Pale gums are identified when the normal light pink color of the gum tissues turn pale or white, indicating a serious underlying condition.
• Pale gums are always an emergency
• There are numerous causes of pale gums, all with an underlying issue related to circulation or red blood cell levels
• Cats with pale gums require immediate stabilization through oxygen supplementation, fluids, or blood transfusions
• Diagnosing the underlying cause of pale gums involves a physical examination, blood work and diagnostic imaging
• Treatment and prognosis varies widely depending on the underlying cause identified
• Common treatment modalities associated with pale gums include medications, surgical intervention, palliative care, and euthanasia
Normal gums in cats are either light pink or darkly pigmented, depending on the cat’s color and markings. Identifying the pale gums is difficult in cats, since their natural gum color is already quite light. Careful examination of the mouth when cats are healthy can help pet owners identify any future changes. Comparing to another pet in the house, preferably a cat, is also helpful in identifying changes. Cat gums can also be compared to dogs, however cats typically have more pale gums naturally.
Blood flow to the tissues is what gives the gums their normal pink color, as the characteristic red tinge of red blood cells is visible through pale tissue. Any condition that results in changes to blood flow, like excessive bleeding, or altered numbers of red blood cells in the bloodstream can result in pale gums.
Possible causes of pale gums include:
Kidney or liver disease
Viral infections, such as feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus or feline infectious peritonitis
Bacterial infections, including bartonellosis and ehrlichiosis
Immune-mediated destruction of blood cells, including immune-mediated hemolytic anemia or thrombocytopenia
Parasitic infections, such as babesiosis, intestinal parasites, or heavy flea or tick burdens
Toxicoses, including onion/garlic, acetaminophen, mothballs, anticoagulant rodenticides, essential oils, and some drug reactions
Heart disease, including congestive heart failure and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Conditions affecting hormone levels such as Addison’s disease or diabetes mellitus
Cancers, including hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma
Traumatic injuries, particularly those that result in internal bleeding
Pale gums are uncommon in cats, and are always indicative of an emergency. Cats with pale gums require immediate veterinary care for stabilization and identification of the underlying disease. The paleness of the gums is not always related to the severity of the underlying disease.
Pale gums are an emergency, and affected cats often must be stabilized before undergoing diagnostics to identify the underlying condition. Stabilizing treatments include:
• Supplemental oxygen • Warming of the animal • IV fluids • Blood transfusions
Once the patient is stable, diagnostics to identify the underlying condition include:
• Physical examination • Blood work • Diagnostic imaging • Urinalysis • Fecal examination
Treatment and prognosis depend on the underlying condition, and vary widely. Depending on the condition, treatment modalities may include:
• Medications • Surgical intervention • Nutritional therapy • Palliative care • Euthanasia
Pale gums may be confused with cyanosis in some cases. In cyanosis, the gums turn pale blue due to inadequate oxygen delivery to the tissues. This symptom is also an emergency.
Symptoms commonly associated with pale gums include:
• Lethargy • Rapid breathing • Reduced appetite • Vomiting • Diarrhea • Swollen lymph nodes
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