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Why Do Cats Drool? It's Never Normal

Posted December 29, 2014 in Cat Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Cat looking up and drooling

Ah, the old saying, “Cats rule, dogs drool.” We cat lovers know that our four-legged friends are fastidious groomers – in other words, they like to stay clean. So cats rarely drool the way that our canine companions do.

What does it mean when cats drool?
If you notice your cat drooling, this is highly abnormal and warrants a veterinary visit. Drooling is often due to underlying medical problems in cats such as:

Dental disease causing your cat to drool
Feline resorptive lesions (often called feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion or FORL) are a common cause of dental disease in cats, and result in significant oral pain and drooling. FORL, also called cervical line erosions, cavities, neck lesions, and external or internal root resorptions, can occur at the level where the gum line meets the tooth. Often times, FORL can be seen as a red line along the gum in your cat’s mouth. However, if your cat has a lot of tartar (hardened plaque) over the tooth, it may hide the gum lesion. FORL is extremely painful and can result in mouth sensitivity, fractures of the teeth, inappetance, a foul smell from the mouth, and drooling. Untreated, it can cause chronic pain in your cat and even weight loss.

Kidney failure causing your cat to drool
One of the #1 killers of cats is kidney failure, and it can be seen in either acute or chronic conditions. Chronic renal failure (CRF [also known as chronic kidney injury, CKI]) can result in clinical signs of weight loss, increased thirst, increased urination (noted by larger clumps of urine in the litter box), dilute urine, halitosis (i.e., bad breath), and drooling. The kidney normally filters BUN and creatinine (two waste products of the body) out. When these levels build up in the blood stream, they result in uremic ulcers in the mouth, esophagus and stomach. With CRF, the sooner you notice clinical signs, the sooner your veterinarian can treat it and the longer cats can survive! Your veterinarian may treat with:

  • IV fluids
  • Blood work monitoring
  • Medication
  • A low protein diet
  • Stomach protectants

Corrosive poisons causing your cat to drool
Because cats have altered liver metabolism (called glucuronidation) when compared to dogs, they are not able to metabolize drugs or chemicals as well. Certain household products like laundry detergent, liquid potpourri, and other cleaners can be irritants in dogs (causing general signs like vomiting and diarrhea), but can be corrosive in cats. This can result in burns in the mouth, on the tongue, and in the esophagus and stomach. Accidental poisoning can result in severe drooling. If you think your cat got into something corrosive, try to gently and carefully flush out the mouth with water and offer something tasty (like chicken broth, canned tuna water, milk, etc.) to flush out the esophagus and dilute the poison from the mouth. When in doubt, contact your veterinarian, emergency veterinarian or ASPCA Animal Poison Control immediately and seek immediate veterinary attention.

Poisonous plants causing your cat to drool
Certain poisonous plants contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals and can cause intense burning of the mouth when accidentally ingested by cats. Plants such as:

  • Calla lily
  • Peace lily
  • Diffenbachia
  • Elephant ear plant
  • Umbrella plant
  • Mother-in-law’s tongue

Thankfully, insoluble calcium oxalate plants are minimally poisonous to cats, but they can result in severe drooling. If you think your cat got into one of these plants, try to gently and carefully flush out the mouth with water and offer something tasty (like chicken broken, canned tuna water, milk, etc.) to flush out the mouth. Typically, veterinary attention isn’t necessary with these types of insoluble calcium oxalate plants unless profuse vomiting and inappetance is noted. That said, make sure it wasn’t a more dangerous or deadly plant like an Easter lily! Click here to learn about the very dangerous Easter lily poisoning.

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.