Symptoms of Stomatitis

How can you tell if your cat is suffering from feline stomatitis? Below are some of the observable symptoms that you might see in your cat if she are suffering from stomatitis.

The information in purple italics is my explanation of my cat Lily’s experience with each symptom.

Bad Breath

Rather than the simple, everyday bad breath that you might notice in felines when they are not suffering from a medical condition, stomatitis will cause your cat’s breath to be noticeably terrible. It is a distinctive odor, one that is difficult to describe, but equally difficult to miss. Also, you can smell the bad breath from at least a foot or two away after the stomatitis has flourished in your cat’s mouth.

Lily’s breath was horrendous! It wasn’t just bad. It was like the smell of rot and death. It was her breath that finally alerted me to her disease, and I could smell it when she was on my lap, when my nose was a good 16″ – 18″ from her mouth.

Bleeding Gums

Stomatitis causes extreme trauma to the gums. This trauma causes the gums to bleed. The drool from a cat with stomatitis is often tinged with blood because of this trauma. You may also notice a metallic smell coming from your cat, which is the smell of iron from the blood.

Lily often had blood in her drool before we got her stomatitis under control. It was common to see dried pools of blood in her favorite sleeping areas, such as on my bed. The metallic smell was quite disgusting to me, and very strong when there was a lot of blood.

Lily drooling from stomatitis with blood in the drool

You can see that the drool on Lily’s lower lip is red with blood.

Drool stain on a pillow that has blood in it

Lily was drooling while sleeping on my pillow and the drool stain has blood in it.

Crying Out in Pain While Eating

When cats with stomatitis do eat, it will be with noticeable and apparent difficulty. These cats will often make painful mewling noises or yelp in pain as they force the food past their inflamed throats.

Lily did this often after her stomatitis got bad and before we got it under control. She still cries out at times, but it is a rare event these days.

Crying Out in Pain While Playing

When cats play they often grab toys or other items with their mouths. Cats with stomatitis, though, may cry out or scream in pain during play after they forgetfully grab something with their mouths.

Lily did this for at least a month before I realized she had stomatitis, but I had no idea what was causing her cries of pain. I feel terrible for not figuring this out sooner, but I had never heard of stomatitis at that time and had no idea about mouth diseases, especially not in a cat less than a year old.

The video below shows an example of what the cry may sound like.  In this video Lily’s cry was a very quick little yelp that I did not understand when I heard it, as this video shows. However, there were other times when her cries were extremely loud.

Dehydration

Just like their reluctance to take in food beyond the bare minimum required to survive because of the painfulness of their mouth, cats suffering from stomatitis also limit themselves to drinking the minimum amount of water that they need to survive. The reason for this is because it hurts when they lap up the water. Dehydration in cats suffering from this condition is noticeable.

I am unaware of Lily experiencing this symptom.

Drooling

Cats that are suffering with this condition are known to have excessive drool. This is because swallowing is painful, so they would rather let their saliva drip out of their mouths rather than swallow it. It is common to see drool drip down the fronts of their bodies, sometimes even soaking their entire chest areas. Cats that sleep with their tails tucked under their faces may end up with matted fur where the drool collects on their tails, especially if the cats have medium to long haired tails.

Lily drooled a lot before her stomatitis was under control, and her fur matted so badly that we frequently had our vet shave her fur to remove the mats. She is not cured and still drools occasionally. When she does, I give her a pain medicine called Buprenex to ease her pain.

04/28/2015 Edit – Lily has not drooled or needed Buprenex in over two years.

Lily drooling from stomatitis

You can see drool on Lily’s lower lip. This isn’t bad. There were times when drool covered her entire bottom lip and chin.

Drool from stomatitis matts the fur on Lily's tail

Lily sleeps all curled up with her tail under her face. When she drools, the drool matts the fur on her tail right where you see it touching her face and we have to shave it in that one spot.

Lack of Grooming

Cats groom themselves by washing up with their tongues. But cats with stomatitis avoid using their tongues whenever possible in an attempt to minimize their pain. Cats with stomatitis will stop grooming themselves. You can see this lack of grooming because their fur will look unkempt, messy, matted, or dirty, if not all of these options.

Lily stopped grooming and her fur definitely looked all of the above. She began grooming again after we started giving her PlaqueOff, and I was thrilled the first time she hacked up a hairball because it meant she felt well enough to groom again.

Pawing Incessantly at Their Mouths

You might observe your cat touching her mouth with her paws as a way of trying to rub the pain away, or ease it by physical contact.  This behavior may be accompanied by mewing noises or other verbal expressions of pain.

Lily did not do this. She avoided any type of contact with her mouth, including from herself.

Red, Swollen Gums and/or Throat

The gums in the mouth become red and swollen, and the tissue in the throat is also often affected in the same way. You can attempt to gently look in your cat’s mouth but do not force the issue if your cat refuses to let you open her mouth. Instead, let your vet look.

I never looked in Lily’s mouth, though I did try once. She was clearly in pain when I tried so I immediately stopped.Stomatitis in the mouth of a cat after her teeth were pulled

Reluctance to be Touched On or Near The Mouth or Face

Cats with stomatitis will not want their mouths and/or faces to be touched because of the extreme pain they feel all the time with stomatitis. They may shy away when hands come near these areas because they will not know if they are going to be hurt, or they may even cry out in pain when touched.

Lily’s stomatitis is now under control, meaning she rarely bleeds or drools these days, but she is not cured. She still lives with constant pain and we never intentionally touch her on or near the mouth. If we accidentally touch her mouth she cries in pain and runs away to hide.

04/28/2015 Edit – Lily’s no longer bleeds or drools and stomatitis has not caused her pain in over two years. We can now touch her mouth and she no longer cries out in pain when we do.

