When your cat turns up their nose at their dry kibble and begs for wet food, you may think they’re simply being picky, when they may actually be suffering from a painful oral condition known as feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs). Cats are exceptionally talented at hiding pain or disease, so you may think their fussy behavior is simply feline attitude, but they are actually signaling an underlying health problem.

What is tooth resorption in cats?

Inside each tooth is a chamber that contains tissue made up of blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and nerves. The tissue is surrounded by a bony substance called dentin, which protects the sensitive tissue inside the root canal. When resorptive disease affects a tooth, the dentin erodes, and eventually is completely destroyed. Over time, the entire tooth, and not only one small area, may become involved. In some cases, the tooth’s structure becomes so damaged that the crown will snap off.

What causes tooth resorption in cats?

Tooth resorption is a common condition in cats, affecting an estimated 20 to 60 percent of all cats, and close to 75 percent of those 5 years of age and older. Yet, despite being relatively common, the condition has no known cause. The predominant theory suggested by some researchers holds that an excess of vitamin D in cat food may be to blame. So for now, our best suggestion is to feed your cat a well-balanced diet, with the appropriate levels of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for their age and health status.

What are tooth resorption signs in cats?

While you likely think that a cat with severe oral pain caused by a resorptive lesion would completely lose their appetite, cats tend to hide illness or injury signs. Instead, you’re more likely to notice that your cat is swallowing food without chewing, or suddenly preferring canned food over dry. The condition must be extremely advanced before your cat stops eating completely, and by then, lesions will most likely affect multiple teeth.

During a physical exam, your cat may demonstrate pain if we probe the lesion, but eating changes are the most reliable indicator that your feline friend is suffering from resorptive lesions. Watch for these signs:

  • Your cat’s appetite may appear normal, but they tilt their head while eating, trying to chew on one side of their mouth.
  • Your cat is still eating dry kibble, but they are trying to swallow the food without chewing.
  • Their food is falling out of one side of the mouth.

Any changes in your cat’s eating behavior is cause for concern, so schedule an appointment with our team, if you notice abnormalities.

How is tooth resorption diagnosed in cats?

Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions can occasionally be identified through an oral exam. The lesion will look like an overgrowth of gum tissue, but really the tooth’s dentin has eroded, leaving the sensitive pulp exposed. However, the damage extent cannot be diagnosed through a physical exam alone, and full-mouth oral X-rays are necessary for a complete picture of the damage. Your cat must be sedated, to ensure quality, diagnostic images. Once we’ve determined the damage severity, we can make an appropriate treatment plan.

How is tooth resorption treated in cats?

Tooth resorption is a serious, irreversible dental condition. Unfortunately, extraction of the affected tooth, to prevent further damage and pain, is the only current treatment. In many cases, cats will need full-mouth extractions, leaving them toothless, but comfortable and pain-free. These cats do well without teeth, and can often still eat dry food. If your cat’s teeth are extracted because of resorptive lesions, their behavior and comfort level will greatly improve only a day or two after surgery. Our multi-modal anesthetic and pain management plan will have them back to their old self in no time.

Has your cat been turning up their nose at their dry kibble, or eating in an unusual fashion? If so, they may be suffering from resorptive lesions. Contact our Wales Animal Clinic team to schedule an appointment, so we can alleviate the pain of this oral disease.