Frequency and risk factors of periodontal disease in cats

3 May 2023

Periodontal disease is a multifactorial inflammatory disease that is common in domestic cats and can affect the overall health, longevity, and quality of life in cats. Despite periodontitis being the most common clinical finding during feline consultations in general practice, with between 13.9% and 96% of cats being diagnosed with it, understanding of risk factors for periodontal disease in cats is limited.

A new study1 published in Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery has assessed the frequency and demographic risk factors of periodontal disease and explored associations with common comorbid disorders in cats in the UK. The results could assist veterinary practitioners and owners to better understand and predict periodontal disease, and identify opportunities to improve the health of cats.

The study used a random sample of 18,249 cats under primary care at clinics participating in the VetCompass programme during 2019, and obtained demographic variables (age, sex, weight, neuter status and breed) and any diagnosed disorders (including periodontal disease) for each cat.

Periodontal disease was identified as the most commonly diagnosed specific disorder in cats under primary veterinary care in the UK, and thus a leading health issue in cats, with 15.2% of the cats sampled being diagnosed with the disease (equating to 2,780 cats). The research showed that increasing age, increasing body weight and sex–neuter status were significantly associated with rising odds of periodontal disease.

Ageing was identified as the strongest predictor of periodontal disease risk, with the odds of periodontal disease rising steeply with age (with a median age of 9.47 years), before plateauing from 12 years onward. Cats with adult body weights from 4.0 to <7.0 kg had a higher chance of periodontal disease than those weighing <3 kg, and neutered males had higher odds of periodontal disease than entire females. Breeds with the highest prevalence were Siamese and Maine Coon (with a high incidence also in British Shorthair, Persian and crossbred), suggesting that breed and therefore genetics play some role in periodontal disease development.

Not unexpectedly, cats with periodontal disease were more likely to be diagnosed with comorbid disorders (three other comorbid disorders on average) than cats without, with cardiac dysrhythmia, aural discharge and hairball/furball being the most commonly associated disorders. It’s not clear whether periodontal disease could promote poorer general health, or that poorer general health could promote periodontal disease, or both, but the evidence does suggest a link between periodontal disease and reduced overall health in cats.

It’s likely that periodontal disease in cats has been greatly underestimated, due to the challenges in distinguishing between the presence of calculus/tartar and periodontal disease in the primary care setting, possibly resulting in some misclassification. Whilst the study increases understanding of the risk factors of periodontal disease, it didn’t extract information on the severity of periodontal disease in the sampled cats, and as such, was unable to assess risk factors for varying levels of severity. Therefore, the findings should be incorporated with the results of other studies, to maximise overall understanding of the disease.

An increased understanding of the risk factors of periodontal disease (increasing age, increasing weight, sex–neuter status and certain breeds) can enable veterinary practitioners to predict periodontal disease and target screening and dental care at cats most at risk. Specifically, as ageing and breed were predictors of periodontal disease risk, vets could consider targeting routine dental health screening and dental care at older cats, high-risk breeds and demographics within these breeds, to reduce disease development and severity. Furthermore, the link between periodontal disease and reduced overall health indicates that greater clinical vigilance for comorbidity in cats diagnosed with periodontal disease would be beneficial.

More resources

BSAVA has the following resources on periodontal disease:

‘Management of periodontal disease’ chapter in the BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Dentistry and Oral Surgery https://www.bsavalibrary.com/content/chapter/10.22233/9781905319602.chap7

PetSavers Caring for your Elderly Pet Guide https://new.bsava.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/PetSavers-caring-for-your-elderly-pet-guide.pdf

Reference

1O’Neill DG, Blenkarn A, Brodbelt DC, Church DB, Freeman A (2023) Periodontal disease in cats under primary veterinary care in the UK: frequency and risk factors. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 25(3). doi:10.1177/1098612X231158154