I’m not usually one for melodramatic titles on this blog, but in this particular case, I thought it was appropriate and didn’t want to bury the lead. I’m hoping that by pointing out the main crux of this article in the title – that you really should be concerned if your cat starts grinding his or her teeth – I’m better able to prepare those who have stumbled over here looking for answers, and to give an important heads up to be on the look out for pet owners who may eventually encounter this feline behaviour in their own pets in the future.
Normally when I write a pet care article from the angle of the symptom, there’s a lot of variation in terms of whether the cause behind the symptom might be negative or neutral. For instance, some cats do snore because they’re sick, they could have a foreign object stuck in their nose, or on very rare occasions, could have a cancerous tumor. But light, inconsistent snoring is perfectly normal, completely ordinary, and an indication of absolutely nothing negative at all.
Unfortunately for pet owners who stumbled over here because their cats are currently grinding their teeth, however, this surprisingly is not really the case when it comes to bruxism (teeth grinding) in cats. I was actually shocked when I did my research for this article, since I expected teeth grinding to be a lot like snoring: to have some negative, some neutral causes – but no. It does appear that teeth grinding in cats is nearly always an indication of an underlying problem.
We’ll get in depth into what those issues could be in the remainder of this article. Many are fixable and not fatal conditions at all. But be forewarned: if your cat is grinding his or her teeth, you should expect to make a call to your vet today.
Identifying Teeth Grinding or Bruxism in Cats
How to tell if your cat is grinding his or her teeth
Not sure if your cat is grinding his or her teeth? Pay close attention to the way your cat looks and sounds when you suspect teeth grinding is taking place.
What does a cat grinding his or her teeth sound like? To me, a lot like chewing and repetitive biting, but with an accompanying grating sound – like rubbing the bottoms of two ceramic mugs together – very similar to when we humans grind our own teeth. Visually, a cat will look like her or she is gnawing away at something, repetitively chewing nothing at all, and/or moving his or her lower jaw from side to side. This YouTube video is a very good audio/visual that should help you identify whether your cat is grinding his or her teeth.
When feline teeth grinding normally takes place
Cats usually grind their teeth when they are awake, and they do so consciously (the reason we’ll get into very soon). Many cats only begin grinding their teeth when they are eating, chewing, biting – basically doing something with their mouths.
Even if your cat is only grinding his or her teeth very infrequently, it’s important to take your cat in to see a vet anyway. The grinding is likely to take place more frequently over time if it’s ignored, but you should certainly not wait until it gets worse to see a vet. From the second you notice the tooth grinding, it’s time for a vet visit. This is not a problem that you should wait out and see if it’ll go away on its own – it’s one of the few symptoms that requires immediate vet attention.
Underlying Conditions of Teeth Grinding in Cats
Why do cats grind their teeth?
Typically, cats grind their teeth because it relieves an underlying pain they are feeling. Like putting pressure on and rubbing a painful bump or bruise makes us humans feel less in pain, grinding teeth helps cats to relieve certain type so pain they may feel – which is why teeth grinding in cats is typically a subtle sign that your cat is likely to be in pain.
What could feline bruxism be a symptom of?
While it’s easy to assume that a cat grinding his or her teeth to fend off feeling pain must have to do with a tooth-related underlying condition, this isn’t always the case. More often than not, the issue is dental in nature, but there are a plethora of other possibilities.
The following are some of the conditions that may be underlying and causing the symptom of feline teeth grinding to take place. Please note, this is not an exhaustive list, but I did try to be as comprehensive as possible in case you wanted to ask your vet to check for specific causes.
