Have you ever taken a good look in your cat’s mouth? It might have been involuntary, due to it yawning in your face, or you might have done it as part of an overall wellness check. You may notice that your cat’s gums are all sorts of interesting colors – usually pink, but sometimes darker or even black. In humans, black gums would definitely be a concern. In cats, it may be a whole range of things causing it, some benign, others not. Why do cats have black gums?
Black Cat, Black Gums
One of the most benign reasons for black gums is because, well, your cat is black (or at least very dark colored). The pigment in the skin that causes fur to come in black may also be found in your cat’s mouth, causing dark colored gums. This is of course, completely benign and normal.
Orange cats can also develop black or brown gums due their skin pigmentation! In this case, it’s caused by freckling. Calico and tortoiseshell cats can get it too. (even light colored cats can, though it’s less common). This is known as Lentigo Simplex and it’s a completely harmless, genetic condition which is caused by a less stable genetic code in the fur that causes the pigment cells to revert to black. They don’t cause your cat any discomfort and they don’t mean anything. The black freckles can also show up around your cat’s mouth and on your cat’s nose! (My old cat has a black splotch on her nose that slowly got there over time – she’s a calico).
How do you tell if it’s just pigment build up? If your cat doesn’t have bad breath, bleeding, or sensitivity, and the spot is completely flat, the black spots are probably just normal freckling.
Old Cat, Black Gums
As cats get older, usually from about two years on, they may start slowly getting darker gums. This is because of bacteria in the mouth that is caused when food interacts with saliva and builds up plaque. The plaque in a cat’s mouth can cause browning or even blacking of the gums over a long period of time. It’s not precisely something to worry about, as long as there are no other symptoms, but it can be slowed or even prevented with good dental hygiene for your cat. This can include gently brushing your cat’s teeth or using specific chews that you can get from your vet or from a store.
Cats really hate getting their teeth brushed, so if you have to do it to remove stains, make sure you wear a good pair of gloves and maybe get someone to help hold your pet down. You can also use toothbrushes that fit on your fingers and chew toys to help cats floss and rub off soft plaque between brushings.
Bad Dental Hygiene
As noted above, one of the common causes of dark gums is dental hygiene (or lack thereof). The plaque build-up in a cat’s mouth will, over time, cause darkening and staining.
Now, you’re not looking at staining from normal food (since most cat food is black) – it’s often caused by eating poop, oil, or stagnant or muddy water. The problem with all of this is that it can make your cat very sick (look for signs of toxicity such as vomiting, muscle tremors and difficulty breathing) or simply attract more bacteria (in the case of drinking muddy water). In either event, it’s important to brush your cat’s teeth and if there are signs of toxicity, visit your vet.
Black gums in the case of poor dental hygiene is also usually a sign of gingivitis and periodontal disease which can cause gum inflammation, leading to trouble eating and pain for your cat. The black gums in this case are usually a sign of spreading tartar and dried blood. Definitely not something you want your cat to go through!
By regularly brushing your cat’s teeth, you can prevent a lot of this from happening. If your cat flat out refuses to let you do it, you may be able to get a vet to do it regularly. Older cats may not be able to get their teeth brushed at a vet since it’s usually done under a mild anaesthesia.
- Gingivitis: inflammation of the gums, sore, and often seen in older cats
- Periodontitis: when gingivitis gets into a cat’s tooth socket, the tooth may become loose and cause an abscess
- Somatitis: inflammation of the mouth lining from a foreign object, a virus, or another dental issue. It will cause your cat to have trouble eating and the inside of its mouth will be bright red
- Rodent ulcer: an enlarging sore or swelling on the upper lip
- Cyst: the salivary glands or ducts can get blocked, causing a cyst
- Mouth ulcers: Kidney or respiratory disease can cause ulcers to show up on your cat’s tongue or gums
Gingivitis and periodontitis can be managed by brushing your cat’s teeth – the rest of these things may require the assistance of a vet. You should also look for other problems like cracked teeth and really bad breath and these are indications that your cat needs to go to the vet for attention before things get worse.
Is it Cancer?
In some cases, the black spots on a cat’s gums are a sign of cancer. It’s not as common as lentigo simplex or plaque, but it is something to be aware of, especially in older cats. Cancer lumps in this case will be upraised and your cat will be in pain and not let you touch them. If this is happening to your cat, it’s time for a vet visit. Fortunately, this isn’t terribly common and it’s really obvious.
If the color change is sudden, then you need to go to the vet as a sudden change in gums usually indicates cancer. There will be other symptoms such as eating changes, change in sleep positions, batting at the mouth, drooling, bad breath, bloody mouth, loose teeth, and general difficulty eating. Fortunately, most cancers are treatable, and it doesn’t have to be an immediate death sentence.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons for a cat to have black gums (or black spots on gums) – from the completely benign pigment to cancer, and everything in between. It’s important to monitor other symptoms your cat may be exhibiting such as foul breath, bleeding, trouble eating and mood changes to determine if the issue is something serious enough to warrant a vet visit or simply the color of your cat’s skin. In many cases, dealing with dark gums can be as simple as brushing your cat’s teeth gently and regularly or just acknowledging that the pigment of a cat is a little weird!
It is very important to brush your cat’s teeth several times a week to prevent a host of other problems, but if you’re doing that and your cat is fine, then it’s probably nothing to worry about.
Take a look at your cat’s gums! Are they firm, pink and healthy or otherwise? A cat’s mouth is a window to all sort of other health issues, so it’s important to check in regularly.