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Serious Feline Gum Disease Can Be Prevented

Pet Column for the week of July 1, 2002

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Services - Dentistry

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Jennifer Stone
Information Specialist

Despite its exotic-sounding name, lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis (LPS) is a fairly common problem in cats 2 years old and older, according to Dr. Robert Ulbricht, a veterinary dentistry resident formerly with the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.

"This disease may initially appear as a case of gingivitis, an early stage of gum disease," says Dr. Ulbricht. At this stage, the gums appear red where they meet the teeth. This mild irritation of the gums is usually not too painful and can usually be corrected with proper dental cleaning.

Stomatitis occurs when the entire mouth becomes inflamed, causing the tissue to become puffy with a bright red "raspberry" or "cobblestone" appearance.

"When the disease reaches this stage, it is very painful," says Dr. Ulbricht. "Most cats will have trouble eating or stop eating altogether." Owners may notice that the cat is having trouble chewing its food, is salivating excessively, has very bad breath, or has lost weight.

The disease is caused by an atypical immune response by lymphocytes and plasma cells. Lymphocytes and plasma cells are essential to the immune system, but when they accumulate in a spot where they are not supposed to be, they can send out signals to the body that release chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.

"Although we know that these cells of the immune system directly cause the inflammation of the oral mucosa, we do not know why these cells accumulate in the oral cavity," says Dr. Ulbricht. The culprit may be certain kinds of bacteria or viruses.

The course of the disease may be influenced by many factors. "We always test these animals for feline leukemia and feline immune deficiency syndrome, which suppress the immune system," says Dr. Ulbricht.

Treatment in the early stages of LPS consists of a thorough dental cleaning, sometimes accompanied by some anti-inflammatory medications. This combination alone may clear up the problem, but some cases require more drastic measures.

"Many different treatments have been attempted for the management of this disease, but inevitably most cases require extraction of the teeth," says Dr. Ulbricht. Typically when the disease becomes severe, all of the teeth behind the canines must be extracted. This means that most pets must eat soft food for the rest of their lives.

"What we are striving for with treatment is to make the patient as comfortable as possible," says Dr. Ulbricht. "Most of the patients receiving this treatment improve dramatically, although in only about one-fourth of patients will the gums become completely normal again."

The most important thing pet owners can do to prevent this disease is to make sure pets receive a yearly oral exam. "I simply cannot stress enough the importance of the yearly oral exam," says Dr. Ulbricht. "The dental health of pets is an area that is often neglected by pet owners, but by caring for the mouth of your pet, you are actually protecting your pet from a whole host of other problems."

When you have your pet's yearly physical exam, request an oral exam as well. Make sure that your veterinarian inspects the entire mouth of your pet for potential problems, and report any signs of dental disease to your veterinarian immediately.

If you have any questions regarding lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis, or you have questions regarding dental health in general, please contact your local veterinarian.