Feline Resorptive Lesions

A painful dental disorder in cats

Cats feel pain just like humans do, but often instinctively try to hide it from their owners, causing them to suffer in silence. An example of a painful disease that cats are genetically susceptible to is feline resorptive lesions of the teeth. 

What are feline resorptive lesions?

A resorptive lesion occurs when there is an immune-mediated destruction of the tooth, leaving nerve cells exposed and severe oral pain. This means that the body’s own cells start attacking and destroying teeth. At this stage, we don’t know exactly what the cause is but it is likely to be an inherited genetic problem where the odontoclasts, the cells that remodel the teeth, get out of control and start eating away the tooth. Once the process starts, the tooth usually needs to be extracted due to the aggressive painful process. 

Resorptive lesions can affect multiple teeth in a cat’s mouth but unfortunately it is not possible to prevent the disease if the cat is genetically predisposed to it. Occasionally the problem can be seen in other species too. 

What are the signs of a resorptive lesion? 

You may not notice anything abnormal about your cat despite the suffering endured and cats continue to eat through the pain. Cats would rather be painful than both painful AND hungry. 

Sometimes you may notice the following signs: 

  • Jaw chattering
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Reduced interaction with you
  • Aggression 

While some of the above signs may occur in your cat, the majority of cases go undetected by their owners. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to have an annual check-up which includes a full oral examination as these lesions may be discovered visually by your veterinarian

What does a resorptive lesion look like?

Affected teeth may appear misshapen or deformed and sometimes there is an area of red, fleshy tissue present where part of the tooth used to be before it was eaten away.

Sometimes resorptive lesions cannot be identified visually and it is not until the cat is anaesthetised for a routine scale and polish that the resorptive lesions are identified by the use of a fine, metal dental probe and confirmed by radiography. Dental radiography is the best method of detecting these lesions and many other potential tooth root problems. Interestingly, even while the cat is anaesthetised, when these lesions are probed, the cat will quite often chatter its jaw in pain due to raw nerve exposure.

What is the treatment for resorptive lesions in cats? 

Given cats tend to instinctively hide their pain, often these cats are suffering in silence and even eating can be uncomfortable. By removing the affected tooth or teeth involved, the cat does not have to experience the excruciating pain that goes hand in hand with the condition. While owners are sometimes reluctant to have their pet’s tooth extracted, once they realise the extent of pain their pet is experiencing due to nerve exposure, they usually give consent. 

In some cases full mouth digital x-rays may need to be be performed, particularly if multiple teeth are affected. We may occasionally refer cases where the lower canine teeth are affected due to the potential risk for jaw fracture during extraction of these major teeth. In most instances extractions can be performed in general veterinary practice. 

Will my cat cope with having teeth extracted?

Clients are often worried about whether their cat will still be able to eat properly after extracting the diseased teeth. In actual fact, cats will be far more comfortable eating after the affected teeth have been removed as they will finally be pain-free.

Cats have 32 teeth in total and as they are domesticated, they do not have to kill their prey anymore so you do not need to be concerned about your cat no longer having a full set of teeth. The affected tooth would have been resorbed eventually by the odontoclastic cells but instead of it being a long painful process, the vet can quickly restore the cat’s mouth to a healthy pain-free state.

After extraction of the affected tooth or teeth, your cat will probably have some dissolvable sutures in place in the mouth. Feed your cat soft food (eg softened dry food or canned food) for the next few days and organise a recheck a week laterto see that the gum deficit has healed.