Weight Loss

Because of the extremely painful state of their mouths, cats who are suffering from this condition tends to only eat the bare minimum amount of food that they need to survive. If your cat had a robust appetite before beginning to suffer from stomatitis, the weight loss that you will see can be significant, possibly even life-threatening. If you run your hand down your cat’s body and you either suspect that she has lost weight or you can feel the bones clearly along her spine and hips, then she probably has lost weight.

Lily was already a small cat, weighing slightly less than seven pounds before stomatitis, but she dropped to an even six pounds after getting this disease. When I ran my hand down her back I could clearly feel her ribs and hip bones.

Weight loss in a cat due to stomatitis

It is difficult to tell how skinny Lily is in this picture because she has a lot of fur, but she weighed just six pounds here. She is the size and weight of an older kitten, not the two year old adult cat that she really was here.

If you observe your cat engaging in any of these behaviors, there may be a good chance that she is suffering from feline stomatitis. This disease is extremely painful to cats. Don’t let her continue to suffer. Call your vet to make an appointment as soon as you suspect your cat might have stomatitis.


Comments

Symptoms of Stomatitis — 115 Comments

  1. Wes,

    What a good roommate you are! I am surprised that the vet said there isn’t anything to be done, since many of us have found help for our cats with methods we’ve discovered ourselves. My advice is to look through this site, especially the comments where you will find a wealth of information on what people have done to help their cats.

    Here is what helped my cat Lily: Initially she was on Prednisolone (a steroid cream that I rubbed inside her ear and had to be made at a specialty pharmacy based on a prescription written by my vet), Lysine, and PlaqueOff. Eventually I was able to wean Lily off the Prednisolone (steroids always have to be slowly stopped to prevent damage to one of the internal organs, but I don’t remember which one) so that she was only on the Lysine and PlaqueOff. I kept her on those two supplements until she passed away of an unrelated health problem.

    Please don’t hesitate to ask questions about any method you find on here. I wish you luck in helping your roommate’s cat.

    Rochelle

  2. My roommates cat definitely has stomatitis and it is pretty bad, but my roommate has taken her to the vet and has been told that there is nothing that can be done for it. I don’t buy that that is the case, and I can’t just sit around and let the cat suffer. What should I do?

  3. I also have a cat with stomatitis. I can relate to Dana as when Shiloh is having the pain, she does not eat, drink, and she hides very well and resists being picked up. It took me 5 days to get her to the vet. I finally cornered her in a room and had to get someone else to help me get her. I have been thinking about getting her put down too, as the two shots she gets only last 6 weeks barely. It’s very sad.

  4. Jake,

    It’s good that you are paying attention to the changes in your cat’s health. It is possible that she has stomatitis but the drooling and blood could be caused by something else. The best thing to do right now is to take her to a vet and have her examined.

    Please keep us posted about your cat’s progress.

    Rochelle

  5. hi my name is jake i have a 9 month old cat the means the world to me but lately shes been acting weird and has been drooling a lot so i thought it was because of the hot weather. now there blood and when she tries to eat or clean her self she meows really load.

  6. Tyler,

    Good for you for giving this poor kitty a chance at a life with love and happiness.

    Bad breath like what you’ve described can be a symptom of stomatitis (Lily’s breath smelled like death, too) but it could also be caused by something else. The best thing to do is take the cat to a vet to find out for sure.

    Rochelle

  7. I recently found a stray and at first glance she looked starved to death, she was bleeding from her mouth and you could tell she was in pain. She came to me and let me pet her so I decided to bring her home with me and get her a nice meal…. Her breath is the worst thing I’ve ever smelled in my life like a decaying animal, and for some reason she only has 4 teeth… I’m not exactly sure how old she is but I’m thinking 2-3 years. Any help or advice i can get to get her healthy and happy again is appreciated.

  8. Dana,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your kitty. I don’t have any experience with catching a stray cat so my only recommendation is to call your vet and ask them how you can catch her. You might also have a discussion about whether or not it is time to put her to sleep. What a difficult situation you are in.

    Rochelle

  9. I have a stary who is living in my basement with this dieses some meds have worked and others haven’t. Currently I am on the not working but I can’t catch her to get her back to the vet. She allows me to pet her but when I try to grasp her by neck she uses her back feet to get loose. She isn’t eating to I can’t even get the new meds in her to help her. We been dealing with this for 2 years now, I don’t know what to do. I had her on the lysine and plac off but she stopped eating the food with in a week and is in a lot of pain. I’m starting to consider just having her put down I’ve exhausted so much time in to resolving this and I get 3 steps forward and 10 steps back. My main issue is I can’t catch her its so hard to see her in paid she is such a nice cat.

  10. Great article! I am sure it will help a I lot of people to diagnose stomatitis. My cat suffered over two weeks because vet never seen stomatitis before. The vet specializing in cats knew right away what it was. I am so relieved.

  11. Amy,

    It is unknown if stomatitis is contagious. There are people who fully believe that it is, especially if there are active sores in a cat’s mouth. In my case, Lily ate out of the same bowl as the other cats and none of them developed it, so my experience is that it wasn’t contagious.

    Yes, I am still giving Lysine and PlaqueOff to our other four cats, even though Lily is no longer with us. The PlaqueOff has helped their teeth get good marks at vet visits so I have decided to continue giving it to them.

    Rochelle

  12. Hi,
    You mentioned that you were giving all your cats the supplements. Is stomatitis contagious? and do you still give the supplements to your other cats?

  13. Cherri,

    Based on what you’ve described, this cat is in critical condition and needs help immediately. If you are able to, please take the cat to a vet right away. Her life most likely depends on it.

    Rochelle

  14. My moms out of town and a stray she takes care of is acting wierd he wont eat or drink and is acting like outof it and drooling. please help

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