Dental Problems That Can Cause Cats to Grind Their Teeth
- Disintegration of teeth (feline tooth resorption)
- Fractured (chipped) teeth
- Dental abscesses
- Abnormal alignment of teeth (malocclusion)
- Inflammatory gum disease (gingivitis)
- Oral tumors
- Oral trauma
- Foreign material lodged in the oral cavity
Abdominal Diseases That Can Cause Cats to Grind Their Teeth
- Pancreatitis/pancreatic disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Intestinal lymphoma (intestinal cancer)
- Gastritis/gastrointestinal ulcers
Neurological Diseases That Can Cause Bruxism in Cats
- Brain tumors
- Peripheral nerve neuropathies
Other Health Issues That Can Cause Bruxism in Cats
- Cholangiohepatitis (liver disease)
- Hypokalemia (low potassium)
What’s the most likely cause of teeth grinding in cats?
Dr. Alexander M. Reiter, who’s the head of dentistry and oral surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, states that the most common causes of feline teeth grinding are: “Tooth resorption (or disintegration), inflammatory gum disease, ulcers, cancer and abnormal alignment of the teeth.” Dale Kressin DVM, points out that, in his experience, “Tooth resorption, fractured teeth and dental abscesses are the most common causes of dental pain.”
If your cat has simultaneously lost his or her appetite, cannot seem to chew food in his or her mouth, begins to be picky about what food he or she will eat, and/or begins drooling or creating excessive saliva along with the tooth grinding, the most likely cause of the bruxism is feline tooth resorption. It’s estimated that over 50% of adult cats develop tooth resorption, and while this is a problem that a vet can fix, it’s best to take preventative measures early on by brushing your cats teeth with cat toothpaste and a feline toothbrush 3-7 days a week. It’s also important to take your cat in to see his or her vet at least once a year for a check up, as professional cleaning may be necessary to stay on top of dental disease and/or for early repair of already damaged teeth, as left unchecked, damaged teeth may need to be completely removed.
In Persian cats, the most likely cause of bruxism is possibly abnormal alignment of teeth, as this breed is particularly susceptible to having this dental issue. Siamese cats are the second most likely cats to have issues with abnormal alignment of teeth.
How do vets treat teeth grinding in cats?
A vet will do three things when treating bruxism in cats: 1. Prescribe pain relief medications, 2. Identify the underlying condition causing the cat pain, 3. Resolve and cure the underlying condition with medication, dental cleaning, or another form of treatment, depending on what the cause of the pain happened to be.
Dr. Alexander M. Reiter states that “85 percent of oral diseases that cause grinding, including tumors, inflammation, ulcers and loose or broken teeth can be observed during a regular examination” – which is good news, because it means in the vast majority of cases, if your cat is grinding his or her teeth, the vet should quickly be able to identify the problem to be solved.
For the other 15% – an X-Ray or CT Scan may be needed to help identify the problem.
How can I help my vet identify the underlying problem?
As with absolutely any concern you take to your vet, when you’re in for your appointment, be sure to let your vet know as much as you can think of that may be useful or helpful to him or her.
Not sure if specific information is relevant? Mention it anyway. You never know, and it’s always better to be safe by sharing information than sorry you didn’t.
In this particular case the most important things to bring to your vet’s attention are:
- Whether your cat has any other symptoms (ex: change of appetite, excessive saliva, or drooling).
- Any recent changes in environment (ex: a move, new cat, new food, etc.)
- When your cat typically grinds his or her teeth
- How frequently the tooth grinding takes place
- If you’ve noticed an increase in tooth grinding and how fast this increase has taken place
If your vet cannot seem to find a problem, I strongly recommend seeking another vet’s advice. If you can get a hold of one who specializes in animal dentistry and oral surgery, these specialized vets may prove to be a better option for identifying the underlying cause behind your pet’s teeth grinding.
Your Experience With Teeth Grinding in Cats?
Have you ever seen a cat grinding his or her teeth before?
If you have, did you assume this was a normal behaviour, or quickly jump online to look the symptom up? What happened afterward – did you go to the vet? Did the grinding get more regular?
If you’ve never seen a cat grinding his or her teeth before – did you ever think it could be such a serious symptom? As I stated in the intro, I certainly didn’t! I’m sure glad I now know.
Please pass this information on to other cat owners – you never know the kind of pain you could be saving a poor silently suffering cat from.