the motion of the vehicle but also feelings of fear and stress contribute. Getting your cat basket out a few days before to acclimatise your cat to it, and getting them used to the car may help. You could also use a pheromone spray. Pheromones are airborne hormones used in the animal world to communicate feelings. A synthetic version of one of these pheromones, thought to have a calming and reassuring effect, has been produced. While the evidence base is limited, many owners feel pheromones help. To reduce nausea place the carrier low down to avoid them seeing movement, withhold food, and avoid winding routes.
- struggling to keep saliva within the mouth due to abnormal dental conformation or after multiple dental extractions.
If your pet’s drooling is constant or other symptoms accompany it, there may be cause for concern.
It’s thought that as many as 85% of cats aged three years and older have some sort of dental disease. Problems tend to be more significant in older cats. A bacterial film known as plaque accumulates into tartar and leads to gum (periodontal) disease. Early periodontal disease, known as gingivitis (inflammation of the tissues surrounding the gum surrounding the tooth) or later-stage periodontitis, where the ligaments securing the tooth are affected, may both cause drooling. Cats may eat less, seem uncomfortable while eating, and develop smelly breath. They may become withdrawn and groom less due to chronic pain.
Stomatitis means inflammation inside the mouth. The exact cause is unknown, but 85% of cats with this condition are affected by a virus called feline calicivirus (FCV), and other viruses such as feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) may also be involved. It’s thought that some cats’ immune systems respond in an abnormally aggressive way to bacteria in the mouth, causing inflammation. This condition may be very painful, your cat may even paw at its mouth and have bloody saliva.
Pain is often difficult to assess in cats, as they are programmed by evolution to hide it well, leading to vague signs. Changes in behaviour, aggression, hiding, and lack of grooming may all be signs of general pain. Although frequently seen with oral pain, drooling can actually be a sign of general pain elsewhere as well.
Toxins and medications
Unpleasant tasting drugs such as certain antibiotics can cause drooling. Certain painkillers and other drugs may cause drooling as a side effect. Always apply veterinary approved, cat-licensed anti-parasite spot-ons on the skin of the neck to lessen the chance your cat grooming them off.
Cats are fussy eaters but some like to nibble on grass. If there is no opportunity, or they are bored they may nibble any plant. Toxic plants include chrysanthemum, dieffenbachia (dumb cane), poinsettia, and lilies. Eating toxic plants will result in many symptoms including drooling. Always check if plants are toxic before keeping them in your home or garden. Ask your vet if you are unsure.
Household cleaning products can irritate the mouth and even cause ulcers, resulting in drooling and a lack of appetite.
Tumours in the mouth may cause drooling. There are often other signs such as pain when eating, bleeding or pawing at the mouth. Squamous cell carcinomas are the most common oral tumors in cats and these sadly carry a poor prognosis, as they usually are locally invasive and full surgical removal is made difficult or impossible due to the location.
Broken teeth or jaw fractures may lead to pain and drooling. An array of foreign bodies such as wood chips and fish hooks may cause trauma as well, leading to similar signs. If your cat likes to chase or eat insects, then a sting or bite may result in oral pain, inflammation and – once again – drooling.
Anything that causes nausea may lead to drooling. Many inflammatory, infectious or cancerous diseases affecting the gastrointestinal tract can cause nausea. Other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea or weight loss may also be seen. Obstruction of the oesophagus by a mass or foreign body will cause buildup of saliva due to an inability to swallow.
Kidney and liver disease
With kidney and liver disease toxins build up causing nausea. Other signs may include: behavioral changes, poor appetite, weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, vomiting and diarrhoea. Cats with liver disease may have yellow tinged gums or skin. With kidney disease toxins can cause ulcers in the mouth. These are often painful and cause drool that is foul smelling.
Damage or paralysis of the cranial nerves responsible for controlling swallowing is possible but very rare. Seizure activity may inhibit the ability to swallow leading to drooling before, during or after a seizure.
If you are still unsure why your cat is drooling it’s best to get them checked by a vet.
Your cat definitely needs to see a vet if they:
- suddenly start drooling.
- drool constantly.
- have other symptoms such as lack of appetite, vomiting or pawing at the mouth.
- have blood in the saliva.
- are acting differently to normal.
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